Free Speech for a Free Palestine!

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 and a commentary printed in the Star Tribune. The Strib declined to publish our response, so we are sharing it here. 


Free Speech for a Free Palestine!

/ by Sophia Hansen Day\

The November 4th article “Protesters disrupt Israeli professor’s lecture at University of Minnesota” is wrong to claim that protesters threatened free speech, and to ignore Israeli apartheid, occupation, and war crimes against Palestinians. While Professor Carpenter and his colleagues speak from the ivory tower about using appropriate channels for disagreement, Palestinians confront life and death realities.

The principle of free speech is founded on the right of dissent, and to speak freely against those in power. Moshe Halbertal, a co-author of the Israeli Defense Forces Code of Ethics, was paid $5,000 in public funds and granted a privileged platform to present his skewed defense of the Israeli military’s conduct. When the University Law School used its vast – and public – resources for this, members of the University and broader community took action to ensure his views did not go unchallenged.

Palestinian voices are silenced on university campuses. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights documented some 300 cases of repression of Palestinian rights advocates. 85% were on college campuses. At Tuesday’s event, students of color, especially those perceived as Arab or Muslim, were targeted with particular force by campus police, even when they were not disruptive. Now we have public calls by tenured faculty to discipline any students involved. If I were a student at the U, or a member of Students for Justice in Palestine on campus, I could face disciplinary action and possible expulsion. For what? For verbally challenging a representative of the Israeli occupation.

US military aid (over $115 billion since 1948) and diplomatic support sustain the Israeli occupation, and clear the way for massacres. As a white solidarity activist in the US I have a responsibility to denounce US government policies, just as I denounce the prison industrial complex and state-sanctioned racial terrorism inflicted upon the Black community by police.

In a follow up commentary on November 5th, Professor Gross charges anti-Semitism, a disingenuous effort to silence criticism. Conflating Zionism and Judaism is inaccurate, offensive, and dangerous. Anti-Zionist Jews are among the most outspoken critics of Israel, including Noam Chomsky and Norm Finkelstein. Zionism is a racist ideology rooted in settler colonialism in Palestine, like what was (and still is) experienced by Dakota and Anishinaabe peoples in Minnesota. Palestinian resistance is not fueled by anti-Semitism, but by opposition to an occupying military force. Since 1948, Israel has robbed Palestinians of their rights to self-determination, land, and the right of return.

Halbertal is not “dovish.” On the contrary, Halbertal’s Code of Ethics provided legal cover for a 51-day assault in summer 2014. Of the 2,257 Palestinians killed, the UN reports that 70% were civilians and 551 were children. Halbertal has a public record saying that attack showed “restraint,” claiming there were only a few “sporadic” mistakes. If Halbertal is genuinely concerned about civilian life, he would not defend the actions of the IDF in their latest assault on Gaza. He would stop supporting the apartheid wall and the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which leave millions of Palestinians unable to leave home for work or school without passing through Israeli military checkpoints.

Today, Palestinians are engaged in a wave of popular resistance that makes solidarity more urgent than ever. One Palestinian friend living in the West Bank describes a youth-led popular uprising defying all expectations, and the sheer brutality of the Israeli response. In October alone, Israel killed 74 Palestinians, mostly unarmed protesters and bystanders, including 15 children and a pregnant woman. More than 2,600 civilians were shot with live and rubber coated bullets and over 1,350 Palestinians were arrested.

This violence by Israeli military forces should disturb all people of conscience, but the uprising is inspiring. The Boycott Divest Sanctions movement, deepening solidarities between international self-determination movements, the growing condemnation of Israeli atrocities by international media, and mass popular resistance by Palestinians on the ground all are signs that the time of Israeli apartheid is drawing to a close. Put simply, Palestinians are winning.

The University of Minnesota must stop providing platforms to apartheid apologists like Halbertal while silencing Palestinian voices. To pressure them, we will continue to stand with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the diaspora and historic Palestine.


Sophia Hansen-Day is a member of the Anti-War Committee and one of three arrested at the Law School protest.