Palestine Writes Literature Festival Response to Antisemitism Allegations: More Antisemitism (With Bonus Chutzpah)
The organizers of the Palestine Writes Literature Festival – tainted by their own antisemitism and terror support, as well as that of way-too-many-of-their-featured-speakers-and-sponsors – have responded to complaints about it with a letter denying the accusations and attacking its detractors.
You can read the entire letter here. I wanted to focus on a few parts:
Dear President Magill et. al.,
It has come to our attention that individuals and organizations have been calling and writing to complain about the Palestine Writes Literature Festival to administrators at the University of Pennsylvania, including deans, the Provost, President, and some of the festival’s funders. One of those letters, a joint endeavor between the Jewish Federation and the ADL, was forwarded to us, along with an official response from the University, via Dean Steven Fluharty.
While we are not surprised by such a campaign to discredit and denigrate us, we are compelled to respond. Our initial impulse was to do so in an open document, because, unlike our detractors, we do not operate in the shadows nor among elite decision makers and funders. Rather, we value transparency and public access, accountability, and scrutiny. We are also acutely aware of the power disparity between these highly funded, connected and organized Zionist organizations versus our small cultural institution run by volunteers and student organizations, most of them Penn students.
Unsurprisingly, the original letter speaks of “anti-Israel bias and antisemitism” as if these are interchangeable concepts. The latter is a form of religion-based bigotry with a legacy of violence and profound harm, while the former is a wholly legitimate and necessary criticism of a settler-colonial state with one of the worst human rights records in the world, which has, and continues to be credibly accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the crime of apartheid. See APPENDIX A for further information re the crime of Apartheid.
We categorically reject this cynical, sinister, and ahistorical conflation of bigotry with the moral repudiation of a foreign state’s criminality, particularly as most of us are victims of that state. It is distressing that the university blindly accepted this conflation without question or comment. In fact, every instance of the examples listed in the original letter refers to Zionism, Zionists, or Israel. Situating those individual Palestinians and our allies in league with actual anti-semites is wholly irresponsible and dangerous. It is also an insult to the intelligence of your university community.
We Palestinians are an ancient people whose identity passed through and encompassed many identities over millennia—including religious identities of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—as our ancestors converted between religions, and mixed with occupiers, invaders, and pilgrims who settled among us. We know the difference between our ancestors and the colonizers destroying their memory; between Judaism and Zionism, Jews and Zionists. These are not synonymous terms and suggestions otherwise are cynical ploys deployed by those who have no convincing argument against Israel’s systematic and ongoing destruction, theft and colonization of Palestine and her people.
It is crucial to distinguish between these two concepts to foster a fair and nuanced conversation. The university failed to do this in their response, and in doing so, affirmed the denigration of the individuals named as well as the festival itself, effectively precluding a respectful dialogue and further undermining efforts to address both antisemitism and Palestinian oppression. Sadly, the weaponization of anti-semitism has been an effective means to silence us and promulgate our erasure and demonization as a people
Note how they reject the so-called conflation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, yet in the very same letter invoke an antisemitic trope: that of Jews as sinister, murky figures who “operate in the shadows,” as well as “elites” and powerful, well-funded organizations. Tell me you are antisemitic without actually saying you are antisemitic.
They seem to believe that by avoiding use of the word “Jew” and only using the word “Zionist”, they are absolved from charges of antisemitism. They also seem to believe that it is ok for them – a bunch of non-Jews – to define what is and what isn’t antisemitism. News flash: you do not, and probably over 95% of Jews in the world are what you would call Zionist (not surprising considering that Zionism is integral to Judaism).
Note also the insane chutzpah of claiming that palestinian identity somehow encompasses Judaism (which it clearly does not and never has). Jews were around way before the word “palestine” was invented. This is reminiscent of that time BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti claimed Arab culture includes Jewish culture, and is clearly another tactic to deflect the allegations of antisemitism. What makes this even more chutzpadik is it is being done by those screaming out “cultural appropriation” the most.
Meanwhile, back to the letter, which was posted in Susan Albulhawa’s name:
The first television series about a Palestinian-American family was just aired in 2022 on
Netflix, which also streamed in the US the first and only film about the Palestinian Nakba. It
is no coincidence that the ADL and company mounted a frenzied campaign to have both
removed from the popular streaming service. Thankfully, they were not successful. Zionists
even deployed a massive complaint campaign to have Palestinian songs removed from
Spotify, which were reinstated only after public outcry at such racism. Their “concern” is
about ensuring we have no voice and no human presence in the world.
On the other hand, there are endless films about us as demons, terrorists, irrational violent
creatures, savages, pitiable simpletons, stupid and greedy sheiks, harems, oppressed
women, and on and on.
This is rich coming from Abulhawa of all people.
12:00: It gets better (worse)
A review of the document properties show that the author of this letter to @Penn (which was signed by Susan Abulhawa) is Rima Merriman (Rima Najjar Merriman). Najjar is a member of the organizing collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel… https://t.co/XG1t47CkYC pic.twitter.com/QusyDyc5sA— GnasherJew®גנאשר (@GnasherJew) September 18, 2023