Photo: Dr Sunaina Maria of ASA lecturing on the nature of Zionist settler colonialism as a racist project at a conference on BDS: Strategic Actions for Justice. Her latest book, published by the University of California Press, is Boycott: The Academy and Justice for Palestine (2017)
The movement for justice in Palestine and BDS campaigns around the country are winning, in the face of Zionist harassment, bullying, and intimidation. Zionist lawfare, as its proponents term their desperate efforts to suppress movements for Palestine solidarity that they are unable to defeat by other means, met a well deserved check recently when a San Francisco judge dismissed as frivolous a suit against Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and the program in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at San Francisco State University. Undaunted by this public humiliation of their fellow lawfarers, the Louis D. Brandeis Center, a legal arm of American Zionism, has issued a defamatory press statement that is if anything even more preposterous than the suit aimed at silencing Abdulhadi.
In the wake of the recent dismissal of most of their charges against the’s statement announces the launching of a further suit against named members of the ASA, some of whom were elected officers of the Association in 2013 when the ASA overwhelmingly passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. These individuals are charged with secretively conspiring to deceive the Association and to foist on unsuspecting scholars a boycott resolution by stealth in what the statement describes, with breathtaking melodrama, as “an illegal, hostile takeover” of the ASA.
The charge is on its face ludicrous. It seeks to rebrand normal political process, including the work of established caucuses within the ASA, as conspiracy, thus labeling democratic deliberation and advocacy a suspect and sanctionable activity. In actuality, their complaint is aimed against the goal of the political work, not the processes followed, which were all well within normal organizational practice. Absurd as the claim regarding a supposed, shadowy “conspiracy” is, it should not surprise anyone that the Brandeis Center would employ such a tactic. If the last decade of Palestine solidarity organizing has demonstrated anything, it is that Zionists fear nothing more than democracy and open debate. Lawfare itself is the tactic of those whose only response to criticism of the state of Israel can be the effort to silence by repressive means those whose arguments and evidence they cannot counter. Rather than have to justify the illiberal nature of Israeli apartheid and illegality, they resort to coercion, smears and innuendo, hoping at the very least to waste the time and energy of their opponents.
But in other ways also this smear campaign masquerading as a press release is very revealing. It is peculiarly and openly racist and discriminatory in its targeting of people of color and queer individuals when in fact the ASA’s active organizers included a broad coalition of scholars of all kinds, representing a full spectrum of the membership. The suit’s selective focus on a handful of individuals says much about the mentality of the plaintiffs and about the racism that is inherent in Zionist efforts to shut down the campaign to win justice and human rights for Palestinians. The effort to shield Israel’s ugly racist regime of colonial settlement and ethnic cleansing from public scrutiny and debate inevitably imports the racism of that regime into its lurid fantasies about how an association’s open deliberations could yield overwhelming support for the boycott resolution.
What the statement shows is that the Brandeis Center is indulging a conspiratorial fantasy that necessarily disavows the several years of very public and open grassroots organizing that preceded the 2013 victory of boycott proponents. After earlier efforts to pass such a resolution failed in 2007, the campaign recommenced in 2009 with a panel that featured Omar Barghouti and on which Black Studies scholar Fred Moten also spoke very memorably, there were panels incorporating Palestine-related work every subsequent year and increasingly well attended open organizing meetings in 2011 and 2012. None of these events were concealed and the base of support for the boycott resolution steadily grew in time with the increasing awareness of the ASA’s membership about how the Israeli colonial occupation of Palestine intersected with their own objects of study that included US settler colonialism, racist policing, imperial militarism, and so forth. As should be the case with any scholarly association, knowledge and study informed the deliberations that took place in the lead-up to the vote on the resolution.
In the event, the ASA’s Executive Committee was scrupulously and unprecedentedly open and democratic in passing the resolution to a ballot of the whole membership, rejecting past traditions whereby the EC passed resolutions on its own as the elected representative body of the association. In other words, whereas every prior resolution on every other matter had been passed by the Executive Committee alone, on the question of boycott, the resolution was determined through a full, democratic membership vote. The resolution was thus decided on the basis of the voices of the members. Anyone who wishes to learn more about how proponents of the resolution actually went about the process of organizing within the ASA should read Sunaina Maira’s new book, Boycott: The Academy and Justice for Palestine (2017), in which numerous ASA members speak openly and in detail about the broad-based political organizing that went into passing the measure.
The Brandeis Center’s dismissal of this easily documented broad-based movement in favor of promulgating baseless conspiracy theories and racially targeting a handful of the many proponents of the boycott resolution speaks volumes about how the agents of lawfare see the world—and act in it. Their fantastic scenario is a projection of their own modus operandi: highly funded by a handful of wealthy individuals and organizations, they use frivolous lawsuits and dogwhistle racism and homophobia to counter an open civil society movement whose steady growth and increasing mainstream acceptance baffles them. Defenders of a racist state, they simply do not understand what democracy looks like. The contrast with BDS organizing could not be clearer: explicitly committed to a rights-based agenda that rejects all forms of discrimination, the campaign depends and thrives on public debate, open and transparent organizing and the dissemination of facts. The BDS campaign is a global civil society movement and has no other means than those of argument and participatory organizing. That commitment has proven remarkably successful and, to the dismay of Israel’s defenders, the movement continues to gather strength in the face of all their efforts to crush it.
Increasingly, Zionism behaves like a toxic cloud, spreading authoritarianism and coercion wherever it goes. As the last months have shown it finds its natural allies among white supremacists and right-wing bullies. Its own bullying lawsuits, which seek to intimidate and silence, belong with the growing authoritarian tendency that disseminates racism and homophobia and intimidation globally and nationally. But coercion is not a strong argument and civil society movements are only invigorated by their disgust at such tactics. This latest baseless suit will fail, like others before it, and BDS will only gather support from those who reject the politics of bullying and legal terror.