The Students for Justice in Palestine National Conference took place at UCLA over the weekend of Nov. 16-18, 2018.
The conference had strict sign-up prerequisites, including limiting registration to six students per school, with the exception of the host university, and requiring people who signed up to be vouched for by their local SJP chapter. This made it incredibly difficult for the Jewish community to be aware of what actually happened at the conference.
Ha’Am found a student willing to discuss the contents of the conference. However, to protect privacy, the student’s name will not be printed.
Our source revealed hundreds of people attended. About a third were of Palestinian descent: “Most of them either had parents or grandparents that were Palestinian; many were Palestinian Jordanian or Palestinian Lebanese.” Another third were “Muslim Americans from other Universities, a lot of South Asians, Somalis, Egyptians” and the last third were American sympathizers, including many secular Jews. Our source spoke to “at least seven” of the Jewish students, who “have no connection to Israel; they came from affluent backgrounds and none of them were practicing.”
Other speakers and attendees included Hatem Banian, the founder of the movement, as well as Samer Alhato, MEChA de UCLA, the Pakistani Student Association, Indus at UCLA, the Asian Pacific Coalition, the Muslim Student Association and the Eagle and the Condor Liberation Front.
The overarching theme of the conference was “Israel is an oppressive colonial state,” which is “growing at the expense of the Palestinians,” according to our source.
The good news is, they don’t plan protests or event disruptions during the National Conference. Instead, like most National Conferences, they hold various break out sessions as well as general plenaries where a keynote speaker addresses everyone. There’s one striking difference, though: their keynote speakers include people like Hatem Bazian, a UC Berkeley professor who uses hashtags like “ASHKE-NAZI” to caption openly anti-semitic photos mocking Jews as entitled people who “kill, rape, smuggle organs & steal the land of Palestinians”.
Our source paraphrased the main point of his keynote address: by the “gulf states recognizing Israel, they have an evil inside them,” and “more and more people are falling for falsehoods and Israeli money.” He also said that “these places are beyond salvation and it’s up to us, with BDS, to save Palestinians.”
The panels offered during the breakout session of the conference included teaching students how to increase campus support for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and why it’s impossible to be a Feminist and Zionist, among others.
Interestingly, our source shared that the SJP conference didn’t include many “native born Palestinian speakers; most of them were second or third generation Palestinians.” Even Hatem Bazian, who was born in the West Bank, has lived in America since the early ‘90s.
Below I will discuss the four breakout sessions that our confidential source attended.
Discouraging Muslim and Jewish Interfaith Dialogue
Students are formally discouraged from engaging with Jewish students, which explains why Muslim groups refuse to work with the pro-Israel groups.
“They showed a picture of an article titled, ‘99 Rabbis in New York protest Israel,’”as an example of “the good Jews they should be engaging with,” said our source. This rhetoric was also accompanied by “only Jews who start with, ‘Israel is an illegitimate state,’” are worth talking to.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement or BDS
The BDS movement is a global campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets what the campaign describes as “[Israel’s] obligations under international law.” Which is defined as withdrawal from the occupied territories, removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and promotion of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Panelists and SJP leaders expressed a disregard for how this would impact Palestinian-Israelis, meaning those currently living in the Israel as full citizens with passports and all the same rights as Jewish-Israelis.
Leaders at the conference argued it’s the most effective way to help the Palestinian cause and our source said panelists and students repeatedly said, “There’s no other way for Israel to stop oppressing Palestinians.”
Our source shared that “they consider third-generation Palestinians refugees. That’s something I don’t agree with because they were using the example of someone born in the states. He has American citizenship and his parents have Jordanian citizenship, they’ve been settled long enough, they’re not a refugee anymore, they’re – I don’t know – the grandchild of a refugee, and the child of an immigrant, but refugee is something that has a special status that gives people certain privileges.”
According to our source, a theme at this panel was “Israel created a refugee crisis that they don’t take responsibility for” and many Lebanese and Syrian students said “Israel created a refugee crisis and we have to take care of it.”
One State or Two States?
Our source shared panelists argued for a one state solution during this panel. “It’s not fair for Palestinians who are from what’s currently the state of Israel to not have a right [to] return to that place.” The panelists then said: “What we want is a state where Muslims, Christians and Jews have equal rights of citizenship and equal representation,” according to our source.
This news comes as a big surprise because the NSJP Conference is a closed event and they’re not trying to be politically correct. Our source responded, “I think what they want is a one state solution where every Palestinian is given right of return, reparations, has apologies showered onto them saying sorry for the 70 years of pain we showered onto you, ‘we are the guilty Israelis.’ They want war trials.”
Our source at first thought it meant a bi-national country of Palestine, but members of SJP said that before Israel was created everyone – Christians, Jews, and Palestinians – was living in peace and we want to go back to that.” Our source asked what the first step toward establishing this would be and panelists responded, “Israel has to remove their settlements from the West Bank.”
Our source informed us, “there were arguments over why Israel is a European country and not Middle Eastern at all.” Arguments included Eurovision and gay rights. I asked if the Palestinian state would have gay rights and our source revealed that they brought up “that Israel is the only country in the Middle East with any gay rights but even there you can’t get married,” and was accused of “pinkwashing.”
According to Wikipedia, in the context of LGBTQ rights, “pinkwashing” is used to describe a variety of marketing and political strategies aimed at promoting products, countries, people or entities through an appeal to gay-friendliness, in order to be perceived as progressive, modern and tolerant.
Ultimately, although most of these findings are not surprising, the SJP has a right to assembly, and it’s critical for the Jewish community to learn their side of the story in order to understand the difficulty we have with relating to our Palestinian neighbors.
Photo via The Palestinian Chronicle