Palestine activism grows at US campuses despite backlash

“There’s really this deliberate attempt … echoing Israeli state policy, to prevent and stifle any kind of dissent and any kind of honest and critical thinking,” says freelance journalist and activist Ben Norton, a close observer of the crackdown of Palestine solidarity activism on US campuses.

Israeli government officials and anti-Palestinian groups have turned universities into “battlegrounds” for popular opinion on Israel. But every year Palestine solidarity grows more visible at US schools.

On 23 September, student activists across the country held a day of action in support of Palestinian rights.

The Electronic Intifada recently spoke with Norton about the day of action, the current state of student solidarity organizing and the backlash against it.

Norton said that on the international day of action, students rallied in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, demanding their universities drop their investments in US companies that profit from Israel’s occupation.

They also organized against campus police training “in cooperation with Israeli security,” Norton added, since “there’s a large interaction that’s well-documented between US security forces and police and Israeli security forces and police.”

“McCarthyist attacks”

The recent attacks against professor Steven Salaita — who was fired from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his criticism of Israel’s attacks on Gaza over the summer — were also a rallying point for the student organizers.

“There’s these McCarthyist attacks on Palestine solidarity activists, especially students in the US,” Norton said. “Scholars themselves are often afraid of criticizing Israel.”

However, Norton explained, the movement for justice in Palestine across US campuses is growing quickly — especially after Israel’s summer onslaught on Gaza.

“Especially for American students, this past conflict has been the watershed moment, the turning point,” he said. “And it’s in this conflict that … Israel’s barbarism was just laid clear. People saw the blatant racism in Israeli society, and how that leads to the dehumanization of Palestinian life.”

Standing up

The next step for student activists around the country, Norton added, “will be to escalate” their direct actions, especially around campus divestment initiatives.

“We’ve seen again and again that our government itself is not interested in listening to Americans — especially young Americans,” Norton said.

“And standing up for our rights is not only critical for the Palestine solidarity movement, it’s absolutely critical for our own future and ensuring the positive quality of life for our future children and for our peers in general,” he added.

Listen to the full interview with Ben Norton via the player below.