BY YAZAN KHERALLAH
Published March 28, 2014
Pineapple is one of my favorite fruit. I love its cool, refreshing taste. I love the way it squirts juice onto your taste buds. I love it in my fruit salads, I love it in my smoothies, and I love it on my pizzas. I love it by itself, just the way it is. But because of Adam Kredo from the Washington Free Beacon, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to eat a pineapple ever again.
On March 26th at 10:23 am, Kredo posted an article titled “BDS Leader Posts ‘Overtly Threatening’ Photo to Facebook.” In it, he posts a Facebook photo of me with a keffiyeh wrapped around my face as I stick a knife into a pineapple. The author writes: “Civil rights leader Kenneth Marcus labeled Kherallah’s photograph as ‘overtly threatening’ and said that it could contribute to the culture of fear within the University of Michigan’s pro-Israel community.”
The article goes on to speculate about the meaning of the pineapple, somehow connecting it to Zionism and peoples’ denial of the Holocaust through an anti-Semitic French comedian (whom I had never heard of). Another bizarre speculation was that since sabras (presumably associated with Israel) were not available at Michigan grocery stores, I used a pineapple as a substitute to convey these horrible messages.
It is embarrassing to even have to address this. None of these claims are true whatsoever. I jokingly posted the photo on Facebook before any talk of a divestment resolution started. I was playing on an intramural basketball team and posted the photo in the lead-up to a game against a team of friends. Their team was called Ananas — the name of their favorite sandwich joint in Dearborn, also the Arabic word for pineapple. In the caption, I tagged the members of Team Ananas and wrote, “It’s on,” alluding to the basketball game we had the following week.
The photo was an innocent joke that engaged in a longstanding basketball rivalry between friends, who were overwhelmingly Arab and non-Arab Muslim. At another level, the photo was intended to make fun of racial stereotypes of Arabs as violent and extreme by juxtaposing the image of a “violent” Arab man with a piece of fruit. When your identity is repeatedly demonized in public, all you can do is laugh it off.
What Adam Kredo did in his article is, in a word, libel. It is politically motivated and bigoted journalism that targets me as a visible leader of the #UMDivest campaign. Unfortunately, this sort of individual attack against University students involved in the BDS movement is not unusual. In addition to this attack against me, other Students Allied for Freedom and Equality students are being falsely accused of using racial epithets against opponents of the resolution in an attempt to distract from our real message — that complicity in Israel’s human rights violations has to stop — and paint us as motivated by anti-Semitism. This is, in fact, a primary tactic of opponents of divestment, including Kenneth Marcus himself — the “expert” who provided Kredo with the stunningly wrongheaded analysis of what the pineapple means. Despite Marcus’s civil rights background, he is a leader of the crusade against campus activism for Palestinian rights, using various legal tactics to claim that this activism is threatening Jewish students.
Words cannot describe the kind of outrage and emotional distress I have gone through in recent days. Already, Kredo’s article has been cited in a number of other outlets including in The Jerusalem Post, on the Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law website, and in San Diego Jewish World. None of these sources bothered to verify Kredo’s allegations by reaching out to me.
My Twitter account has been flooded with hateful and racist messages. There are photoshopped images of me in which I am called a “Jihadist” and “Infidel slayer.” The emotional shock I have been through is immeasurable. This is something that will negatively affect me for the rest of my life, every time I have to go through an airport (as if I didn’t have to worry about airports already as an Arab male), when I apply for grad school, and every time I interview for a job. It does not matter how inaccurate and libelous Kredo’s article is, the fact is that my reputation has been unfairly tarnished and simple Google searches will always lead to the original false allegation.
I want to tie this back to campus. I sincerely hope that no one at our University gave Kredo my photo out of context with insidious motives, but I have to question why my Facebook account was scoured months back for a point of attack. That’s disconcerting in itself. More importantly, we all have to critically examine the rhetoric surrounding the opposition to #UMDivest. Many opponents of the resolution we proposed chose to oppose us by calling our movement “violent” and “hateful” instead of debating us on the actual merits of our resolution: nonviolent divestment as a means to advance the end of the Israeli occupation and the discriminatory laws Israel enforces.
These opponents included prominent CSG members. This was despite SAFE going to every length imaginable to ensure that the sit-in and the movement was a place that was safe and loving for everyone. This was despite Vice President for Student Life E. Royster Harper’s public statement affirming our peaceful methods and respect for the space we occupied.
My advice to fellow students is this: You came to a University. Your opinions and political stances are meant to be challenged. Please engage in actual critical discourse instead of resorting to fear-mongering and baseless accusations. If you have a case, you might be able to challenge us for the better by engaging with us intellectually rather than on the basis of ad hominem attacks.
Thank you to all my friends who have supported me (both pro and against divestment). How ironic that a photo that was intended as a satire of violent stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims is taken out of context to spread the same anti-Arab and Islamophobic characterizations it sought to ridicule. What are Adam Kredo and Kenneth Marcus smoking? Pineapple Express?
This article has been updated to its most recent version.