Naomi Klein speaks to the media

Author and rights advocate Naomi Klein speaks to the media before an event on December 12, 2019 in Berlin, Germany.

(Photo: Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

Don't Let Fabricated Outrage 'Distract From Genocidal Violence in Gaza,' Says Naomi Klein

"Keep sharing reports from Gaza," said the author and activist. "Israel is freaking out at the implications, which is why the distraction machine is in overdrive."

This post has been updated with information about the House investigation into antisemitism on college campuses.

Author and rights advocate Naomi Klein warned late Wednesday that supporters of a permanent cease-fire in Gaza must stay focused on one thing—Israel's mass killing of civilians in the blockaded enclave, a violation of international law—and resist efforts to distract the public from the issue at hand.

"The distraction machine is in overdrive," said Klein on social media after more than a day of commentary and outrage directed at the presidents of three top universities after they testified before the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee at a hearing titled "Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism."

Republican members including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) demanded to know whether the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) would discipline students for "calling for the genocide of Jews."

The university leaders suggested that their schools typically do not punish students for speech alone—in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, Penn president Liz Magill said in a video posted later—but said such calls could qualify as harassment if they were "directed and severe, [or] pervasive," and could be punished if it "crosses into conduct."

Sally Kornbluth, president of MIT, said she had "not heard calling for the genocide of Jews on our campus." Stefanik replied that "chants for intifada"—a call for an "uprising" which is not inherently violent—have been heard at the school.

Videos of students holding an anti-war protest at University of California, Los Angeles were widely circulated in October, with some influential pro-Zionist celebrities and commentators asserting that students were proclaiming, "We want Jewish genocide." The protesters were actually addressing Israeli officials and saying, "We charge you with genocide."

"Can someone point me to an example of a student group calling for the genocide of Jewish people?" asked Mari Cohen, associate editor of Jewish Currents. "Why are we having this conversation?

The hearing wasn't the first to confront speech on college campuses since Israel began its U.S.-backed onslaught in Gaza, which has killed at least 17,177 Palestinians in just two months. Last month the House Judiciary Committee invited student leaders of conservative and pro-Zionist groups to testify about "hostility towards certain points of view" on campuses, and the hearing was interrupted by pro-Palestinian rights students who demanded to know whether their speech should also be protected.

Klein said Wednesday that the repeated hearings on the topic "are smoke and mirrors to distract from genocidal violence in Gaza."

Klein suggested that it has not gone unnoticed by Israeli officials that journalists and residents in Gaza have continued to widely share information about the reality on the ground, where dozens of Palestinians were killed Thursday in Israeli air raids on a home in Gaza City. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) escalated attacks on the city of Khan Younis in the south—previously a relatively safe refuge for people who fled northern Gaza—with "multiple residential buildings and units... flattened," according to Al Jazeera.

"The occupation is trying to destroy all residential buildings in the eastern areas of Khan Younis," reported the outlet on Thursday.

Gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases as well as hepatitis have also begun spreading due to blockades on medical supplies, fuel, and safe drinking water, leading the World Health Organization to warn last month that disease could ultimately kill more civilians in Gaza than the bombs the U.S. has helped to provide for Israel.

"Congress should be working towards a lasting cease-fire to end Israel's deadly assault on Gaza, a hostage exchange, and a path to equality, justice, and safety for all Palestinians and Israelis," said the Jewish-led Palestinian rights group IfNotNow on Wednesday, responding to a House resolution that claimed anti-Zionism and antisemitism are one and the same. "Not wasting precious time using antisemitism as an excuse to shut down free speech."

On Thursday afternoon, Stefanik announced that the committee was launching "an official congressional investigation with the full force of subpoena power" into the three universities and other schools regarding antisemitism on campus and administrators' responses.

"This investigation will include substantial document requests, and the committee will not hesitate to utilize compulsory measures including subpoenas if a full response is not immediately forthcoming," said committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). "Other universities should expect investigations as well, as their litany of similar failures has not gone unnoticed."

The student newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania, The Daily Pennsylvanian, noted that the school's rules governing hate speech state that the university can only discipline students if their "inflammatory speech intentionally and effectively provokes a crowd to immediately carry out violent and unlawful action."

"Universities can invest their efforts and resources in educating their members and in creating spaces and contexts for productive dialogue, but they cannot legitimately punish members—students, staff, and faculty—who choose not to participate in those, or who profess bigoted and other hateful views," the policy states.

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