The scenario was different–and unfortunate–but the ugly response had a familiar refrain: Blame it on Israel. Act against Israel. Forget the facts or make them up.
On May 11, Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran reporter for Al-Jazeera, was killed while covering a firefight between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and armed Palestinians during Israeli counter-terrorist activity in Jenin, in the West Bank. There is no official report of who killed her and why, but much of the rampant speculation is hostile, especially among the mainstream media and those who support the Palestinians.
Recently, the rhetoric reached Orange County in the form of an e-mail to all district employees issued by the North Orange County Community College District, Office of Diversity & Compliance, on behalf of the South West Asian North African (SWANA) Faculty and Staff Association. The e-mail, which described the killing as an assassination designed to silence the reporter, discussed “the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli apartheid, suffering from forced evictions, ethnic cleansing, and lack of basic human rights” and called for putting “pressure on the United States government to stop its support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and encourage everyone to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
Per Assembly Bill 2844, enacted in 2016, California prevents companies that boycott or discriminate against any sovereign state, including Israel, from doing business with the state, making BDS illegal. Even more importantly, without the benefit of an investigation of the killing, the letter is openly anti-Semitic and highly inaccurate.
Members of the Jewish community attended and voiced their concerns at the North Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees meeting five days later. Almost four hours into the meeting, they got their turn to make public comments. In impassioned speeches they called for the board to retract the letter, apologize to the Jewish community and thoroughly investigate the situation.
Rabbi David Eliezrie, who called the letter full of falsehoods, distortions and anti-Semitic innuendos, said that it was “hilarious how you call yourself the office of diversity when you did not send out a letter bemoaning the attacks and killings of 18 people in Israel recently and how you have a double standard about Israel.” He challenged, “Is the North Orange County Community College District saying that it supports the destruction of Israel? Have the wisdom and moral courage to do the right thing.”
Alex Burkhardt, who came to the United States as a refugee from the Soviet Union, reminded the audience that 2,658 journalists have been killed since 1990 in war zones, but that Israel is being singled out. He added, “The letter falsely claimed that Israel is an apartheid state engaged in ethnic cleansing.”
“The letter endorsed anti-Semitic and racist propaganda,” said Fullerton College Counselor Dr. Nick Arman. He implored the board to retract the letter, saying, “Hold yourselves accountable. If you do nothing, you are complicit.”
For Cliff Lester, retired chair of the photography department at Cypress College and creator of the Holocaust gallery there, the situation was personally painful. Because Lester’s mother was a Holocaust survivor (who grew up with Anne Frank), he has devoted himself to photographing and interviewing Holocaust survivors whose voices speak out against bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism.
“Anti-Semitism is at its highest level, and it happens because we don’t speak out,” he said. “Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head with this letter sent out by the district. Tonight, we have three options: do nothing, send a placating letter or take a stand to make a huge difference by calling this letter what it is.”
“Israel is part of who I am,” said Melissa Bruckner, a member of the community whose mother lives in Israel. “Anyone who seeks to destroy Israel seeks to destroy all Jews. SWANA and NOCCCD should be ashamed of themselves.”
Mali Leitner, former Jewish Federation of Orange County executive, wondered how it was possible for a state-sponsored program to spread such hate and lies. She reminded the audience that “Israel wants to investigate the death of the journalist, but the Palestinians won’t cooperate.”
Another community member, Stella Eliezrie, questioned the funding of SWANA while expressing concern that young people would come to these schools and be misled by the letter. She admonished the board, “You have a chance to put morality on the right path.”
David Halahmy, chair of the history department at Cypress College, offered a history lesson, concluding that “Israel was acknowledged after the Holocaust, but the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened if that tiny sliver of land that belongs to the Jews had been acknowledged in the first place.” He asked the board to condemn the e-mail and “make it right.”
While one of the community college board members said that board usually does not respond to public comment, she stated, “We’re looking into the matter.” The Jewish community is planning to keep the matter out of the limelight of social media until there is or is not an appropriate response.
Genuine contrition would be nice, but one still has to wonder who pushed the “send” button on the e-mail, why no one questioned the morality or the consequences and why diversity only seems to apply to some segments of the population. We can only hope that Jewish lives matter too.
Ilene Schneider is a contributing writer to JLife Magazine.
Unprovoked Killing of a Palestinian-American Journalist
May 12, 2022
We deeply mourn the unprovoked killing and targeted assassination of renowned Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, while she was on duty covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank.
Shireen was a fearless journalist who dedicated over two decades of her life publicizing the illegal, brutal military occupation imposed on Palestinians by Israel. She was an icon, a teacher, a trailblazer, and to many, the most prominent Palestinian journalist of our generation. While many in the mainstream media choose to ignore the ongoing apartheid, Shireen amplified the voices of Palestinians suffering from settler-colonialism.
Shireen’s assassination is not an isolated event. Rather, it is part of a calculated strategy employed by Israel to silence those daring to shed light on its inhumane practices. We continue to be outraged by Israel’s lack of accountability, the silence of many national and international bodies, and the constant misrepresentation and dehumanization of the Palestinian people in prominent newspapers, such as the NY Times.
While Shireen’s murder was done to permanently silence her, her voice of truth will live on. We remember Shireen and the many other Palestinian and foreign journalists that put their lives on the line to combat the censorship that western media routinely propagates when covering the occupation. We remember the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli apartheid, suffering from forced evictions, ethnic cleansing, and lack of basic human rights. Now is the time to put pressure on the United States government to stop its support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and encourage everyone to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.
SWANA Faculty and Staff Association