Palestine exposes the limits of free-speech and the morally bankrupt ‘cancel culture’ – Middle East Monitor

Posted By on August 27, 2022

The firing of Palestinian American woman, Natalie Abulhawa, has sparked a debate over free-speech, "cancel-culture" and the ever-growing crackdown on pro-Palestinian activism. The 25-year-old athletic trainer was fired by a private girls school in Bryn Mawr over years-old social media posts criticising Israel. In March the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge on behalf of Abulhawa against the Agnes Irwin School.

In its complaint CAIR alleged that Abulhawa faced discrimination on the basis of national origin and/or religion. She was vetted and hired for just a few days before school leadership fired her after showing her social media posts that had been curated by the notorious website known as Canary Mission. The website described as a "shadowy online blacklist", by the Jewish magazineForward,targetscollege students includingAbulhawa and professors and organisations thatcriticise Israel over its apartheid practices andadvocate for Palestinian rights.

Canary Mission's activities uncovered byMEMOfound that the pro-Israel grouppublishes dossiers on pro-Palestinian activists, many of whom are students, with personal details such as their photos and locations. The website is also often used by Israeli security forces to justify deporting people from Israel. This invasive activity permanently affects student activists as it exposes them to even more online harassment and may affect their future employment opportunities.In practice, theblacklistcan have a chilling effect oncritics of Israeland can have professional consequences, including firings, for those who appear on its website,as reported bythe Intercept.

Abulhawa'scase was covered in detail yesterday bythe Philadelphia Inquirer. The US daily interviewed the Palestinian-Americanas well asexperts oncivil rights. Revelations about Canary Mission's operationsin the articlesparked a wider discussion about the threat posed by the pro-Israel group to free speech and a wider discussion about the underlying hypocrisy of the moral panic over "cancel culture..Ever since cancel culture became a popular term to describe the new form of social and cultural ostracism, where individuals are de-platformed, silenced and thrown out of social or professional circles for holding views some consider to be controversial,the crackdown on pro-Palestine activism has been conveniently overlooked.

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Even before cancel culture became a familiar term, far-right pro-Israel groups like the Anti-Defamation League, AmericanIsraelPublicAffairs Committeeand the American Jewish Committee, not to mention Canary Mission,published reports warning of the danger posed by "pro-Palestinian" or "Arab propagandists".Theresult ofsuchcampaigns,recallsthe President of the Arab American Institute,JamesJ Zogby, wasArab Americanslike himselfdenied jobs, harassed, having speaking engagements cancelled and receiving threats of violence.

In other words,says Zogby,cancel culture is nothing newas far as pro-Palestine activists are concerned."It's been around for decades, with Arab Americans and Palestinian human rights supporters as the main victims. And now with over 30 states passing legislation criminalising support forBDS[Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], the Departments of State and Education adopting the conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, the effort to silence pro-Palestinian voices is escalating."

Suchescalation and the conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitismhas not only empowered pro-Israel groups to demand ever-more radicalconcessions,ithas also proven to be destructive to social cohesion. Groups advocating for the codification of anti-Semitism that includes criticism of the Apartheid State ofIsraelhave been campaigning for thisover the past three decades using thedebunked theoryof "new anti-Semitism".Ourcurrent situation where there is unjustified hypersensitivity to criticism of Israel, a crackdown on free speech and real consequences to people's lives and careers, are the destructive results of this campaign.

Abulhawais one of countless victims. Her story shows that there is more at stake than the career of one individual."This particular case is going to the heart of the American fundamental right to politically dissent, to express your beliefs," Sahar Aziz, a Rutgers Law professor and author ofThe Racial Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom, is reported saying inthe Philadelphia Inquirer."And when you belong to a group that's not afforded those beliefs at equal levels as everyone else, that's evidence of discrimination against that group but also a threat to those American values."

Azizbelieves that"the most vulnerable person in America in terms of having their civil rights denied outright or circumscribed is a Muslim Arab who defends Palestinian rights."Sheemphasised that conflating criticism of Israel with snti-Semitism does injustice to the real, pervasive threat of anti-Semitism locally, nationally and globally.Groups such as Canary Mission, claims Aziz,use accusations of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israel's policies and practices in two ways:

"One is to prevent or eliminate anyone with views they disagree with from being in positions of influence at the micro or macro level," saidAziz. "Second is to kill any kind of debate or disagreement about Israeli state policies or practices among the public, among college students, among media, among politicians."

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Flip the situation to a member of any other marginalised group speaking in support of human rights and progressive values, such as Black Lives Matter, and the illegality ofAbulhawa'stermination and its violation of her civil rights would be undebatable, Azizpointed out.

As mentioned,Abulhawa'sstory inthe Philadelphia Inquirersparked a wider debate about cancel culture. "There's no "cancel culture" that is more consistent, coherent and rooted in modern American political life than the suppression of Palestinian voices and pro-Palestinian views in US public discourse," saidWashington Postcolumnist Ishaan Tharoor.

Describing the hypocrisy of those advocating free speech while supporting the suppression of pro-Palestine voices, Tharoor added:"It has been grotesque to see, in recent years, people who built their whole careers enabling or participating in this OG "cancel culture" now position themselves as champions of free speech. You know who they are. And you know they will never admit their hypocrisy."

Tharoor's comments prompted his followers to tweet about the double-standards of people rousing moral panic over cancel culture while ignoring the state-led crackdown on critics of Israel. "We have laws in multiple states that punish people for protesting Israel and the cancel culture ppl don't care one bit," said one of his followers. "Cancel culture has always been a rallying cry for the elite and privileged scared to face consequences. Nothing to do with speech."

Reacting toAbulwaha'sstory,prominentAmerican-Jewish commentator Peter Beinart said: "Any entire conversation about'cancel culture'in America today that ignores its Palestinian victims is morally bankrupt."The complete absence of Palestinian victims and suppression of Palestinian voices clearly exposes themoral bankruptcy ofthe debate aroundcancel culture. Asis the case, Palestine exposes the limits offree-speech,the hypocrisy of selective outrage, the margins of human dignity and the boundaries of international law and human rights.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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Palestine exposes the limits of free-speech and the morally bankrupt 'cancel culture' - Middle East Monitor

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