On the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 23, students, faculty and community members gathered at the steps of Angell Hall at the University of Michigan for a rally in solidarity with Palestinians and the actions of Prof. John Cheney-Lippold and Graduate Student Instructor Lucy Petterson in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Zionist settler colonialism. Following a series of speeches from the Palestinian Youth Movement, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and Jewish Voice for Peace, the group marched to the Office of the Dean of LSA and the Office of the President in order to deliver petitions from U-M graduate students and from Jewish Voice for Peace calling on the University to drop the sanctions against Cheney-Lippold and desist from threats and attempts to sanction Peterson. The group also pointed out various letters and petitions with similar messages have been publicly released for some time without public response from the University of Michigan, including a letter from U-M alumni, U-M faculty, Israeli citizens, Jewish Studies scholars, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, the Association of American University Professors, the American Political Science Association, the Middle East Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, and the U-M Senate Academic Committee on University Affairs. Both the interim LSA Dean Elizabeth Cole and University President Mark Schlissel were unavailable and the group was promised by office representatives that the petitions and message would be delivered. The group asked both offices to respond within three to five business days.
Below is the transcript of one speech shared during the rally before the march.
Thank you all for coming out today to join us for this demonstration as we deliver our graduate student petition in support of dropping sanctions against Dr. John Chenney-Lippold, and defending Graduate Student Instructor Lucy Peterson from potential sanctions, as well as a petition from Jewish Voice for Peace.
I would like to begin by asking you all to recognize that we, as residents of Ann Arbor and the surrounding community, reside on colonized land and that our current presence here is dependent on the displacement of the Odawa, Potawatomi and Ogibwe Anishinaabe peoples and that of the surrounding indigenous peoples. Furthermore, I ask us to acknowledge that, on the one hand, these peoples continue to exist, resist, and live complex lives amongst and around us and that, on the other hand, colonialism continues to impact their day-to-day lives through historic as well as contemporary practices, policies, violences, and injustices, and it is crucial that we commit to struggling against settler colonialism alongside them.
In a similar vein, the Zionist settlement and colonization of Palestine was not just an event of the past, but is a process that is ongoing and affects Palestinians day in and out. At this moment, residents of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar are putting their bodies on the line in defiance of a Zionist occupation court order to demolish their village. At this very moment, the Zionist nation-state is aiming to demolish another village, steal more land, and displace more Palestinians, while continuing to maintain a military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and its settler occupation of the 1948 Palestinian territories, while preventing the Palestinian refugees it has displaced globally from returning to their ancestral homeland, refusing to even recognize its role in displacing them.
The call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions, alongside the broader call for holistic divestment, boycott, and sanctions against the Zionist entity does not emerge from a vacuum. It is in response to these ongoing conditions. It demands that we recognize that the contemporary conditions of Palestinians and their systemic oppression at the hands of the Zionist state persist because settler colonialism persists and that the Zionist state remains invested in and continues to benefit from the maiming, policing, repression, surveillance, and extermination of the Palestinian people. Critically, it is important to recognize that Israeli academic institutions play a crucial role in this. Israeli academic institutions are a key ideological apparatus used to validate and legitimize the colonization of Palestine. Their internal curricula teaches Palestinians and Israelis that the erasure of Palestinians, Palestinian history, and Palestinian culture is “real history”. Their scholars are funded to publish academically validated articles and books that become regarded as “official knowledge” and as “the truth” about who Palestinians are and whose land the Zionists are on, while University-affiliated think tanks are responsible for convincing the world of the righteousness of Zionist atrocities, all while denying Palestinians spaces and platforms to speak for and about themselves. University research — often directly funded by the Zionist state — develops and expands the military, surveillance, and policing technologies, practices, procedures, and policies used by the Zionist state to repress Palestinian political and cultural expression, and even its economic self-sustainability, while practicing and perfecting the implementation of these technologies and repression strategies on occupied Palestinians. It is no surprise that the Zionist state is one of the largest weapons exporters in the world, that it proudly brands itself as a leader of surveillance and “anti-terrorism”, and that it sends military occupation personnel to train law enforcement and military forces in the art of repression worldwide, for example at the annual Urban Shield “regional preparedness” exposition in the Bay Area, California. This is to say nothing of the myriad of ways that the Zionist state and academic institutions disrupts Palestinian academic freedom and pursuit of academic advancement as official and unofficial state and University practice. Palestine-liberation activists are barred from entering or leaving the country or entering Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian students are routinely denied visas to study abroad, militarized and discriminatory checkpoints are maintained along the paths Palestinians take to and from school and work where the humiliation of Palestinians is common, the study of Palestine is effectively outlawed, and Palestinian schools and universities are destroyed while their reconstruction is prohibited and those who those attempt to build and rebuild them are punished. In its 2014 offensive, Israel attacked three of Gaza’s seven universities, as well as seven United Nations schools and about 141 local schools. According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, 50 percent of children in Gaza report a fear of attending school. Fifty percent!
This is what is being overlooked, if not directly validated, through the University’s many partnerships with Israeli academic institutions such as its study abroad trips. Israeli academic institutions are not politically-neutral. This is why academic boycott is necessary. A mere three-days after Detroit News reported on the University’s disciplining of John Chenney-Lippold, the University’s official news website reported that the University received a $20 million grant to expand the University’s research partnership with two Israeli-institutions. How ironic that the article opens by saying, “Consider a future in which robots work alongside humans to search for disaster survivors”, while refusing to recognize the routine and catastrophic disasters the Zionist state inflicts on Palestinians. As the scholar of Women and Gender Studies, Jasbir Puar, provocatively asks, “If we feel things are calm, what must we forget in order to inhabit such a restful feeling?”
Today, as we demonstrate in defense of our academic freedom, I urge us to remember what it was that those who are currently being targeted by the University administration were fighting against. While the sanctioning of Dr. Chenney-Lippold and the threat of sanctions against Lucy Peterson are a gross demonstration of an increasingly privatized and neoliberal University trend towards the curtailment of academic freedom and freedom of expression, two ideals that have often been weaponized to defend those in power while targeting those oppressed by it, it is also important to recognize the specificity of the context of these incidents. This isn’t just the suppression of political speech in general but, specifically, the ongoing suppression and sanctioning of speech in support of Palestine and Palestinians, which is a continuation of a long tradition that many have come to refer to as the “Palestine exception to Free Speech”. While many of us remember the University’s embrace of Richard Spencer’s supposed right to free speech when the neo-fascist was attempting to speak here last year, not many remember that the Pulitzer prize winner and reknowned author, Alice Walker, was disinvited from speaking at the University in 2013 because of her support for the liberation of the Palestinian people. While we demonstrate here in defense of our own academic freedom, let us remember to advocate and fight for the just cause of the Palestinians, and against the University and U.S.’s validation and support of the Zionist repression of Palestinian academic freedom and justice.
When the University tries to punish us for boycotting, we must expand our boycott. When the University targets us for challenging our oppressors, we must continue to rise up. When the University ignores our calls and demonstrations, we must disrupt the peace. And when the University sides with oppression and power, we must do everything we can to force it to stand with justice.
All power to the people!
Justice is our demand
No peace on stolen land!