CJP’s Response to Defamatory Statements in Leviathan’s Fall 2011 Issue

Note from the Editorial Board: This response was written by the Committee for Justice in Palestine, a student organization that educates students and the local
community about the Palestinian struggle for independence. It has been our honor and privilege to collaborate with the CJP in order to demonstrate our aim to give equal voice to all perspectives.

The CJP meets on Tuesdays at 8pm in Bay Tree Conference Rooms.

The pervasive issues of violence and injustice affecting the people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are highly contentious and can evoke strong personal reactions in those who discuss them. As students in a university setting, we have a responsibility to address this controversial topic in a thoughtful and scholarly manner. It is with this responsibility in mind that the Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) is compelled to respond to defamatory statements an author made about our organization and events in an article titled “The Real Threat of Anti-Semitism,”  editors published in the Fall 2011 issue of Leviathan Jewish Journal. The piece alleges that CJP circumvented school regulations and crossed the line between free speech and anti-Semitism during an unspecified event. The author did not contact CJP for information regarding the event in question, nor did he give it a chance to comment prior to the publication of the piece.
While it is reasonable that people would have varying accounts of a single event, expected debate can slip into false characterizations of the actions and intentions of the parties involved. The article in question states that “the Committee for Justice in Palestine held a rally for the destruction of Israel…[with] signs and chanted slogans that called for the elimination of the ‘Zionist entity.’” The piece also claims that there were “students carrying balloons that had swastikas drawn on them.” It goes on to assert that CJP was in “clear breech of campus regulation and protocol” and holds that “the support of such events as those listed above would be akin to the university sponsoring a lecture by a leader of the Ku Klux Klan or some other White Supremacist group.”

These statements are incredibly inflammatory and could not be farther from the truth. The CJP is a multi-ethnic and ideologically diverse student organization brought together by a desire to spread awareness about the Palestinian struggle for human rights and self-determination. As such, it takes the issue of hate speech on campus and violations of school policy very seriously. First and foremost, CJP must state that the use of swastikas and other derogatory symbols or language is completely against the values of our group and would have been personally offensive to our members.
While the article provides no time or date information in reference to the alleged rally, the author has verbally confirmed that he was writing about an event in early 2009. CJP did hold a rally in the Quarry Plaza in January of that year, a collaborative event it organized with a now defunct UCSC branch of the Campus Antiwar Network. The purpose of this demonstration was to show solidarity with the people of Gaza and protest Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 Israeli military invasion that resulted in the death of 1,400 Palestinians in a single month.  Although demonstrators did employ white balloons during this rally to represent casualties of the conflict, CJP’s photographs confirm that no symbols or writing were included on any of the balloons the group distributed, other than one that said simply, “Respect.”

CJP does not believe that it contravened school policy or participated in hate speech in organizing the Gaza solidarity event or any other that it has sponsored. None of the CJP members who were present participated in or heard chants using the language the article attributed to them, nor did they hold any signs referring to the destruction of any people or state. CJP’s SOAR advisor was physically present that day, as were trained crowd monitors, in order to ensure protesters broke no rules and respected the free speech rights of student demonstrators in an opposing rally. Photos from the protest have been accessible to the public on our online forum since February 2009.
The article’s description of our event as a “rally for the destruction of Israel” pushes the boundary between liberal interpretation and blatant mischaracterization. Such unfounded allegations negatively impact CJP’s ability to organize in the campus community and grossly misrepresent its members, their beliefs, and intentions. Furthermore, they perpetuate an extreme and often uninformed way of engaging with the conflict that stigmatizes and distorts the actual experiences and perspectives of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

This article exhibits the type of overzealous approach that falsely characterizes Palestinians living under military occupation as hateful, violent, and “tribally backwards,” and also portrays Israelis in a similarly distorted fashion. This type of demonization renders honest and open exchange about Israel/Palestine nearly impossible and undermines intellectual integrity and academic freedom. For example, disingenuous comparisons like the one the author draws between university sponsorship of our events and that of the Ku Klux Klan are not only defamatory, but actively work to silence and delegitimize criticism of Israeli government policy. This silencing is especially detrimental in an educational community, like UCSC, where the free exchange of ideas is supposed to be a core value.

The Palestinian people, and those who support them, are not hateful or anti-Jewish by nature. We believe that educating our campus community about these issues is important because of the scale and scope of the historical and contemporary abuses that Palestinians experience in both their homeland and refugee diaspora (the largest in the world). This education is especially critical in the U.S. because our tax-dollars directly fund the Israeli military and many people often stigmatize or ignore the
Palestinian narrative in domestic discussion of the conflict. We thank Leviathan Jewish Journal for giving us the space to respond to the defamatory statements that it published in the last issue. It is our belief that open and sincere communication on campus can promote a positive and accepting environment for all students, Jewish, Palestinian, and otherwise.

Published on page 19 of the Winter 2012 issue of Leviathan.

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