Disruption Is Our Only Recourse

On November 3, 2015, the Anti-War Committee organized a protest in response to Moshe Halbertal, a speaker at the University of Minnesota Law School. Our action received condemnation from Law School officials, upset that we did not honor their standards of decorum. The following piece was written in response to an article that Dale Carpenter published at the Washington Post. The Post declined to publish our response, so we are sharing it here.

Disruption is Our Only Recourse

/ By Jess Sundin and Hatem Abudayyeh \

In Dale Carpenter’s November 4th editorial, “Israeli academic shouted down in lecture at University of Minnesota,” he attacks the Anti-War Committee’s disruption of a lecture by Moshe Halbertal organized by the University of Minnesota Law School.  Carpenter argues, “There are legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies and innumerable legitimate ways those criticisms can be aired. But preventing others from hearing Israeli speakers who aren’t even defending Israeli policy cannot be one of them.”

Carpenter views this debate from his ivory tower, while the protesters understand it as a matter of life and death for Palestinian families.  The code of ethics that Halbertal wrote for the Israel Defense Forces is not an academic discussion of ethics, but rather a form of legal cover that Israel used last summer to justify its killing of thousands of Palestinians in the war on Gaza.

Halbertal must be held accountable for providing this legal cover for Israeli war crimes. While he is critical of illegal, Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, he distorts the language of international law to justify the apartheid wall, the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the horrific conduct of the Israeli military in repeated massacres of Palestinians living in Gaza.

In summer 2014, Israel killed 2,257 Palestinians, including at least 551 children, in a 51-day assault on the Gaza Strip. The UN documented a total of 140 families in Gaza partially or completely obliterated in Israeli attacks. In stark contrast, actions by Palestinian resistance fighters killed 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians. Halbertal has attempted to explain away such atrocities with justifications such as ‘war is messy,’ mistakes were made but only ‘sporadically,’ the IDF maintained ‘a serious effort to minimize collateral harm and to target only combatants,’ and so-called ‘standards of proportionality’ were maintained. He dismisses the harsh truth—that Israel indiscriminately, callously, carelessly and indifferently killed civilians—as ‘nonsense.’

In addition, Halbertal criticized the UN Fact Finding Mission, popularly known as the Goldstone Report, which condemned Israel for its military conduct in the 2008-2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza. He delegitimizes the Palestinian testimonies as ‘vulnerable and partial’ because they were ‘collected in Gaza, where the watchful eye of Hamas authorities always looms,’ as if Palestinians, the UN, or any other witnesses needed to lie about the devastation that the whole world saw there. He propagates false theories spread by the Israeli government that Hamas uses civilians as human shields.

We don’t think that a speaker providing window dressing for Israeli massacres in Palestine has the right to speak at a publicly funded institution like the University of Minnesota.

This is why we disagree with Carpenter, who clearly knows that Zionists are frequently invited, even paid, to voice their views on campus, and are granted automatic legitimacy by the institution.  On the other hand, Palestinian, Palestine solidarity and anti-war voices are excluded from the dialogue at elite institutions like the University of Minnesota Law School.  Supporters of Palestinian rights do not have the same access to speaking opportunities, and in fact, are systematically silenced.

Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights recently produced a report documenting what they call the “Palestine exception to free speech.” The report found that of the nearly 300 incidents of attempts to repress Palestinians and their supporters that Palestine Legal responded to in 2014-2015, 85% targeted students and scholars on over 65 college campuses.  We also know that absent the disruption that Carpenter criticizes, a quieter protest would not have received local, let alone national, news coverage of our viewpoint, a viewpoint shared by Palestinians in Minnesota and beyond who have publicly and loudly expressed support for our actions.

Carpenter wrongly assumes that the Anti-War Committee and Halbertal are equals in the US political arena, when in actuality, we use disruption for the same reason that Palestinian children use rocks – it’s our only option.

Jess Sundin is a founding member of the Minnesota Anti-War Committee and a former clerical worker at the University of Minnesota.  Hatem Abudayyeh is a National Coordinating Committee member of the US Palestinian Community Network.