Support for Palestinian rights and pro-Palestine student organizations at Georgetown University is too often unnecessarily and undeservedly derided. And while this problem is not exclusive to Georgetown, what is unjust beyond our campus remains unjust within it.
Last week, a Palestinian flag was hung in Red Square by pro-Palestine student organization Students for Justice in Palestine to honor the 17 lives lost during the peaceful protests in Gaza and to commemorate Israeli Apartheid Week, a series of events, lectures and rallies meant to raise awareness of Israel’s apartheid system over the Palestinian people. The flag was torn down, only to be found by the side of the road a few hours later. This desecration is, of course, a bias incident. However, this problem reaches far beyond a single act — or even a short-term pattern.
At Georgetown, support for Palestine is often treated as a lost cause. Indeed, it has come to my attention, and the attention of many Palestine-supporters on campus, that little to no attention is paid to Palestine-related bias incidents. After all, it is one thing to tear down a flag, but quite another thing to leave it on the side of the road, to equate support for Palestine in its entirety on campus to anti-Semitism, to spread false accusations about a student organization or to send death threats to the leaders of those organizations — which Eman Abdelfadeel (COL ’17), former president of SJP, has received in the past — and not be penalized.
When pro-Palestine student organizations — such as SJP or GU Forming a Radically Ethical Endowment, a group of students and faculty that have held Georgetown accountable for the university’s role in perpetuating state violence as it refuses to divest from companies that enable and profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine — host a public event about Palestinian rights, the result is almost always the same: Vandalism and a reminder about the impossibility of speaking about Palestinian rights on our campus without receiving a hard slap in the face in return.
The most prevalent example of this bigotry arose during Israeli Apartheid Week in 2016, when a group of students sabotaged the Israeli Apartheid bulletin board, which was placed in front of the Dean’s Office in the Intercultural Center to symbolize apartheid. The posters on the board were not only defaced, but were also tarnished with a series of offensive slurs and hateful, anti-Palestine messages. While the incident was addressed by Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber and was covered by several news outlets, it did not receive administrative attention and was ultimately overlooked.
Another example occurred soon after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last December — an action not only reversing seven decades of American foreign policy, but also denying Palestinians the right to their native land. A group of students poured water over the statements chalked on Red Square tiles in support of Palestine and Palestinians. Members of SJP had to rechalk the statements the next day to show Palestinian students on campus they were not alone. Even as they were doing so, the members were verbally harassed by passers-by.
To further examine the Georgetown community’s fear of and intolerance toward pro-Palestine activity, I finally turn to SJP’s recent Facebook post asking Georgetown to “act on the principles to which it owes its clout by enacting a zero tolerance policy for petty actions that directly target Georgetown’s student population.”
While other bias incidents, such as last semester’s abhorrent anti-Semitic and Islamophobic acts, have been heard and responded to, today this plea been swept under the rug by the university’s general antipathy toward Palestinian rights organizations. As a result, SJP revealed in a recent statement that it is now “seeking outside legal aid.”
While I want to believe Georgetown’s commitment to social justice and free speech holds true, I have time and time again seen the university systematically disdain Palestinian Georgetown students and supporters of Palestine. And while I believe that the lines must be drawn at some point, let us be reminded that this is only a gist of what it is like to be Palestinian, where your cause is constantly devalued and your voice is unheard.
Natascha Tahabsem is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.