Today Jan. 28, Michael Douglas and Natan Sharansky will be coming to Brown for a lecture devoted to spreading “hasbara” (propaganda) on college campuses. Brown will be the first stop on a three-part tour. We as activists committed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement write in opposition to this lecture on the following grounds:
I. The Jewish Agency for Israel will be funding the lecture as part of a massive push made by the Israeli government to conflate pro-Palestinian activism with anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose own government will be funding this event, has said this time and time again: “Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned.” It is immoral to smear social justice activists with claims of anti-Semitism, and this is a strategic tactic used to delegitimize BDS and turn attention away from Israel’s apartheid regime.
II. The Jewish Agency for Israel has been the primary vehicle for colonizing the land of Palestine for the last century. It has been involved with land expropriation and massive settler immigration as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign intended to clear the land of Palestinians. It is the same group that funds Birthright programs and Israel Engagement Fellows like those at the Brown/RISD Hillel.
In 2013, the Jewish Agency for Israel released a report stating that its efforts to combat BDS had failed, and thus they laid out a plan to fight the movement like never before. The Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration pledged $100 million and individual donors pledged another $200 million to start a campaign to label BDS activists as anti-Semites.
III. Natan Sharansky is well-known in Israel for campaigning against the rights of African refugees. He has been relentless in refusing to allow them to settle in Israel, saying to the Times of Israel, “we cannot automatically give everybody the status of a refugee and treat them as political refugees because really there could then be millions of these.” It has also been discovered that he stole aid funds pledged to African refugee settlement and put the money towards the Jewish Fund for Israel. It is a disgrace that such a bigot with an ugly track record of anti-Palestinian, anti-African racism is being lauded on this campus.
IV. This is an affront to academic freedom: Brown students should not be exposed to propaganda campaigns executed by state powers, especially colonial state powers. Further, so long as the Brown/RISD Hillel continues to abide by the Israel Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities, set by Hillel International, which forbids criticism of Israel, it stands in direct violation of academic freedom. Brown/RISD Hillel has refused to become an “Open” Hillel, which means that American Jews are still not allowed to speak freely regarding Israel within Hillel. So long as it accepts money from the Netanyahu government to put on lectures and abide by the Hillel International Israel guidelines, Brown/RISD Hillel is directly in violation of academic freedom.
V. The idea of bringing Michael Douglas is part of what the Israeli government has laid out as its Brand Israel campaign, a campaign designed to put the spotlight upon Israel’s cultural capital, rather than on its violent repressive policies. As Wayne Firestone, executive vice president of Hillel said about the campaign, it is intended to portray Israel as a place where “there are cool, hip people.” We object to this blatant whitewashing, and Natan Sharansky, one of the speakers and the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel has been quoted as saying that college campuses are a focus of this Brand Israel campaign.
In light of this, we invite all people of conscience, pro-Palestine supporters and defenders of academic freedom to join us outside Salomon today at 7 p.m. for a rally in order to speak out against this justification of Israeli crimes and infringement of the Israeli government upon our campus.
Students for Justice in Palestine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A previous version of this article cited the author as Huriat Al-Sharq ’17. In fact, Al-Sharq is not a student at Brown, and the op-ed was written by members of Students for Justice in Palestine. The Herald regrets the error.