The conflation of anti-Zionism — and criticisms of the State of Israel more generally — with antisemitism has taken a dangerous new turn, this time by surveilling pro-Palestine activists on college campuses.
The Biden administration announced a new push to combat what White House officials characterized as “growing antisemitism on college campuses” on Monday, Oct. 30, following the outbreak of the latest war between Israel and Palestinian resistance groups three weeks ago. The administration’s efforts include an effort between college police departments and the Department of Homeland Security “to track hate-related rhetoric online and provide federal resources to schools,” according to NBC News.
It is paramount that universities provide institutional support for Jewish students from antisemitic violence and intimidation, to which the University of Connecticut is no stranger. In the spring of 2021, a UConn junior was arrested for painting a swastika on the side of the Austin building. This antisemitic incident was almost immediately followed by another painted swastika on the Chemistry building a few days later. Identity-based intimidation prevents students from all social minority groups from receiving an equal education by diminishing community safety and mental well-being and is exactly the kind of thing we all have a responsibility to rally against. However, this is the furthest from what the Biden administration and colleges around the country are currently trying to do.
As I write this, it is the third week of a siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 8,300 Palestinians and incapacitated the population’s public health and energy infrastructure. The simultaneous military and starvation campaign that has already ethnically cleansed 1.1 million Gazans from their homes has been decried by protests erupting around the world, including a national walkout for Palestine conducted at over 100 colleges in the United States on Wednesday, Oct. 25. The Biden administration seeks to target the latter.
In the NBC News report, which touts exclusive action to the White House’s plan to track antisemitism on college campuses, pro-Palestine protests receive most, if not all, the emphasis when it comes to alleged antisemitic messaging. The article also cites a statistic produced by the Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel Jewish advocacy organization, that indicates a 388% uptick in antisemitic incidents around the country. And while most of the incidents recorded are instances of harassment and vandalism perpetuating explicitly antisemitic and white supremacist messages, many simply record use of the term “Zionist,” which refers to adherents of the settler-colonial movement and ideology that literally resulted in the creation of the State of Israel and facilitates the ongoing dispossession and slaughter of Palestinians. More importantly, over one-third of recorded incidents refer to pro-Palestine protests, which the ADL credits with expressing “explicit or strong implicit support for Hamas and… violence against Jews in Israel.”
Given the ADL’s blanket characterization of all anti-Zionism as antisemitic “in effect or intent” — as well as its alleging Students for Justice in Palestine of demonizing Jewish students — these accusations of support for antisemitic violence are unreliable and flimsy at best. The Zionist aim of colonizing Palestinian land using the preferred tool of violent expulsion and annexation creates an ideological interest in defaming any and all support for Palestinian resistance and freedom, whether or not Palestinians give into the pressure of “condemning Hamas.”
It suffices to say that with the federal government’s unwavering and enthusiastic support for genocide in Gaza, further evinced by the Biden administration’s opposition to the moderate option of a ceasefire, aiming to surveil and undermine student protests in solidarity with Palestine is high on their to-do list. No stronger evidence of this exists than the leading role of the Department of Homeland Security, which was created in direct response to the Sept. 11 attacks and houses the militarized Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The role of DHS as surveilling American Muslims was cemented in the post-9/11 era, when jingoistic laws such as the PATRIOT Act authorized and funded the DHS, National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to monitor Muslim organizations, events and individuals under the auspices of “counterterrorism.” The racialization of the term “terrorism” to irreparably apply to Arab and Muslim groups in the American psyche puts Palestinian activists on college campuses at significant risk, especially in an environment where the slightest objection to genocide earns you the badge of being “pro-Hamas.” This threat would be compounded by potential DHS cooperation with the UConn Police Department, which has previously engaged in surveillance of students’ social media to assess threats posed by student organizing and protest.
With the hegemonic view closely associating support for Palestine with support for terrorism, married with a government agency designed for anti-Arab and anti-Muslim counterrorism operations set to be deployed in some capacity on college campuses, it is more necessary than ever to stand up unflinchingly for Palestinian lives, dignity and right to return to their ancestral home. Cowering before the forces of our own settler state — even if they appear overwhelming — tells the world that students will tolerate settler-state violence happening against Palestinians to an infinitely worse degree.