“What is the administration trying to keep you from hearing?”
by Nadine Aly, Noor Fawzy, and Renata Glebocki
In April of this year, Israeli Col. Bentzi Gruber spoke at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). His speech was propaganda, touting the ethics of the Israeli military. He offered a defense of his own actions in Operation Cast Lead, an Israeli military operation that resulted in the killing of over 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, and at least 300 minors. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented evidence that Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 2008-2009 attacks.
As FAU students and Palestinian human rights activists, we could not stand idly by as this member of a foreign military that is guilty of committing serious war crimes used student tuitionpaid public space to spread falsehoods about what happened in Gaza. Two days before the event, we addressed two university officials. We expressed our concerns and disapproval of an event of this nature. We reminded the officials that some students on campus had family members killed by the Israeli military during Operation Cast Lead. We received no response, and it became clear to us that the university administration was apathetic to human rights when it comes to those of Palestinians.
Out of a resolute commitment to human rights, we attended the event and peacefully walked out in protest. After the speaker’s opening remarks, one of us stood up and read a few facts concerning the war crimes committed in Operation Cast Lead. This very brief commentary was met by derogatory slurs from non-student members of the audience, who accused us of being “spies,” “terrorists,” and other offensive names. We raised a banner that read “War Criminal” as we walked out. The duration of the entire incident was no more than one or two minutes. The event continued afterward, for about an hour and a half. We peacefully protested outside for about half an hour.
The university administration started investigating five of us that walked out, initially trying to obtain the names of other human rights activists who participated in the protest. After a four-month university effort to discipline us, all five of us—two of whom wish to remain anonymous out of fear of further retaliation—decided to sign agreements that keep the incident off of our records and confirm that we have not been found responsible for the charges brought against us. But the agreements place harsh conditions on those of us who remain at FAU this year.
Based on the agreements, two of the three of us still at FAU are on indefinite probation for the remainder of our undergraduate careers, two of us are barred from holding any leadership positions in official student organizations, and three of us are required to take part in a mandatory University Campus of Difference training program based on a curriculum created by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in the fall. One of us, in addition to the mandatory training, is required to complete 25 hours of community service. Two of us who already graduated will also be subject to similar sanctions if we ever decide to come back to FAU to study.
It is important to emphasize that the mandatory training program is nothing short of officially sanctioned re-education, and it implies that we are prejudiced for standing up against war crimes and human rights abuses carried out by the Israeli military against Palestinians. The injustice of it is magnified because the co-sponsoring organization, the ADL, has been vocal in attempts to malign us for our Palestinian rights activism and has pressured the University to take action against us, has a history of spying on advocates for Palestinian rights, and is a staunch opponent of the internationally recognized legal right of Palestinians to return to homes from which they were expelled 65 years ago during Israel’s creation.
In other words, this self-described advocate of anti-bias trainings promotes an exclusivist Jewish state that keeps Palestinians out of their ancestral homeland, and irresponsibly mislabels advocacy on behalf of Palestinians as “anti-Semitic.” Yet we are expected to learn about “diversity” and “tolerance” from them?
We were well aware that the university’s goal was to impede our activism. But by signing these agreements we were able to avoid even greater scrutiny and harsher sanctions through a disciplinary proceeding and an extended legal battle with university administrators. Our goal is to instead focus on our education and activism.
We believe this is an opportunity to shed light on the miscarriage of justice at FAU and the clear violation of our First Amendment rights. The buckling of the administration to the demands of the ADL and several other external Zionist organizations – in this instance and multiple times in the past, is disturbing and at odds with free inquiry and the right of students to express their opposition to human rights abuses and war crimes. Although the university intends to silence our activism and stifle our right to free speech, this has only created unity among us and determination within us.
We believe that free speech advocates as well as civil rights and human rights advocates will be appalled at the actions FAU administrators have taken against us. The right of students to stand up for Palestinian freedom and human rights should not be trampled as has occurred at FAU. And certainly we should not be subject to the sort of re-education program the administration has in store for us in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that has been at the forefront of nationwide efforts to stifle student activism that criticizes Israeli policies and advocates for Palestinian human rights.
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