Pro-Palestinian Rally Held On Columbia University Campus

Students participate in a protest in support of Palestine and for free speech at Columbia University campus on November 14, 2023 in New York City.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

What Genocide Denial Looks Like

The denial of the Palestinian genocide is being aided by institutionalized suppression of speech and activism and through the creation of a climate of fear around expressing dissent.

As Israel continues to massacre Palestinians, we are seeing a concerted attempt by the United States and its allies to not only downplay the horror but to also re-affirm and justify it as an act of self-defense.

Denialism happens to be one of the crucial stages of genocide, as outlined by Gregory H. Stanton, founding president and chairman of Genocide Watch. It plays out by denying that a genocide has occurred or is occurring. We can see examples of this denialism coming from everyone from the highest office of the government to medical journals and medical lobbying groups. President Joe Biden has disputed the Palestinian death toll. U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel also rejected that what Israel is doing constitutes genocide. Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article entitled, “Health Professionals and the War in the Middle East.” The article refers to Hamas’ “genocidal aims and actions” and urges health workers to speak out against them, while glossing over the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians by the Israeli forces. Ironically, the author, Dr. Matthew Wynia, runs an institute that studies the legacy of health professionals in the Nazi regime. Even while hospitals in Gaza are being bombed, the American Medical Association declined to consider a resolution calling for a cease-fire.

The denial of the Palestinian genocide is being aided by institutionalized suppression of speech and activism and through the creation of a climate of fear around expressing dissent. The recent doxxing and disciplining of students and workers for expressing solidarity with the Palestinians is a perfect example of this institutionalized suppression. Following the countrywide student walkouts to protest Israel’s actions, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning these students and falsely labeling them as being pro-Hamas and antisemitic. In the wake of recent pro-Palestine student activism, Brandeis University derecognized their Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter. A few days following the derecognition, police violently suppressed demonstrators who had gathered on campus to protest Israel’s bombing of Gaza. Columbia University also suspended their chapters of SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), thereby cutting off their University funding and barring them from holding events on campus.

If we are to entertain the notion that anti-Zionism is the same as antisemitism, what, then, is the correct way to call for an end to Israel’s war crimes?

On November 7, 2023, the House voted to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the only Palestinian-American member of Congress, for her pro-Palestinian stance. Among the grievances against her was her defense of a popular Palestinian liberation slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as an aspirational call to freedom. Tlaib had earlier made a statement that the existing apartheid system in Israel will lead to resistance from the Palestinians. The resolution to censure her claimed that her use of the word “resistance” against apartheid was condoning violent acts by Hamas. Twenty-two of her Democratic party colleagues joined the Republicans to censure her. The resolution went on to twist her criticisms of the Israeli and U.S. governments as being anti-Jewish.

On the other hand, Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) (to name a few), who have made blatantly racist remarks about Palestinians, have faced no discipline. The censure of Tlaib is one of many examples that shows Israel has bipartisan support among Democratic and Republican party leaders because supporting Israel’s war crimes helps the United States maintain and strengthen its imperial presence in the Middle East. These leaders, however, are ignoring the fact that 66% of American voters want a cease-fire.

Tlaib is just one of countless people who have been targeted for being pro-Palestine and labeled as antisemitic. In just the first two weeks of October 2023, Palestine Legal (a civil rights group) has received hundreds of complaints of suppression. Another civil rights group, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), has received well over a thousand complaints of Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias.

If we are to entertain the notion that anti-Zionism is the same as antisemitism, what, then, is the correct way to call for an end to Israel’s war crimes? When one of the most sophisticated military forces in the world commits war crimes, after forcibly displacing and interning the Palestinian people for decades, is it wrong to speak up because there is also rampant antisemitism in the world?

These masses exploited by their working and living conditions and burdened by debt are finding more common ground with the people in Palestine than with the politicians and heads of institutions.

This world is no stranger to antisemitism. From even pre-Holocaust Europe to the present day, there are countless incidents of hate against the Jewish people and we should always stand up against this. Groups such as the Anti Defamation League (ADL), however, are equating any criticism of what Israel is doing with antisemitism. It is hard to see this as anything but disingenuous and a disservice to the memory of the people who lost their lives due to antisemitism.

When a spurious charge of hatred is made, the accused is left at the mercy of the heads of their educational institutions or workplaces who do not necessarily have the moral clarity, courage, or social awareness to opine on these matters and are often also afraid of being viewed as condoning antisemitism.

Dismissing the fact that a genocide is occurring and then suppressing speech sympathetic to Palestinians has a gaslighting effect on a public that is already enraged. A false charge of antisemitism is intended to distract, deter, and punish people for speaking out against the genocide of Palestinians. But it is these deterrence tactics—to stifle and suppress support for Palestine—that are proving to be ineffective on the masses who are hyper connected globally with the help of social media. These masses exploited by their working and living conditions and burdened by debt are finding more common ground with the people in Palestine than with the politicians and heads of institutions.

Many of us at this moment feel compelled to act and not look away. There are daily direct actions happening across the country and the world. Palestinian rights activists along with Jewish peace activist groups are urgently calling for a cease-fire and justice for Palestinians. On November 4, 2023, we saw the largest protest for Palestine in Washington D.C., attended by over 300,000 people. Recently hundreds of protesters tried to block a military ship in Tacoma, Washington, that was believed to be transporting military supplies to Israel. Even congressional staffers staged a walkout accusing their “bosses on Capitol Hill [of] not listening” and demanding a cease-fire. On November 9, 2023, protesters occupied the headquarters of The New York Times, reading the names of killed Palestinians and calling out the paper’s biased coverage of Palestine.

People who are showing up to protests are together in this collective grief and anger towards “world leaders” for allowing this nightmare to continue. This dangerous ruling class precedent of targeting the masses for speaking out against grave injustices has the potential to backfire due to growing frustration toward them. We saw this not too long ago during the George Floyd uprising when people came out into the streets to protest police killing of one Black man during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and were themselves exposed to police violence.

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of what is happening to the Palestinians is that many of them who are making videos to show us what is being done to them are doing so in English, which is not their first language. They are doing this for us, while they are being killed, so that they can convince people in the West of their humanity.

We should continue to be vigilant and hold accountable imperialist leaders and their spokespersons when they tell us that what we are witnessing isn’t happening and that our words mean something other than what they do. Rather than censoring speech or punishing people who amplify Palestinians voices, it is our moral obligation to join them and call for an end to this genocide.

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