[Originally published as "Talking Intersectionality at NYU."]
Israel-bashing in the name of "intersectional solidarity" is now a feature of Black History Month, according to New York University's Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies. In late February, it co-sponsored a panel discussion, "When I See Them, I See Us: Black Palestinian Solidarity," with the NYU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
Over one hundred people filled the Labowitz Theatre for the Performing Arts, while a few stragglers sat on benches off to the side unable to fully view the panel. Based on "intersectionality," the latest fad in academic theories, the panel promoted an alliance between black and Palestinian "social justice" activists.
George Mason University professor Noura Erakat was a predictable choice to represent the Palestinian perspective. Niece of Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erakat, devout anti-Israel activist, and practitioner of lawfare, Erakat is notorious for recently tweeting of IDF soldiers: "an active combat soldier, even if not in the field, can be killed." She is also the lead producer of the video whose title inspired the panel, "When I See Them, I See Us."
Erakat said the "solidarity" between blacks and Palestinians began in 2014 with the nightly riots in Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of Michael Brown. Signs could be seen reading "From Palestine to Ferguson," a sentiment that soon became ubiquitous among boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activists. Last summer, Black Lives Matter (BLM) returned the favor by publishing a platform accusing Israel of apartheid and genocide that was endorsed by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
Relying heavily on neo-Marxist jargon, Erakat proposed that the mission of "solidarity" extend beyond "Palestinian liberation" to "working to dismantle [the] white supremacy" that allegedly "affects us all," including Jews, "who are also battling against white supremacy. . . . Zionism, rather than combat white supremacy head on, internalizes some of those Orientalizing tropes that exclude Jews from humanity, as well."
Although she claimed to reject a binary view of the black-Palestinian alliance by alluding to the existence of black or Jewish Palestinians, her hypotheses about Jews indicated otherwise: good Jews avoid "Orientalizing tropes," while bad Jews are pro-Israel Zionists.
In response to an audience member's question about whether "it was productive to tease out differences to strengthen the bonds of solidarity," Erakat began by asking, "How many here identify as activists?" "Yeah!" she exclaimed at the enthusiastic response: "You shape the future and the past." As if there were any doubt, she then added proudly, "I'm an activist."
The night's final question was from a self-described pro-Israel student who asked if the panelists supported SJP's policy of anti-normalization and non-engagement with students like herself. Obviously, she noted, this "prevents people from having dialogue."
A visibly outraged Erakat turned the question on its head by highlighting Fordham University's decision to prevent SJP from forming a campus chapter due to its polarizing rhetoric and tactics:
Fordham is going to ban the [SJP] and refuse to let it talk to other groups. Are you serious? . . . [I]f you do believe in dialogue, shouldn't you create a larger platform for SJP?
SJP demonizes Israel as an apartheid, Nazi-like state, while intimidating pro-Israel students and shouting down pro-Israel speakers—hardly the basis of dialogue. Yet, Erakat launched an extended rant alleging that SJP, which she hailed as among the most "educative engines" for promulgating BDS in American universities, is being victimized. A lawfare enthusiast, Erakat hypocritically complained about lawyers who resist SJP with hardball legal tactics. She finished by declaring:
The criminalization of this kind of protest, by the way, is not just about Palestinians. It's going to be about everybody. It's all of us or none of us.
Panel moderator, University of New Mexico's Alex Lubin, then concluded eloquently, "That was, like, the perfect answer" as the audience erupted with loud and extended applause.
Erakat and her anti-Israel, anti-Western colleagues have abandoned rigorous scholarship and teaching for agitprop based on blatant bigotry. They prefer demonization to dialogue because, as with all ideologues, their intellectual impoverishment compliments their hate-filled activism. That her ilk has overtaken Middle East studies demonstrates the urgent need for thorough reform.
Mara Schiffren, who has a Ph.D. from Harvard University in the Study of Religion, is currently working on a book about historical Israel. This essay was sponsored by Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.