In what is surely a first for BDS activism in the United States, Palestinian Human Rights lawyer and activist, Professor Noura Erakat was among those welcomed by a University President to deliver a public talk on Palestine. Professor Erakat spoke at California State University, Fullerton, on March 3, 2015 as the keynote speaker for the university”s Women’s History Month Reception sponsored by University President Mildred García.
Having been nominated along with two other possible speakers, Professor Erakat was selected by the President”s office to deliver this keynote. A well-known human rights attorney and George Mason University faculty member, Professor Erakat delivered a talk entitled “Gender and Conflict Resolution in Palestine,” which examined Israeli settler-colonialism through a feminist framework and addressed how to empower Palestinian women to combat gendered and structural violence simultaneously. The program took place in the Fullerton Marriott in Fullerton, where Professor Erakat was among the guests welcomed by President García.
Professor Erakat”s talk defined feminism as a counter-hegemonic, intersectional framework that disrupts the normalization of the status quo, historicizes the present, and reflects on human agency. The talk went on to read the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through this framework while also addressing gendered violence within Palestinian society. It concluded with calls to empower Palestinian women to save themselves and simultaneously combat structural and gendered violence by adhering to their calls to support BDS.
Professor Erakat”s selection for this honor is especially noteworthy, given the regular attempts by Zionist organizations that continue to seek to suppress by legal and other forms of pressure the right of Palestinians to speak about their conditions under Israeli apartheid and occupation. Such protests recently took place against the selection of Professor Angela Davis as speaker for the 31st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Convocation at UC Santa Cruz, on account of her chosen topic, “Racism, Militarism, Poverty: From Ferguson to Palestine”. Zionist groups opportunistically conflate criticism of the state of Israel and of the political ideology of Zionism with anti-Semitism in an attempt to shut down constitutionally protected political expression on campus and exposure to diverse perspectives on public issues of vital importance. California State University campuses have also faced a number of campaigns of this kind, including an aggressive campaign to prevent respected Israeli historian Ilan Pappe from speaking at CSU Fresno, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and CSU Northridge in 2012.
It is all the more striking, therefore, that President García was willing to risk facing protest and endorse the selection of Professor Erakat as the speaker for this important keynote address. Hopefully her principled decision to stand by the speaker whom her office had selected despite the climate of antagonism against speaking on Palestine will stand as an example to other University administrators. It is high time that speakers who stand in solidarity with Palestine are not suppressed, or merely tolerated, on college campuses, but are recognized as informed and thoughtful critics of injustice that our students and faculty urgently need to hear.