Response: Students For Justice in Palestine on the cancellation of Israeli Ambassador

Students for Justice in Palestine member Jonathan Farrell comments on the protest which resulted in the Israeli ambassador cancelling the SOFIA event

Credit: Niall Maher

On Monday, the Israeli ambassador to Ireland was due to give a talk in Trinity College Dublin, having been invited by the college Society for International Affairs (SOFIA) TCD. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) TCD opposed the platform afforded Mr. Boker and exercised their right to protest. This position has produced a wealth of varying responses, not only from the student body, but also from the national and global community.

After the protest, Provost Dr Patrick Prendergast condemned the actions of SJP, claiming it to be an attack on free speech. Dr. Prendergast however, did not broach the slander launched at the students of Trinity College Dublin who protested, who were described as “vicious” and “genocidal” by the Israeli embassy. It is not unusual to have critics of the state of Israel censured by labelling all criticism as anti-Semitic. As those who reserve the right to free speech stand proudly, as do we who reserve and exercise the right to protest. It is disappointing that the Provost’s defence of his students is noticeably absent.

While it is indeed the right of the Ambassador to speak as he wishes, it is also within the rights of an individual or a collective to vocalise their disagreement. There was no attempt to forcefully prevent the event on Monday, nor would there have been. SJP conducted a peaceful and successful protest voicing their disagreements with someone who has a track record of lies and complicity in human rights abuses. It was not SJP who cancelled the event.

Annexation of land

Among the crimes Mr. Boker denies is the misleading proposition that Israel does not partake in the illegal annexation of land. However, a cursory glance at a map of Israeli settlements around east Jerusalem alone clearly betrays an ambition to separate the city from the rest of the West Bank.

Today a barrier of over 300,000 settlers exists between Jerusalemite Palestinians and their neighbours to the east. Recently released plans to construct the ‘American Road’ between illegal Israeli settlements in (Palestinian) East Jerusalem require that the homes of some 500 Palestinian civilians be demolished. This road will be Israeli only and will “wipe out all the roads that connect the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem together.

This is a pattern repeated all across the West Bank. Not calling a programme annexation, does not mean it is not effectively annexation. Since 1948, a policy of expulsion has pushed Palestinian civilians out of their towns and cities, which were then either occupied by European settlers, or demolished and covered up with imported pine tree plantations. This policy was explicitly stated in 1937 by future Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, who wrote that “We must expel the Arabs and take their places” and “we have force at our disposal.”

Today the combination of policies in the West Bank such as planning permission refusals, home demolitions, and restrictions on movement are part of what contributes to what some have described as a “coercive environment”, designed to, in the words of Zionist Theodor Herzl, “spirit the penniless population across the border.”

Further, in a letter to The Irish Catholic last year, Mr. Boker was at pains to argue that, unlike the Palestinians, the Israeli administration does not actively partake in targeting civilian societies – a blatant lie. Reported in The Jerusalem Post in 1981, Israeli statesman Abba Eban stated that the Israeli Defence Forces deliberately targeted Lebanese civilians. Numerous human rights groups have condemned Israel’s “Dahiya Doctrine,” a policy of massive attacks on civilian areas to exert political pressure on groups through collective punishment.

Similarly, Noam Chomsky wrote that the December 27th, 2008 strike on Gaza was meticulously planned. Striking densely populated areas of Gaza city shortly before noon, “it took only a few minutes to kill over 200 people and wound 700, an auspicious opening to the mass slaughter of defenceless civilians trapped in a tiny cage with nowhere to flee.”

Mr.Boker’s arguments about the integrity of Israeli policy in the face of a prolific threat from terrorists are orchestrated to appeal to current feelings in society, particularly after September 2001. However, what this argument deliberately omits is the fact that the State of Israel has perpetrated far more terror on civilian populations than any “terrorist” organisation is capable of inflicting.

The politicisation of terrorism by State functionaries is a well-worn tactic to discredit the right to self-determination. By portraying Palestinians as incapable of self-rule or reasoned negotiation, they become architects of their own destruction. The same tactic was used by the British Empire in Ireland, who had no intention of ever handing over independence to the Irish.

People like Mr. Boker actively contribute to a regime that seeks to make us all complicit in the murder of innocent civilians – many of whom, like SJP’s recent guest Malaka Mohammed, are from refugee families who have not seen their ancestral homes since the 1948 expulsion.

Free speech

The debate around the concept of free speech has been evolving in the past few weeks. After recent news revelations surrounding right-wing conservative commentator and Alt-Right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos conservatives who have been prompt to dismiss criticism as denying the right to free speech, suddenly dropped their affiliations with Yiannopoulos when comments he made regarding paedophilia resurfaced made him a PR disaster. Those quick to shout about “free speech” suddenly vanished.

If the Yiannopoulos controversy can so suddenly reverse a hypocritical conservatives hysterical screaming of “free speech”, I would position the argument – how much phosphorous can be dropped on civilians, how many crops and fishing waters poisoned, how many war crimes can be committed before the man who denies them, and censures his opponents with absurd accusations of anti-Semitism and opposition to free speech, becomes reprehensible and deserving of protest?

To welcome the ambassador without voicing disagreement would be a disgrace and an insult to the Palestinian people. We must be forthright in declaring that by hosting an ambassador of a state that is currently engaged in enforcing terror on a population, and denying it, we are not only normalising and condoning their actions, but we are also condemning the Palestinians.

Correction: This article previously cited Israeli statesman Abba Eban (the Jerusalem Post,1981) as stating the Israeli Defence Forces deliberately targeted “Gazan civilians in order to exert pressure on Hamas”, where it should have read “Lebanese civilians.” This has been amended. – 16:17, 23/2/2017