This week, Israeli soldiers invaded Bethlehem refugee camps, barged into Palestinian homes around the country, kidnapped and injured scores of people and debated the Prawar-Begin Plan (a plan that will demolish dozens of villages and displace Bedouins who are indigenous to the area). Meanwhile, Zionist watchdog AMCHA Initiative from Santa Cruz has demanded San Francisco State University administrators repress any messaging that sounds like militant self-defense against the Israel occupation and genocide. Despite Zionist-bullying, on Thursday, student groups defied the smear campaign and held another assembly at SFSU’s Malcom X Plaza.
AMCHA came after the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) last week after the group hosted their sixth annual celebration of the Edward Said campus mural. A table at the celebration displayed stencils declaring “My Heroes Have Always Killed Colonizers.” AMCHA called the students’ messaging “anti-Semitic” and said the stencils “glorified the murder of Jews.” AMCHA alerted the Simon Weisenthal Center, which successfully lobbied for the administration’s alliance. (This isn’t the first time this has happened at SFSU. For one example of many: remember in 1994, when the school had the original Malcom X mural sandblasted from a building?)
Not-so-ironically, the student group that brought the stencil is not a Palestinian group, but rather the Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations. The stencil wording has been used for years by indigenous groups to commemorate the resistance to genocide(s) committed across the continent.
Other groups who are unapologetically supporting the messaging and who participated in Thursday’s rally include Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Atzlàn (MEChA), La Raza Student Organization, Feminism in Action and the League of Filipino Students. The rally was not in response to the Zionist attack alone: students were also opposing implementation plans for campus police tasers and the privatization of the student center, as well as drawing attention to a labor conflict between the school and the student center janitors.
We spoke with a few students who helped put on the event. We prefer not to edit what people have to say, so we’ve published the comments in full:
Gaspar*: General Union of Palestinian Students
Gaspar: Today we came together—a broad-based coalition with comrades on campus—First Nations people, MECha, and Las Razas Student Organization. Las Razas kind of spearheaded it. We wanted to honor the legacy of our ancestors. We’ve been facing attacks. GUPS has been facing attacks—smear campaigns from Zionists, trying to get our names, basically coming at our necks. We thought it was strategic to group up and to release some pressure off of GUPS and to really focalize this phrase, “My Heroes Have Always Killed Colonizers” and to spread the message. Like someone said earlier: you attack one of us you attack all of us. It’s not just Palestinians; it’s the majority of the world that has experienced colonization. So we’re just trying to honor that legacy of our ancestors.
BAI: So what are your thoughts about the admin and Zionists’ attacks?
Gaspar: We definitely see this as a larger campaign, especially with this Tammi Benjamin and her AMCHA Initiative. They’re supposed to be focused on anti-Semitic communities on campus Of course we understand them as a Zionist organization that’s basically trying to silence voices of color on campuses and basically trying to attack any type of agency that we have on university campuses. Typically, university campuses—not just in the US, but the world over– is a site of struggle. Radical students have used it as an opportunity, right? So they’re trying to silence us and accuse us of outlandish claims. They have outlandish claims and they’re making accusations of us that are really baseless and a concerted effort. It’s straight up repression. And their allies are people in the administration here on campus and even in the State as well. So it’s a typical attack and they’re trying to silence us.
BAI: What are some of the less publicized attacks they’ve made towards you all?
Gaspar: I think at this point, that’s actually been their tactic: publicity. So they’re researching our names and the right-wing blogosphere and this type of stuff. They’ve taken up pictures of our members and trying to track them down trying to get our names. That’s been their main strategy. As it stands, thank God, as far as we know there’s been no material…well, there has been some issue with travel, for example. If you want to talk about material things, they’ve stopped our freedom of motion. To move freely has been impeded. As an indirect result of this—we’re not sure of the connection—but one of our members faced some issues and at this point, their [AMCHA’s] strategy is to put pressure on the university to actually take disciplinary action against us as an organization.
It might be important to make a distinction from what is often referred to as “solidarity” organizations. GUPS comes from Palestine in the 1920’s and is considered one of the original Palestinian institutions in the 1920’s, seeing Zionism and the formation and trying to protect against that and struggling against that. And it has a very rich legacy and we’re trying to maintain that. And our enemies know that and they’re trying to get rid of us because they do understand our rich legacy. But at this point, they’re mainly on the blogosphere trying to get our names and tag us and get us shut down because they know our history.
I’d like to encourage a continued awareness and call to action and that people will get a hold of someone from GUPS and continue to support us to as we try to maintain the legacy of, for example, the Third World Liberation Front of 1968.
Julia Hernandez: Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Atzlàn and Students Against Police Brutality
Julia: I’m here to show solidarity with GUPS and I feel like their struggle is very similar to the Latino struggle in regards to being colonized, discriminated against and criminalized.
The main reason I’m here, though, is because I feel that safety has been a general issue on our campus, especially in regards to administration–specifically our university president, Leslie E. Wong. He claims to be concerned about our safety and that of the campus, but it’s more obvious that he’s concerned for a particular type of group and not really of those marginalized groups–especially not people of color and women. Tasers would not really protect anybody and they’re notorious for being harmful towards protesters. And if anything, this is an issue he should be taking up in regards to the safety of his students.
I’m kind of appalled that he would not stand behind one of his own students–be it past student, present student, previous student–and support him when he’s being called such things as a terrorist, because that’s really offensive.
BAI: How do you feel about the responses you’ve heard—the allegations from the administration and the Zionists?
Julia: I think it’s very narrow-minded. I feel like it was taken out of context because “All Our Heroes Have Always Killed Colonizers” was something taken on by SKINS [Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations], and it was meant to be in reference to the colonization of the Americas. But they took it as the colonization of Palestine. And I think that’s what this person, Tammi—I-forget-her-last-name—really needs to reflect on and why she thinks this was a specifically anti-Semitic act.
Patricia Martinez: MEChA
Patricia: MEChA is an organization that has a history of being political on this campus. Ever since the beginning of this semester, we’ve been trrying to really put in a lot of work in implementing something new on our campus or investing time in really dealing with the issues that concern our student center or our ethnic studies department.
This semester, it came to our attention that the custodial staff’s pensions were being threatened and the reason was because the university wasn’t willing to renew their contract. And their contract hasn’t been renewed since July of this year. So the university hasn’t made any—they’ve only made two attempts to make a deal and sit down with the local Teamsters representatives, and so we found out it wasn’t just a loss of pensions, but it was an entire privatization of a student-run building that has a history of having a lot of student voice and political activism. And what we see happening with this custodial issue and this privatization issue is that we see a loss of student voice and a loss of university responsibility in allowing that to happen. So if a corporation takes over this building, it’s going to mean that we as students are going to lose the only building on campus that will allow us to voice our opinions. And so I’m very disillusioned with the university and I would like for something to change, and that’s why I’m out here today.
BAI: What is your response to the allegations?
Patricia: When I read President Wong’s statement, I couldn’t—well, I could believe—but I was really upset that he would voice a statement and an opionon that was supposed to represent the entire university without checking with GUPS or SKINS about what they thought. He said he would not allow anti-Semitic or violent language to be present on this campus. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. If anything, Tammi [Rossman-] Benjamin is a watchdog for a Zionist organization and it’s not okay for them to bully our students here that are Palestinian because many people held that sign–a stencil that said, “My heroes have always killed colonizers.” So this feels like a direct attack on Palestinian students, and very much a colonial and western perspective. And it upsets me; I’m very passionate.
Also, on top of everything else, the police department’s trying to implement the use of tasers on campus as well and I think that’s another way for them to silence student activists.
Graciela Mesa: Feminism in Action
Mesa: Definitely I believe that we all share similar colonial histories of people of color, as feminists of color, especially. And I just think what’s happening is fucked up. It’s a blatant Islamophobic attack and it’s an attack on students, which I think is inappropriate on any level. It’s racist. Like the person who just spoke right now said, it’s really unfounded. It’s just basically—any excuse to shut down critiques or criticisms of the people in power. It’s been happening on multiple campuses. We know that the shit Tammi has been doing has been shut down on multiple occasions, but she keeps fighting and they’re also extremely organized, which is really scary. So I think it’s super important. Because even if they have no foundation, they have that power already behind them and I think that as marginalized people who don’t have that institutional power, it’s super important for us to stick together and to build that solidarity to be able to counteract that very strategic and very organized attack against us.
BAI: What about the campus’ language around this—their repression?
Mesa: I think they’re brilliant. Not in any positive way. I work with one of the professors on campus, who keeps me in the loop. I know that even before we got any word, before her (Tammi) email was sent out to the president, her and her group AMCHA had already organized other groups. They were already telling other Zionist groups on campus, “This is what we’re going to do, these are our next steps. So be ready.” So once they sent out the email to President Wong, other Zionists organizations were already supporting her, also sending similar emails. So we were sort of blindsided. So I think that it’s brilliant, but knowing that that is their tactic, we also have to be prepared to being one step ahead of them. I think this is a good attempt at doing that. It’s really empowering to see a lot of students coming through. Unfortunately, a lot of the faculty members aren’t that supportive. I think that’s disheartening, especially in ethnic studies and gender studies—this claim to support anti-colonial movements—its really disheartening. But it’s really dope to see the students be here. The students, the workers, everybody are like fuck this shit. It’s really dope.
Mariah Cruz: Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations
Mariah: The whole point of today is that we stand in solidarity with GUPS. They’re attacking GUPS, but the artwork that was used was used in a collective event that–like Rafah had said earlier, SKINS had used that artwork in an indigenous peoples’ event. There was no complaint on that artwork. And now GUPS uses it and now there’s an outright attack and smearing and all of a sudden, we’re anti-Semitic groups and we’re glorifying the murder of Jews and we’re being attacked by AMCHA and it’s not right. It’s like, no; “My heroes have always killed colonizers” is not ethnic-specific. It’s just us decolonizing minds, reach out and decolonize other people’s minds. We have been colonized for hundreds of years. And we’re done. We’re done being colonized. We’re reclaiming.
BAI: Do you have thoughts about their response/their tactic/ their language?
Mariah: We’re not being violent or threatening to the Jewish community on campus. It was a mural celebration and it all got taken out of context. We’re not glorifying the murder of the Jewish people. I don’t know how that came out of—where that came ot of.
I’m really hoping people take the time to look at both sides of the issue and stand in solidarity with us. Benjamin is calling the whole campus the most anti-Semitic campus in the country. And she’s attacking the ethnic studies. And ethnic studies really impacts the majority of students on campus. So she’s attacking ethnic studies; she’s attacking everyone. It’s not right.
Note: “*” indicates this name has been changed to protect the speaker.