Free speech has been a major topic of discussion across the country these past weeks, from the crackdown on NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem in protest of police brutality to attempts by white supremacists to cite the First Amendment to give a platform to right-wing, Islamophobic speakers at the University of California at Berkeley.
These same dynamics are playing out in Palestine organizing in the United States. The UC Berkeley administrators insisting that leading proponent of white supremacist views Milo Yiannopoulos should be able to speak on campus – despite a history of outing transgender students and current threats of outing undocumented students, putting students at extreme risk – stands in stark contrast to the decision by the same university to suspend a course on Palestine following pressure from pro-Israel groups.
Palestinian professors like Dr. Hatem Bazian and Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, along with students involved in Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on campuses nationwide, have faced years of threats and harassment from right-wing, Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian groups for their activism. All too often, they receive little to no support from university officials, calling into question whose rights are deemed worthy of protection. The US government itself has sought to repress organizing for Palestinian rights, with widespread efforts to criminalize BDS at both the state and federal level, and another example being the forced departure of Rasmea Odeh from the United States last week.
Backlash against struggles for freedom and justice is not new, and we can only expect it to increase as right-wing forces become more empowered by the rhetoric and policies of the Trump Administration. That is why it is important to protect ourselves and our communities, especially those that are most vulnerable.
Today, take two actions to protect the rights of groups struggling for freedom, justice, and equality:
1. WATCH OUR NEW KNOW YOUR RIGHTS TRAINING! Today, we are sharing a brand new resource as part of our Together We Rise curriculum skills-building track. USCPR Steering Committee member and attorney Bina Ahmad presents critical training for activists that delves into the political framework around why protecting ourselves and our communities is important, offers important information on how to deal with law enforcement, and tips on the importance of solidarity with people who are impacted by state repression. Please watch and share!
2. TAKE ACTION FOR UC IRVINE STUDENTS: Once again, in response to pro-Israel groups, UCI administrators last month decided to punish the SJP for spontaneously clapping and chanting at a May 10 event featuring Israeli soldiers. The chanting broke out after one of the soldiers’ entourage physically assaulted a student. Click here to send an email to the Chancellor Howard Gillman demanding the sanctions be dropped and the university protect their students’ rights.
You can learn more about “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech” from member group Palestine Legal here, including plenty of other resources for Palestine advocates. Now more than ever, we who believe in freedom, justice, and equality must know our rights and protect each other.