On Aug. 19, The Daily Tar Heel published an opinion piece critiquing UNC’s study abroad programs in Israel. Within hours, the author’s family received anonymous hateful messages. Although the author stands by their column, they requested it be unpublished, fearing for their family’s safety.
Harassment against critics of Israel is unfortunately commonplace. Those who speak on the history of Palestine-Israel have an uphill battle when it comes to exercising free speech. Criticism of Israel is maligned as “antisemitic,” as the response to DTH’s article demonstrates. This accusation dangerously equates critiques of Israel with anti-Jewish hatred rather than recognizing that Israel, as a nation-state, cannot speak for any ethnic or religious group as a whole.
The demand that Israel cannot be treated by the same rules of free speech as any other nation-state becomes doubly absurd considering Israel is recognized by international human rights groups to be perpetuating apartheid against Palestinians. Palestinians living under the illegal Israeli occupation frequently have their land stolen by Israeli settlers, are treated as inferior under law and have unequal access to infrastructure, not unlike apartheid South Africa. Israel does not try to hide its prejudiced system between Israelis and Palestinians. On the contrary, Israel often carries out war crimes in the open to intimidate Palestinians from agitating for basic human rights. Similarly, but far less deadly, Israel supporters in the US don’t try to hide Israel’s war crimes. Rather than arguing against pro-Palestinian voices – whose arguments they cannot refute – they create smear campaigns to silence them.
North Carolina and UNC face intense surveillance by pro-Israel forces. In March 2022, UNC ranked among the ten worst campuses for free speech. The harassment campaigns perpetuated by Israel supporters centered on UNC’s campus contribute to this widespread atmosphere of censorship. For instance, in Fall 2021, UNC Ph.D. student Kylie Broderick taught a course about Palestine-Israel. She soon became the target of a smear campaign from pro-Israel organizations to pressure the university to fire her, which culminated in Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) and a senior Israeli diplomat meeting with UNC officials. Broderick remained able to teach the class, but various pro-Israel organizations continued attempting to censor her academic freedom.
Efforts to censor opposition to Israel range from harassing students to passing legislation. Over thirty US states have laws or executive orders limiting or barring government contracts going to organizations or individuals who support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a nonviolent call by Palestinian civil society to use tactics successful in South Africa, toward Israel. Among them is North Carolina.
UNC’s administration hasn’t made a statement on the harassment leveled at the author’s family. Despite UNC’s proclaimed commitment to free speech, there is no right to it regarding Israel. Outside of a narrow window approved by pro-Israel actors, those questioning anti-Palestinian racism normalized on college campuses face repercussions.
UNC Students for Justice in Palestine vehemently opposes these vicious attacks on those standing against Israel’s crimes. We are committed to educating UNC about Palestinians’ oppression by Israel by amplifying their demands for freedom and justice.
UNC Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)