Freedom of speech and expression is the cornerstone of American democracy. To utilize one’s God-given rights to express dissent or advocate for specific issues — particularly to espouse viewpoints unpopular at any given moment — is supposed to make American society unique.
Unfortunately, this does not appear to apply currently to viewpoints expressing solidarity with Palestinians.
Over the last several months, several Palestinian Americans and others who are sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians have faced unprecedented levels of discrimination. After Hamas’s vile attack on Oct. 7, members of the fanatical Israeli far-right began to pontificate about how the citizens of Gaza (a majority of whom oppose Hamas) were “human animals” and “children of the dark.” They faced no condemnation for their dehumanizing language, in sharp contrast to those American college students chanting “from the river to the sea.”
On that note, if you read Likud’s 1977 election platform, it explicitly used the term “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” to describe the area where “there will only be Israeli sovereignty.” No one is demanding that Likud disband as a political party over the use of that phrase, let alone evacuate illegal settlements from the West Bank.
There is more focus on dismantling Social Justice for Palestine and passing anti-Arab laws than ending the 56-year-occupation and ruinous blockade of Gaza. In essence, the cognitive dissonance is dangerous, making the soil more fertile for severe repression of Pro-Palestinian dissent in the U.S.
Additionally, when Israel announced it would be conducting a ground invasion into Gaza, nationwide protests on behalf of the Palestinians ensued. But hawkish forces manipulated the narrative and conflated solidarity or symbols supporting Gaza and Palestinians for support of Hamas. This bigoted, false binary likely contributed to the death of six-year-old Wadea Al Fayoume and the shooting of three innocent Palestinian men in Vermont.
Even in the halls of Congress, the Palestinian cause faces an onslaught of double standards and indifference. Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) scolded Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) for displaying the Palestinian flag outside her office, then continued to boast about how the Israelis were going to turn “Gaza into a parking lot.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called student protestors “pro-Hamas,” and even called on college professor to censure and fail students critical of Israel. Neither Miller nor Greene faced repercussions for their vile remarks. Neither was censured as Tlaib was.
When you step back and examine each case, there is one common thread: The pro-Palestinian voice is punished, whereas the voice spewing hateful vitriol was let off the hook. That trend must be reversed not only for the sake of the First Amendment, but also for the safety and security of the Palestinian Americans living in the U.S.
Yes, it is certainly within one’s right to agree or disagree with pro-Palestinian sympathizers. Many will claim they have a right to mock the pain of Palestinians; in the same regard, Palestinians also have a right to speak out against their current circumstances and should be supported in doing so.
Without doubt, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is contentious, emotional and heart wrenching. It is understandable to see why discourse regarding this issue is so fraught. But the pendulum regarding pro-Palestine speech is swinging in an entirely illiberal direction, endangering the lives of many people. This runs counter to the vision of our Founding Fathers.
Palestinians keep hearing about how the world is invested in Palestinian statehood, a two-state solution and honoring their rights. But none of these goals will ever materialize unless the world starts listening to Palestinians’ voices, acknowledging their generational pain and seeing them as human beings.
Palestinians are not just political pawns, to be repressed simply because one finds speech in their favor challenging to one’s worldview. Palestinians are not children of a lesser God, nor are they “human animals,” nor are they Hamas. They are a people who aspire to have freedom of movement and dignity, and the right to self-determination, just like their Israeli counterparts do.
Abdelhalim Abdelrahman is a Palestinian American writer based in Ohio.
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