The remarks below were delivered by Professor Alex Lubin as part of a webinar convened by Security in Context and co-organized by Mada al-Carmel Arab Center for Applied Social Research titled "Academia in the Shadow of Genocide". You can watch the full webinar here:

By Alex Lubin

I want to offer support and solidarity to students and scholars facing elimination, termination, suspension, and sanctions due to their advocacy for Palestinian freedom, for their criticism of Zionism, for their opposition to occupation, for their condemnation of genocide. It feels like a distraction to think about the status of academic repression in U.S. universities in this moment, during a livestreamed genocide, because no group of scholars face the dangers of the present moment more than students, scholars, and academic staff in Gaza. 

And yet we know that through its actions in the UN, it’s military aid, and its silencing of dissent, the U.S. is complicit in this genocide and universities in the U.S., like their counterparts in Israel, produce the knowledge and expertise to justify settler colonialism. So, to focus on the U.S., is in no way to take attention away from what is happening in Gaza, and across Palestine, but it is to show how challenges to U.S. and Israeli hegemony are being mounted in U.S. academies. We are living through a realignment in solidarity movements as well as new iterations of repression and fascism.

Across Europe and the United States scholars who criticize the ongoing genocide, or who criticize Zionism, or who support Palestinian freedom have been doxed, suspended, and fired. Almost every university administration in the U.S. has released statements condemning Hamas but these same institutions have remained silent about the assault on Gaza’s higher education infrastructure, about the genocide in general, and about attacks on their own faculty and students by Zionist organizations. Taken together the attack on Palestinian knowledge production and solidarity movements represent an appalling complicity with genocide and a frontal attack on all knowledge production that doesn’t serve the interests of war.

Moreover, what has been especially pernicious in the present has been the weaponization of accusations of anti-Semitism to silence dissent, analysis, and solidarity. For decades now, Zionist organizations in the U.S. have been successful at appropriating the language of civil rights and the civil rights movement to argue that Jewish safety (imagined as always and already aligned to Israel), should be the primary interest of the university – Palestinian, Muslim, Jewish anti-Zionist students are not only deemed subjects undeserving of safety, but their very existence constitutes the production of unsafety for imagined Jewish students. Moreover, University censorship of the word genocide, censorship of any analysis of what might constitute legitimate resistance, censorship of slogans like “free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” are especially anti-intellectual forms of silencing and dehumanization. Most campuses, arguing for academic freedom, go out of their way to offer protections for white supremacist speakers, or Zionist speakers who can call for the outright ethnic cleansing of Palestine; yet, no similar protections are afforded to Palestinian or Muslim students who merely demand an end to war and justice for all.

In congressional hearings to investigate anti-Semitism on campuses, a topic that has reached the stage of moral panic due to the successful and scurrilous linking of Palestinian solidarity to anti-Semitism, University Presidents have defamed students, staff, and professors who dare to criticize what the UN terms a plausible genocide. Meanwhile, neoconservatives who espouse the anti-Semitic “great replacement theory” stand in judgement and condemnation of Palestine solidarity activists.

To be clear, there is troubling anti-Semitism in Europe and America, but it is more likely to come from the white nationalist allies of Israel than from Palestine solidarity activists. I’m thinking here of Joe Biden’s recent claim that were it not for Israel, Jewish Americans would have no safe place in the world. This facile argument elides centuries of Jewish cohabitation and safety in the Arab world, while projecting European and American anti-Semitism onto stateless Palestinians.

It’s important to recognize that the current attacks on U.S. higher education has an historical arc that goes back to the ways that members of the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s embraced neo conservativism in the 1980s in their rejection of Black power and third world student movements.  Indeed, many of the most vociferous activists targeting Palestine solidarity activists today were themselves part of the left and socialist organizations in the 1960s. There is much already written on the rightward trajectory of liberal intellectuals and for now, I’ll merely say that understanding how the New Left became neoconservative, how demands for redistributive justice in the 1960s became the “safety” discourse we see today, reveals much about the authoritarian and fascist turn we’re witnessing in politics and higher education – but this is an analysis that might come after the present killing stops.

I think it important to understand that the moral panic of anti-Semitism in U.S. higher education is a counterinsurgency in response to the success of a multi-racial, and multi-faith Palestine solidarity movement. Zionist organizations and their allies are terrified that Palestinian, Muslim, Black, and Jewish non-Zionist students will join in solidarity and shatter the legitimacy of Zionism as a narrative of justice and tolerance in the West. So while it is difficult to imagine the present moment as one containing any hope for a transformative future, there’s a case to be made that young people are leading us to a new future, and there is a change taking place in metropolitan public discourse through our campuses.

Across the U.S. the present generation of students are less attached to Israel than their parents, are more likely to participate in multi-racial movement building and are highly skeptical of political and university leadership – these students are not facing the necropolitical consequences of war and elimination like their Palestinian counterparts, but their futures are also attenuated by ascendant oligarchy, debt, and fascism. Within these contexts, Palestine has become a nexus for imagining the future; it is the symbol of a new movement against militarism and securitization, a new movement against starvation and genocide, and a new movement against apartheid – Palestine is a litmus test for thinking about collective forms of life that reject the partitioning of humanity, the partitioning of home, and the partitioning of justice.

Alex Lubin is a Professor of African American Studies at Penn State University

Article or Event Link
Jun 21, 2024
Public Policy


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