Palestinian Poem Units Off Antisemitism Struggle at Georgetown

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Controversy erupted this week over a younger Palestinian activist’s invitation to talk at Georgetown Regulation College. Prematurely of the occasion, the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL, accused 23-year-old Palestinian author Mohammed El-Kurd of being antisemitic — an allegation that was echoed by conservative media retailers. Although the occasion on Tuesday went forward as deliberate, Georgetown has come beneath strain within the media, in addition to from some college students and college, to sentence El-Kurd and disavow the occasion.

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The disagreement started just a few days earlier than the Georgetown occasion, when Jonathan Greenblatt, the liberal head of the ADL, shared a dossier accusing El-Kurd of antisemitism primarily based on a number of his tweets and previous writing. Many of the accusations have been primarily based on social media posts from El-Kurd loudly chastising Israel and Zionism.

One merchandise from the ADL file, nevertheless, has change into the centerpiece of the marketing campaign towards the author: a line from a poem he wrote that’s now being alleged to echo a medieval antisemitic trope often known as the “blood libel,” an accusation originated in medieval Europe that Jews consumed the blood of non-Jews for ritual functions.

The passage in query got here from El-Kurd’s e-book of poetry printed final 12 months, “Rifqa.” In one of many poems, El-Kurd, who denies the fees of antisemitism, wrote, “They harvest organs of the martyred, feed their warriors our personal.”

The road contains one of many few footnotes within the quantity of poetry, directing the reader to a decade-old news story wherein the Israeli authorities admitted to harvesting organs from our bodies of Palestinians, in addition to some Israelis, with out their households’ consent within the Nineties.

El-Kurd denied that the road from the poem had something to do with the “blood libel” trope, saying in an interview that till very not too long ago he had not been aware of it. “Once I wrote this poem, I used to be like 14 or 15 years previous,” El-Kurd stated. “I actually solely understood what blood libel was like two months in the past. I’d by no means in my life even heard of this idea.”

The allegation of antisemitism towards El-Kurd primarily based on the poem is the one one which has gained traction. That his accusers are counting on a comparatively obscure accusation — a distant echo of an antisemitic trope from the European Center Ages — as the primary ammunition towards El-Kurd is elevating questions amongst advocates for Palestinian rights concerning the tasks of Israel’s critics to have an almost-scholarly grasp of antisemitism and its historical past.

“I’m way more aware of the historical past of antisemitism and the historical past of prejudice towards Jewish individuals than I’m concerning the historical past of prejudices towards many, many different peoples as a result of that’s what is critical to interact on this topic in the USA,” stated Yousef Munayyer, a nonresident senior fellow on the Arab Heart Washington. “On the identical time, individuals who make arguments in favor of Israeli insurance policies by no means appear to be subjected to the identical minefield associated to sensitivities over Palestinian historical past and struggling. That clear double normal is one the ADL appears devoted to reinforcing.”

An e mail obtained by The Intercept, signed by a bunch of Jewish college students and college members at Georgetown, and addressed to the college administration, referred to as for the college to sentence El-Kurd’s presence on the Tuesday occasion. The letter acknowledged that his writing had used “a foul antisemitic trope, originating within the Center Ages, that claims that Jews use the blood of gentiles for ritual or culinary functions.”

The vital letter was adopted by a statement supporting El-Kurd from a bunch of Georgetown Regulation alumni led by Palestinian American authorized scholar Noura Erakat. El-Kurd’s supporters reviewed the blood libel accusation within the poem and rejected the cost, stating that “the literal interpretation of what’s clearly figurative speech seems to be completed in dangerous religion.”

The letter of assist additionally argued that the controversy over the poem was altering the topic: discussions about Palestinians’ precise dwelling situations within the Occupied Territories have been being supplanted by debates over wording. “The reason for Palestinian liberation is buried beneath dangerous religion interpretations of El-Kurd’s poetry. A single metaphorical line, topic to interpretation, turns into prioritized over the vile situation of Palestinian unfreedom,” it stated.

El-Kurd informed The Intercept that his poem was referring to the documented historic occasion in Israel-Palestine cited within the footnotes. He additionally stated that as an adolescent studying to jot down poetry, his lecturers had inspired him to make use of metaphorical language.

“It’s a metaphor, it’s not one thing I actually consider. I’m simply now realizing that they really assume, or are pretending to assume for functions of exaggeration, that I really consider Israelis eat Palestinian organs. At first it was comical, however now it appears very sinister,” El-Kurd stated. “The road is concerning the follow of withholding Palestinian our bodies and utilizing them as bargaining chips and prior to now, exploiting the our bodies in methods which have been documented and are broadly mentioned. It’s not a conspiracy idea.”

He added, “On the time I wrote it, I used to be writing extra actually concerning the follow of withholding our bodies, however my lecturers informed me to make it extra summary and to make use of inventive language.”

El-Kurd stated that the ADL by no means reached out or tried to interact him about issues that the group had together with his writing. (The ADL didn’t reply to a request for remark.) As an alternative, with the file and the marketing campaign to get his occasion at Georgetown canceled, the ADL has centered on attempting to push him out of the general public debate on Israel-Palestine solely.

There’s no denying that El-Kurd grew up offended. A younger Palestinian from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, he has spent his total life combating towards the Israeli authorities’s try to evict him and his neighbors from their properties.

When he was 11 years previous, a bunch of hard-line Israeli settlers, together with some with origins within the U.S., moved right into a portion of his household residence and tossed his household’s possessions into the road. The settlers have remained there ever since. To today, they’re pushing to evict his household solely. His involvement on Israel-Palestine points has been compelled by circumstances which have formed his life since childhood.

Individuals who have labored in advocacy on Israel-Palestine additionally level out that it’s unreasonable to anticipate a 23-year-old to know easy methods to navigate refined speech codes across the battle in the USA, or to right away tar them as antisemites in the event that they don’t.

“There are elaborate and ever-shifting speech codes which might be consistently retrofitted to try to equate any type of Palestinian criticism of Zionism with antisemitism.”

“There are elaborate and ever-shifting speech codes which might be consistently retrofitted to try to equate any type of Palestinian criticism of Zionism with antisemitism,” Munayyer stated. “These of us who function within the American debate round this situation are compelled to be very conscious of the various ways in which one’s professional criticism of Zionism will be misconstrued in dangerous religion as antisemitic speech.”

The ADL file that triggered the uproar towards El-Kurd does acknowledge that “the Israeli-Palestinian battle is very private for El-Kurd” and that his household has been “entangled in a long-standing political and property dispute that has left them beneath menace of eviction by Israel for years.”

Below Greenblatt’s management, the ADL has taken liberal stances on some points. The group has even taken steps to make amends for some previous controversies: In 2021, Greenblatt issued a public apology for the ADL’s determination to oppose the development of a mosque in Decrease Manhattan, saying on behalf of the group, “We have been flawed, plain and easy.” Greenblatt has additionally stridently referred to as out Donald Trump and the far proper, one thing for which he has been attacked by conservatives.

The controversy over El-Kurd might make it more durable for even a rebranded ADL to make new allies. Many progressives immediately are sympathetic to Palestinian struggling, and the knee-jerk try to “cancel” El-Kurd, together with with a coordinated media blitz, is unlikely to endear them to the ADL.

For his half, El-Kurd says that the assaults on him, which characterize his expressions of shock as bigotry, paint a one-sided image that doesn’t mirror the real-world violence that he and his household undergo by the hands of the Israeli settler motion and the federal government that helps it.

“My household is threatened by expulsion on daily basis, and all I’ve ever identified is life beneath Israeli occupation,” El-Kurd stated. “All I’ve identified is tear fuel and beatings and police abuse.”

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