Whenever I get asked the question “What are some of your greatest accomplishments?” in a job interview, I can never answer the way I’d like to.
Because the truth is that some of my greatest accomplishments included fucking shit up as a campus activist in college.
At the beginning of my sophomore year, I was part of the founding executive board of the Rutgers chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. SJP has become notorious internationally for its leadership in the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as being the bane of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s, or AIPAC’s, existence.
At Rutgers, we single-handedly changed campus dialogue regarding Middle Eastern policy, and I personally feel that the newly-built, multi-million dollar Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement is a testament to how badly we freaked out campus Zionists.
The campus Zionists at Rutgers, like most universities, largely came from our campus Hillel chapter. While Hillel advertises itself as a religious student organization, it is very much a political one with an extremely Zionist agenda. We had multiple Jewish friends and colleagues who were unwelcome at Hillel due to their anti-Zionist views, and it is for this reason that Open Hillel campaigns have been popping up all over the country.
I’ll be honest, I almost miss them a little bit.
They were there at every single event, every single demonstration, and every single information table that we had. Sometimes it was just to keep an eye on us and what we were up to. Sometimes it was to compete with us and make sure they got their narrative out too. Sometimes it was purely to harass us, and even when it wasn’t, they couldn’t resist.
Some took the J-Street approach of liberal Zionism—basically a specific form of diet racism— and acknowledged the atrocities committed by the Israeli military forces but pretended both sides of the “conflict” were equally at fault.
Others took the more aggressive approach of accusing us of anti-Semitism while simultaneously hurling anti-Arab and anti-Muslim assumptions at us.
My personal favorites were the ones who completely denied facts that we had gathered from the Israeli military and media itself. Whatever their intentions, most of them asked us the same questions in some form or another. Here are just eight of the greatest hits:
1. Why are you singling out Israel?
Undoubtedly, the many people who asked us this weren’t actually looking for an answer. This was their roundabout way of telling us “Your anti-Israel sentiments are anti-Semitic since you are clearly singling out the only Jewish country in the world.”
But, as any pro-Palestine activist worth their salt will tell you, Zionism and Judaism are not the same thing.
Israel singles itself out not only through its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians but also through its demands that Israel not be held accountable by the rest of the world. Israel has repeatedly violated dozens of UN resolutions and international laws, most notably the Fourth Geneva Convention which states that an “occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies.”
Thanks to the United States’ veto power, Israel has never had to face any consequences from the UN for its human rights violations. In addition, the United States also singles out Israel in terms of political and economic support. In every single election, candidates speak of Israel as if it is the 51st state and perhaps the most important of all.
No country receives more U.S. aid than Israel, a supposed democracy, and a developed nation. Just last year, the United States government signed a 10-year military assistance deal with Israel, worth $3.8 billion—the largest single pledge of military assistance in U.S. history. So as American taxpayers, we have every right to be concerned about where such a vast amount of our money is going.
2. Do you support KHAMAAAAS?
Putting aside the hilarious pronunciation of Hamas due to a Hebrew mistransliteration, there are multiple issues with this question.
Just the fact that we were asked this so often revealed a problematic assumption on the part of so many Zionists: that pro-Palestine means pro-Hamas.
I can say without hesitation that none of us SJPers are Hamas supporters; on the contrary, we detest many of their tactics. However, it should also be noted that the designation of “terrorist” is an extremely political one and prone to change right along with a given government’s interest. The Iranian Mujahedin, for example, is no longer considered a terrorist organization by the United States and much of Europe.
While the US government does consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization, it should be noted that Russia, Turkey, and China do not. When Zionists say “Israel has a right to defend itself,” they’re referring to the Hamas bogeyman and its aspirations toward “the destruction of Israel.” But unlike groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Hamas is a democratically-elected party with an important role in the Palestinian struggle. And even within Hamas, there is a split between advocates of a more nonviolent approach and those who favor armed struggle.
My point is that there is a lot of nuance to Hamas and its support among Palestinians.
I will repeat it because I know my words will be misconstrued by someone: I do not support Hamas. None of us did.
But we did not hesitate to point out what our Zionist counterparts refused to see: violence perpetrated by Palestinian groups has been a direct result of Israeli occupation and oppression. Israel was created in 1948, but Hamas did not come into being until 1987.
So prior to 1987, just whom was Israel defending itself against?
3. Why do you target Israel when Arab countries have abused Palestinians too?
First, note how this question basically acknowledges that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is horrible. It’s the classic playground “Well, he was doing it too!”
Secondly, the actions and policies of other countries do not excuse those of Israel’s nor do they compare to the ethnic cleansing that Israel has perpetrated against the Palestinians.
There is also the fact that the Palestinians living in these countries—Lebanon, Jordan, Syria—are there because they’d been driven out of their homeland by the Israeli military.
4. Well, what do you think about Saudi Arabia?
This was my favorite one. I would literally grin whenever I heard it. In fact, I love it so much I’m going to give you my answer to this question verbatim: You’re asking me, a Muslim girl clearly wearing no hijab, short sleeves, who drove here, what I think about Saudi Arabia?
Again, this question was laden with assumptions. Anyone asking us this clearly assumed we were all Muslims (we weren’t) who were, therefore, supporters of Saudi Arabia (which we definitely weren’t). Not only did we all have issues with Saudi Arabia’s own human rights violations, but apparently unlike our Zionist buddies, we were also highly aware of the fact that Saudi Arabia is one of Israel’s greatest allies and enablers.
And if you’re automatically comparing your beloved Israel to Saudi Arabia yourself, you might want to stop and reconsider just what it is you’re supporting.
5. Why are you supporting a boycott when it will harm Palestinians too?
The thing that bothers me most about this question is that the person asking it is acting as if BDS is a new concept. The Palestinian BDS movement was inspired by the BDS movement in South Africa, and South African BDS supporters were often met with this exact argument.
However, Palestinian trade unions and labor organizations, like the South African ones before them, fully support BDS, which itself was called for by Palestinian civil society.
They have already determined that this is the action they want to take, and our job as allies is to support them in doing so.
6. Would you give up your land to the Native Americans if they came back?
It’s amazing how many of the questions that were lobbed at us implicitly accepted that Israel is, in fact, illegally occupying Palestine and ethnically cleansing its people.
Without fail, about once a month, a campus Zionist would do us the favor of bringing up the parallels to the genocide of the Native Americans for us. I personally often pointed out that there weren’t that many Indigenous people around to take back the land, and that we were there precisely to prevent the Palestinians from meeting the same fate.
But yes, should any Native Americans come back to claim their original homeland, I personally would give it up for them. We don’t believe in the right of return being exclusive to Palestinians.
7. Why do you need another Arab state in the Middle East? Why can’t Jews have one state for themselves?
Honestly, I’m totally down for a Jewish state. Given the shitty treatment the Jewish people have received for centuries, they deserve to have a place to call their own.
But not at the expense of another people.
I don’t have the right to go over to someone else’s house in India and declare that since they’ve owned other houses and I never have, this one should be mine now since it belonged to my ancestors.
This question also reveals the very racialized thinking of Zionism. Palestinians and their supporters do not see Palestine as just another Arab state. It is a nation of its own accord with its own extremely distinctive history (I mean, come on, Jesus) and culture.
As a “Jewish state,” not only does Israel exist at the expense, and on the backs, of the Palestinians, but it also gives extreme social, legal, and financial privileges to its Jewish citizens. Israelis of non-European descent, on the other hand, are treated as second and third-class citizens. In fact, there are over 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel alone.
8. Do you believe Israel has a right to exist?
States do not have rights. People do.
As such, no state has a right to exist.
And it certainly doesn’t have the right to take over another people’s land with massacres and mass expulsions. Palestinians, on the other hand, have a right to resist. This is yet another question that subtly accused us of anti-Semitism. Zionists are often preoccupied with the notion that us anti-Zionists seek only the “destruction of Israel.”
Our main concern, however, is the end of the Israeli occupation and that full rights be given to the Palestinian people. Until that time comes, we’ll continue to protest.