Last Wednesday, Students for Justice in Palestine screened the documentary “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the U.S.”
Ironically, this documentary which chronicles how false accusations of anti-Semitism are used to delegitimize criticism of Israel, has been falsely accused of anti-Semitism. On Friday, a coalition of students wrote a submission to the Daily Bruin in an attempt to smear the film and SJP. The authors attempted to cast a work of media criticism as a work of bigotry.
This film simply presents an intellectual conversation about why our media has failed to show Palestinians as human beings. It examines how Palestinians living under a nearly fifty-year long military occupation have been deliberately portrayed to U.S. audiences as people motivated only by hate. In the U.S. media, violence by the Israeli military towards Palestinians is consistently cast as self-defense, yet violence by Palestinians is labeled terrorism. Violence in any case is wrong, but there is a double standard which excuses Israeli violence.
It is fair to critique media coverage of all issues. Consider how in the 2016 presidential election, little attention was paid to climate change policy, although countless scientists have warned of its consequences. Similarly, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have iterated the injustice of the occupation and settlement construction. Yet in the 2016 presidential debates, questions regarding Israel and Palestine were only framed as how to alleviate Israeli suffering – with no mention of Palestinians.
The central accusation of the submission is that the film represents an “intellectualization” of anti-Semitism. According to its authors, the film was reminiscent of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the infamous embodiment of European anti-Semitism.
People cognizant of the context and implications of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” should know better than to assume its relevance here. The protocols were forged by Russian czarists, who sought to delegitimize communism by portraying it as an international Jewish conspiracy to victimize gentile Europeans. The protocols enabled ultranationalist leaders to treat European Jews as threats in their respective countries.
If the concept of scapegoating a religious minority on the false grounds that it has a suspicious, foreign agenda sounds familiar, it should. President-elect Donald Trump has suggested that a ban on Muslim entry to the U.S. would be effective in mitigating domestic terrorism. His son suggested Syrian refugees should be denied entry because, just as one would not eat a bag of Skittles knowing a few were poisonous, accepting refugees is not worth the risk.
This profiling and demonization of Muslims has been recognized as unacceptable by most of the UCLA community. Yet this same Islamophobia ensures few think twice when the American media covers Palestinians exclusively as violent terrorists and excuses Israeli military offensives as self-defense, and it ensures the daily lives and struggles of Palestinians are rarely seen because they do not fit the racialized frame of Palestinians as people to be afraid of.
The implication of portrayals like these is that Muslims – like Jews, according to the protocols – have no primary national identity, that their allegiance is to some broader and more sinister religious objective, and they are thus untrustworthy.
Our disappointment, however, is directed not only towards those who perpetuate Islamophobic stereotypes in the media, but at the students who felt it necessary to blatantly lie about the content of our film. Readers are welcome to compare the film’s transcript against the inaccurate accusations against it and reach their own conclusions. We do not doubt a fair and objective media is valued by all Bruins.
The authors of the previous submission heard SJP explicitly express our politics at the film screening – the pursuit of human rights, freedom and opposition to all bigotry. They heard Sut Jhally and Robin Kelley respond directly to the type of accusations made in their article. That they heard us clearly state our pursuit of peace and anti-racism, but still claimed the contrary, shows that they are more dedicated to denigrating SJP than to productive discourse.
Let’s be clear – the crisis in Palestine is greater than ever – home demolitions are rapidly increasing, and more settlements exist now than ever before. Those who truly care about peace should focus their energy on how to end the occupation. Those who prioritize smearing SJP’s efforts to educate and organize against oppression over actually ending that oppression actively preclude peace.
Sarah Schmitt, SJP Programming Director
Omar Mansour, SJP Outreach Co-Director
Robert Gardner, SJP External Affairs Director
Yacoub Kureh, SJP President