Third National Stundent Conference on the Palestinian Soliarity Movement

PANKAJ MEHTA pankay at
Mon Jul 14 15:44:50 MDT 2003

	Here is an essay I have written in response to the recent attacks
on New Jersey Solidarity and the Third National Student Conference on the
Palestinian Solidarity Movement.

Criminalizing the Palestinian Solidarity Movement
Pankaj Mehta

Rutgers University will be hosting the Third National Student Conference on the
Palestinian Solidarity Movement October 10-12 in New Brunswick, NJ.  While the
University has recognized the conference as an example of student free speech
and freedom of political association,  the conference, and it's local sponsor,
New Jersey Solidarity -- Activists for the Liberation of Palestine (NJS), are
under attack from various media outlets and state politicians.  New Jersey
Solidarity is a grass roots organization dedicated to resistance and action in
support of the Palestinian struggle for justice, national liberation, human
rights and self-determination. The attacks are not confined to merely trying to
stop the conference but, instead, seek to criminalize New Jersey Solidarity and
by extension, the Palestinian solidarity movement as a whole. The goal of the
attackers is to equate the
Palestinian liberation struggle with terrorism and  label those who support
the struggle as terrorist sympathizers with all the consequences it entails
under the Patriot Act.

New Jersey's Governor John McGreevey is  in the forefront in this regard. The
governor's spokesman, Micah Rasmussen, said the governor finds the
group "abhorrent" and
has been gathering information to determine whether or not they have a history
of violence.
As if this was not enough, he went on to state that the group did not turn up
on lists of suspected terrorist organizations. (Saturday July 12 Press of
Atlantic City). The implications of the last statement are clear:  any group
that supports the Palestinian liberation struggle should be considered
a "terrorist" organization.

The governor's attacks go well beyond the mere calls to cancel the conference
issued by
the co-president of the New Jersey state senate, Sen. John Bennett (R-
Monmouth).  These
attacks seek to intimidate and bully activists and sympathizers of the
Palestinian cause.  Such tactics are not new. During McCarthy era, peace
organizations were attacked as "communists".  During the 1960's and 1970's, the
Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement were branded terrorists and
systematically brutalized by the F.B.I. In the 1980's, similar tactics were
used on anti-apartheid solidarity groups.  What makes the present incarnation
especially dangerous is the political climate in post-September 11th America.

Since September 11th, it has become legitimate to harass, register, detain, and
expel immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants. American Muslims have become
political fodder for both the Republican and Democratic party.  During her
senate campaign, Hillary Clinton first accepted and then returned a
contribution of $50,000 from an American-Muslim organization
after being accused of being friends with those who supported "Palestinian
Gov. McGreevey refused to meet with the  American Muslim Alliance, a large
Muslim political organization,  during his gubernatorial campaign.  In this
climate of fear, Muslim Americans rightfully fear for their safety and
comfort.  Though many sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians, American
Muslims are frightened into silence.

By criminalizing the Palestinian solidarity movement, those in power hope to
prevent mainstream Muslim and progressive anti-war voices from joining forces
with those activists fighting for a free and independent Palestine. They hope
to play on the fears of the populace in order to prevent the formation of the
kind of cross-ethnic, cross-class solidarity movement that was so vital in
ending apartheid in South Africa.  If this cannot be accomplished, the ruling
elite hope to blackmail the Palestinian Solidarity movement  into renouncing
some of its core principles, especially acknowledging the right of the
Palestinians to choose there own forms of resistance to the illegal

It is vital that the progressive voices everywhere resist this blackmail.  Just
as the American government has tried to split Palestinian resistance in the
occupied territories, they hope to splinter the progressive voices in America.
A split anti-war, anti-occupation movement is not nearly as powerful as a broad
united one. The criminalization of the Palestinian solidarity movement,
especially its more militant wings, is an attempt at forcing this split.  To
resist, progressives  must engage in a twofold strategy.  First, they must
fight the draconian anti-immigrant agenda that has been unveiled at home.  They
must reach out to immigrant communities and integrate their demands and
concerns into the struggle for social justice.  Second, progressives must take
a clear and vocal stand on the Palestinian struggle, including the right of the
Palestinians to resist the occupation by what ever means they
choose. There cannot be any compromise on this issue.

Over the last week, New Jersey Solidarity has been labeled anti-semitic and
terroristic for merely affirming the right of the Palestinians to struggle for
their own self-determination. Rutgers University  has been threatened
with funding cuts in order to prevent the conference from taking place.
These actions  should be viewed as part of a broader strategy at
alienating and splitting the anti-war, anti-occupation movement by
criminalizing the Palestinian cause.  It  is up to all progressives,
especially the broad coalitions such as ANSWER and  UFPJ,
to take a firm stand in order to prevent this split.

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