Vijay Prashad: Elites Afraid to Talk About Palestine

The Western political class has used all tools at its disposal to support Israel’s genocide while criminalizing solidarity.

Protests in and around Columbia University in support of Palestine and against Israeli occupation, April 22, 2024. (SWinxy/Wikimedia Commons)

By Vijay Prashad
Peoples Dispatch

Israeli bombs continue to fall on Gaza, killing Palestinian civilians with abandon.

Al Jazeera published a story about the destruction of 24 hospitals in Gaza, each of them bombed mercilessly by the Israeli military. Half of the 35,000 Palestinians killed by Israel were children, their bodies littering the overwhelmed morgues and mosques of Gaza.

Andrew Gilmour, the former United Nations assistant secretary-general for human rights, told BBC Newsnight that the Palestinians are experiencing “collective punishment” and that what we are seeing in Gaza is “probably the highest kill rate of any military, killing anybody, since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.”

Meanwhile, in the West Bank section of Palestine, Human Rights Watch shows that the Israeli military has participated in the displacement of Palestinians from 20 communities and has uprooted at least seven communities since October 2023. These are established facts.

Yet, these facts — according to a leaked memorandum — cannot be spoken about in the “newspaper of record” in the United States, The New York Times. Journalists at the paper were asked to avoid the terms “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “occupied territory.”

Indeed, over the past six months, newspapers and television shows in the United States have generally written about the genocidal violence using passive voice: bombs fell, people died.

Even on social media, where the terrain is often less controlled, the ax fell on key phrases; for instance, despite his professions of commitment to free speech, Elon Musk said that terms such as “decolonization” and phrases such as “from the river to the sea” would be banned on X.

Silence on College Campuses

At the University of Southern California (USC), Asna Tabassum, a South Asian American, was to deliver an address on campus to 65,000 people as the valedictorian of the class of 2024. Involved in the conversation around the Israeli war against the Palestinians, Tabassum was targeted by pro-Israeli activists who claimed to feel threatened.

On the basis of this feeling of endangerment, whose source the university refused to disclose, USC decided to cancel her speech.

In a thoughtful response, Tabassum — who majored in biomedical engineering and history (with a minor in resistance to genocide) — implored her classmates “to think outside the box, to work towards a world where cries of equality and human dignity are not manipulated to be expressions of hatred. I challenge us to respond to ideological discomfort with dialogue and learning, not bigotry and censorship.”

Tabassum is 21 years old. The USC provost who canceled her speech, Andrew Guzman, is 56 years old. His reasons for shutting her down are less mature than her plea for dialogue.

College students across the United States have been trying desperately to raise awareness about what is happening in Gaza and have sought to get their campuses to divest from companies with investments in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Early protests were tolerated, but then U.S. politicians got involved with congressional hearings and rash comments about these students being funded by the Chinese and Russians. College administrators, afraid of their donors and of political pressure, buckled and began to censor the students from one end of the country (Columbia University) to the other (Pomona College).

College presidents invited local police departments onto their campuses, allowed them to arrest the students, and suspended them from their colleges. But the mood is undeniable. Student unions across the country — from Rutgers to Davis — voted to force their administrations to divest from Israel.

Comments ‘Repugnant’

Yanis Varoufakis in 2020. (Michael Coghlan, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

On April 12, the Berlin police closed a Palestine conference that brought together people from across Germany to listen to a range of speakers, including from other parts of Europe and from Palestine.

At the airport, the police detained and then deported the British-Palestinian doctor, Ghassan Abu Sitta, who had volunteered in Gaza and had witnessed the genocidal war firsthand. The former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was to give an online speech at the conference.

He was not only prevented from giving that speech, but also was issued a betätigungsverbot — or a ban from any political activity in Germany (ban from entry into Germany and a ban from doing an online event). This, Varoufakis said, is essentially the “death knell of the prospects of democracy in the Federal Republic of Germany.”

A few days before the conference in Berlin, Professor Jodi Dean published an essay on the Verso Blog called “Palestine Speaks for Everyone.” The essay is rooted in the simple, and unobjectionable, idea that oppressed people have the right to fight for their emancipation.

Curtailing Conversation

This is the basis of the International Declaration of Human Rights, also cited frequently by Varoufakis. The day after the Palestine conference was shut down in Berlin, Jodi Dean’s employer, President Mark Gearan of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in the U.S., published a statement announcing that Professor Dean cannot teach the rest of her classes this term.

Gearan wrote that not only was he in “complete disagreement” with Dean, but he also found her comments to be “repugnant.”

It is interesting that since October, Gearan has only released a public statement condemning Hamas, but nothing about the horrendous genocidal violence against the Palestinians.

What did Dean write that was so “repugnant”? Gearan focused on the word “exhilarating,” which Dean used to describe her reaction to paragliders that went beyond the Israeli occupation fence around Gaza.

She did not actually celebrate the attacks of Oct. 7, but merely used the paragliders as a metaphor to consider the politics of hope and liberation from a Palestinian standpoint (citing the last poem of Refaat Alareer, killed by Israel on Dec. 6, 2023, with its meditation on kites to highlight the idea of soaring above oppression).

Gearan did not want a dialogue about the occupation or about the genocide. Like the editors and publishers of The New York Times, like the German government, and like other U.S. college presidents, Gearan wanted to curtail conversation.

Tabassum’s plea for “dialogue and learning” was muzzled; too scared to actually talk about Palestine, people like Gearan prefer “bigotry and censorship.”

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism (with Noam Chomsky) and The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

13 comments for “Vijay Prashad: Elites Afraid to Talk About Palestine

  1. LeoSun
    April 25, 2024 at 15:52

    “America is a nation that can be defined in a single word: Asufutimaehaehfutbw,” Joey R. Biden, 6.22.22

    …….. Once, again, Joey R. Biden, yapp’n & yell’n, “Flagging on Kleptocracy,” i.e., it’s Bidenomics disguised as “a comprehensive package of — that will enhance our underlying effort to accommodate the Russian oligarchs and make sure we take their take, take their ill-begotten gains. We’re going to accommodate them.…”we’re gonna seize their yachts, luxury homes, of ill begotten gains. Yeah, Putin’s k l e p…k l e p…klep…Ka lep top craw see. The “klep,”…The guys who are the kleptocracy,” said the babbling “Big Guy,” w/$h*tt for brains; &, laughs. (6.22.22).

    No doubt, the U$G’s POTUS, Biden’s-Harris’, combined intellect is @ a 2nd grade level. “Many people buhlieve,” Biden-Harris is a reflection of the extremely, low-level of intellect The Beast that handles Biden-Harris, et al., maintains. In addition to $upporting the occupation & the genocide, Biden’s-Harris’ legacy, deception, destruction, death, including their proposed Two-State Solution, Israel & Palestine, living in harmony, the Re-$election of Biden-Harris, 2024, is D.O.A!!! Say buh-bye to the killers in high places. It’s over!!! Good f/riddance!!!

    “the Palestinians are experiencing “collective punishment” and that what we are seeing in Gaza is “probably the highest kill rate of any military, killing anybody, since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.” @ BBC Newsnight, Andrew Gilmour, the former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, for Human Rights.

    ….. 1.22.24: “AND, it could all end if the U.S. chose to intervene.

    “All of our missiles, the ammunition, the precision-guided bombs, all the airplanes and bombs, it’s all from the U.S.,” @
    Jewish News Syndicate, Yitzhak Brick, retired Israeli Major General. “The minute they turn off the tap, you can’t keep fighting. You have no capability… Everyone understands that we can’t fight this war without the United States. Period.”
    Chris Hedges : four-horsemen-of-gazas-apocalypse/

    Consequently, “WANTED,” a LEADER w/the power to “turn off the tap,” Set Julian Assange + the 35 men who are still being held by the U.S.G., @ Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, FREE. Thirty-five (35) men who were young teens when they got plucked outta Iraq, now, grown men @ Guantanamo Bay w/all kinds of physical & mental disabilities, man made, in the USA, like weapons for mass destruction.

    WANTED a LEADER who will “GITMO” the elites, i.e., * “the bankers, corporate executives, right-wing think tanks, intelligence chiefs and generals that eradicated the few regulations and laws that inhibited a naked kleptocracy,” including US Presidents 40 through 46, their Board of Executioners, their war generals aka the M.I.C., the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the U.S.Congress, then & now.

    “The Western political class has used all tools at its disposal to support Israel’s genocide while criminalizing solidarity.” NO doubt, the currency is hate & war against RESISTANCE (the people in the streets), worldwide; &, on college campuses. The RESISTANCE, per the Western political class are nka militants, pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, anti-jewish, anti-Semitic, anti-American, anti-Biden-Harris!!! NO doubt, the “Elites afraid to talk about Palestine.”

    NO doubt, the “Elites” dare not admit, SOLIDARITY “LIVES!” in the streets to the encampments on college campuses. There is universal SOLIDARITY against the exporting & delivery of weapons for mass destruction to Israel, Ukraine, Africa, the Middle East, etc. There is SOLIDARITY against the occupation, the colonization, the genocide/murder executed upon the people of the two Palestinian territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    ………. “The god Prometheus stole fire from heaven to give to the human race, which originally consisted only of men. To punish humanity, the other gods created the first woman, the beautiful Pandora. As a gift, Zeus gave her a box, which she was told never to open. However, as soon as he was out of sight she took off the lid, and out swarmed all the troubles of the world, never to be recaptured. Only Hope was left in the box, stuck under the lid. Anything that looks ordinary but may produce unpredictable harmful results can thus be called a Pandora’s box.” (Source: Pandora’s Box @ The Duck).

    For example, “events are now catching up with the administration after the explosive revelations in the Pandora Papers, which show to what extent the United States itself is now operating as a platform for the world’s shadiest financial transactions. The Washington Post reported this week that U.S. trust advisors helped a Colombian kleptocrat launder funds and two Ecuadorian kleptocrats hide millions of dollars in stolen government money. The administration has found itself behind the curve.”

    …… “What Are the Pandora Papers? The Pandora Papers are a release of nearly 12 million leaked documents that reveal the hidden and sometimes unethical or corrupt dealings of the global wealthy and elite—including prominent world leaders, politicians, corporate executives, celebrities, and billionaires. It is the largest such data dump released to date, larger than the previous Panama Papers and Paradise Papersleaks.”

    Concluding, “it is better to be an outcast, a stranger in one’s own country, than an outcast from one’s self. It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.” CHRIS HEDGES

  2. Lois Gagnon
    April 25, 2024 at 11:30

    We are witnessing the true face of the empire with this crack down on dissent. The protesters in the 60s faced the same violent repression. Let’s not forget Kent State. That has always been the nature of the ruling class. This time though, maybe they have pushed the envelope too far. These college kids seem more politically savvy than us boomers were. They will not be easily pushed aside. Plus, they have the world outside the crumbling West behind them.

  3. Francis (Frank) Lee
    April 25, 2024 at 09:54

    The Achilles heel of the US/Euro elites has been shown to be made of straw. It was the writer and polemicist, Erich Fromm, who put forward an apt description of the level of irrationalism and hate among the power elites. He argued that ”What we are dealing with here is a political system which essentially does not appeal to rational forces or even self-interest (and even hate) but which arouses and mobilizes impulses within us and diabolical forces which we had believed to be non-existent, but nonetheless which had died out long ago.”

    How prescient is that!?

    The power-loonies are still unfortunately to be found in the corridors of power: e.g. in the political classes, the classes of finance and money-changing, the state, and not forgetting the classes of the mass media. All human relationships have been poisoned by this life-and-death struggle for their maintenance of power and wealth.

    ”The dark and diabolical forces of man’s nature were relegated to the middle-ages, and still earlier periods of history, and they were explained by a still lack of knowledge or by the cunning schemes of deceitful Kings and Priests. One looked back on these as one might for a long time look back a dormant volcano.”

    Alas revolutions, wars, and so forth, were supposed to be the last archaic relics, when one needed just one more war to end war ….” Yep, where have we heard that before?! Eric Fromm

    All human life and relationships seem to have been poisoned by the eternal life-and-death struggle for the maintenance of power and wealth. That is unfortunate but the struggle goes on, as it must. In the words of the Italian revolutionaries. La lotta Continua

  4. Cinderella
    April 25, 2024 at 09:31

    A reminder to My Fellow Americans. “I was just following orders” will not be accepted as a valid excuse.

    This is a settled point of law, and any of My Fellow Americans who try to say this at the inevitable war crimes trials are highly unlikely to be treated kindly either by that court or by the court of world public opinion. The word “scorn” is perhaps the nicest of the words that come to mind when pondering how people will react to defendants attempting to make that claim more than 75 years after the Nuremberg Trials.

    The control freaks who like to bark orders of course insist that they must be followed. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was. But please remember that following orders will not be a valid legal defense. If you find yourself under orders to commit crimes against individual humans or all of humanity, remember the words of America’s Noble Prize winning poet, “you are in the wrong place friend, and you had better leave” (– Bob Dylan, ‘Desolation Row’.)

    Turning one’s back on fascists and refusing to play their nasty games with them is not a path to wealth, success or power in a capitalist society. It is however a path that leads to a clear conscience, and one which should hopefully get you a relatively quick release from the camps and re-education programs as the investigators overcome their shock and realize they are actually looking at “A Good American”, among the multitude who will be making that claim.

    Have a nice day.

  5. Tara
    April 24, 2024 at 22:32

    In short, the very values that the US and its allies have gone to war for – destroying countries, cultures and countless lives, in the process – are now being denied to their own citizens…

    ‘Democracy’ and ‘freedom of speech’

    Lest we forget.

  6. WillD
    April 24, 2024 at 22:23

    If anyone in the West still thinks we live in a ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ society then they are either remarkably stupid, disingenuous, deluded or isolated from reality.

    Perhaps I should add ‘cowardly’ for those who do realise but hide away from any kind of action to voice their dissent and opposition to the rapid oppression and removal of human and civil rights.

  7. CaseyG
    April 24, 2024 at 19:18

    What happened to the Jewish people was a travesty in the time off WW 2—What has become of what was once the Jews of yesterday have morphed into the Neo Nazis of today. Biden supports them, the UK supports them, Germany supports them—- It seems that what was once a “Brave New World, has becomes a monstrous tragedy. : (

  8. Jamie Aliperti
    April 24, 2024 at 17:28

    Columbia President Shafik claims she was responding to “extraordinary circumstances” when she called in the police and that Columbia is “struggling to find a balance between freedom of speech and protest with the need for safe campuses.” But it seems the “balance” she has struck is for no protests or speech to be allowed at all, even when people are merely discomforted, not endangered. The peaceful demonstration on the South Lawn did not block ingress or egress to any buildings or impede students, faculty or staff from traveling freely across campus. As PEN America noted, the students were “peacefully expressing their political views within the free speech zone.” Now President Shafik, who assumed office last year after a career not in academia but at the World Bank, is getting a stark lesson on what happens to erst-while leaders who act out of expediency instead of a set of principles: the Columbia faculty has demanded her resignation for bringing the police in, while House Speaker Johnson, the GOP and through its silence the Biden Administration are demanding she resign for not being tough enough and for “allowing” demonstrations to continue.

    Shafik’s “plight” is a microcosm of the discomfiture of the Westrern elite which Mr. Prashad describes. In order to maintain their hegemony, they have resorted to creating a situation where protesting a genocide is regarded as something far worse than committing one. The demonstrators are villified as being antisemitic even though many of them are Jewish themselves. Other Jewish students are said to be fearing for their safety when the protests simply are making them feel uncomfortable about their blind support of Israel. The State Department pressures Turkey to keep three ships carrying 5,500 tons of humanitarian aid for Gaza from leaving its port, while Congress showers billions in aid to a regime that reports have confirmed is using armed drone quadcopters at the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza to lure residents out into the open with recordings of the sound of women and children screaming, some of them saying ‘Come, help me, I am injured,” then firing on those who respond along with snipers stationed in the area to pick out those who are flushed out.

    To paraphrase British Foreign Secretary Sir Edmund Grey on the eve of World War I, the lights of western civilization truly are going out one by one.

    • John Freitas
      April 25, 2024 at 07:48

      Great comments, Jamie! You head so many nails squarely on the head.

  9. Frigga Karl
    April 24, 2024 at 17:08

    Needs of discussion, dialogue and learning of our youth meets with bigotry and censorship by the petrified elite. What a misery !
    The fight for the liberation of Palestine has shown the world the pure hypocrisy of this petrified elite and its rejection of life, dignity and beauty of the people. This petrified elite without the people is just an insignifiant stain of dirt to be removed quickly by us, the people. This dirt mark is not able to think, see or hear, it just desecrate the beauty of life with all its shades and sweeping changes.

  10. Drew Hunkins
    April 24, 2024 at 16:34

    The Zionists are terrified over these massive, magnificent and burgeoning campus protests.

    Netanyahu actually just gave an address to the Israeli people saying that these protests are akin to what went on at anti-Semitic German colleges in the 1930s. The guy is off the wall paranoid and unhinged.

    We all must make common cause with these protests. Regardless if some of them are a bit kooky; regardless of what race, religion or ethnicity they happen to be; regardless of whether they consider themselves socialists, right-wingers, communists, libertarians, etc.

    Solidarity Now.

    No anti-Israel movement has ever been this big in this country that foots the entire bill for that arrogant, racist, sadistic, creepy land-grabbing artificial state.

    History happens fast.

    The pro-Israel zealots are frightened out of their skulls right now — keep up the pressure.

  11. John Z
    April 24, 2024 at 16:23

    If institutional and governmental entities are receiving support from those who favor genocide, their whole reason for existence is called into question. Repression of dissent is a major sign of moral weakness and bankruptcy of character. Such people are up against students, and will find them a formidable force, just as was the case during the Vietnam war in the United States. God bless the protestors!

  12. Charles E. Carroll
    April 24, 2024 at 16:02

    Out in the U.S. wilderness, anywhere away from cities and universities, we the public are silenced. Nowhere can we voice our opinion to anyone in the government. The students are my voice. Free Palestine!
    Remember 1968!

Comments are closed.