By Nick Juliano Posted: 02/23/2009
Students have historically been at the forefront of progressive causes that challenge the existing political order and criticize inequalities such as racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. In the 1960s, Students for a Democratic Society stood alongside Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. as they addressed injustices of the past and worked toward a more just and democratic nation. Similarly, campuses in the 1970s and 1980s were vibrant scenes of political defiance as students joined with faculty in opposing Apartheid in South Africa through boycotts, divestments and sanctions. In both cases, students held sit-ins, protests, marches – building occupations and lectures by coupling the theater of civil disobedience with a strong academic backbone that opposed and ultimately brought about the fall of prevailing racial codes of conduct.
Segregation is gone, and every Western nation except Israel cut military and intelligence ties with the oppressive South African government, causing South Africa”s Apartheid regime to enter the international isolation that contributed to its collapse. I do not intend so much as to respond to the Wheel staff editorial from last Friday; indeed, I praise its intentions and much of its content, but I think it raises issues about the context of the issue of Palestine and all social justice struggles to which I would like to speak. A frequent critique of the use of the word “apartheid” to describe the Palestinian struggle has been that it is radical. I have heard this from professors, students and some administrators alike. My response is: That may not be a bad thing.
Challenging segregation was once seen as a radical idea, as was the movement against Apartheid in South Africa. Indeed, thousands of people were arrested, beaten and killed in these struggles. Today, students across the world are using these same tactics that were used against segregation and apartheid to dismantle what we see as Israel”s apartheid against Palestinians. We are seeking the implementation of international law, and we”re standing up for basic human rights through a boycotts, divestments and sanctions.
Two weeks ago, Hampshire College, the first American university to divest from South Africa, became the first American university to divest from companies supporting the Israeli occupation – which has been found illegal by an international court – after a two-year process of engagement between Students for Justice in Palestine and their administration. A wave of student sit-ins swept the United Kingdom in the aftermath of the Israeli assault on the starved population of Gaza, and students at NYU have occupied buildings on campus in solidarity with the Palestinian people and are demanding a cessation of relationships between NYU and Israeli institutions.
We go to college to be exposed to controversial ideas that challenge and expose the racism, sexism and discrimination in contemporary society. Malcolm X was considered a radical and banned from campuses. Martin Luther King was considered a radical prior to his assasination, and just last week we heard David Horowitz call Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, critical leaders of the anti-Apartheid movement, “terrorists.”
Today, Malcolm X, King, Tutu and Mandela are revered as heroes who dared to question the racism and injustice of their times. Professors, students and administrators who praise dynamic student movements of the past, while simultaneously condemning those of the present as being unbalanced, divisive or controversial are on the wrong side of history and are only avoiding the issue of Palestine, giving lip service to moderation. What would a moderate opinion of segregation be? Is it possible to have a moderate view of Apartheid? When racism and injustice is the source of a problem, moderation becomes the ally of apathy.
Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish-American whose parents suffered the horrors of Auschwitz and whose family was otherwise annihilated in the Nazi Holocaust, will be addressing the Emory community as the culminating speaker of Emory Advocates for Justice in Palestine”s “Israeli Apartheid Week.” The week”s purpose is not to raise awareness. This term is abused in academia. The week, on our campus and across the world, will inform and challenge an existing injustice by building support for the international effort to challenge the Israeli state to allow for equal opportunities for Arabs under occupation and in the diaspora alongside Jews.
In his work, Finkelstein draws on the experiences of his family to criticize the current systemic racism that is present in Israeli policy. He calls for equal rights for Arabs and Jews under the same law. He”s a radical, certainly. But radical is not a bad word. King, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela have taught us this.
Nick Juliano is a College senior from Atlanta. He is a member of the Coordinating Committee for Emory Advocates for Justice in Palestine.