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Speaker event discusses academic freedom, Palestinian journalism and antisemitism

On Thursday, April 11, a keynote speaker event took place in Heller-Brown, delving into two pressing topics: the “weaponization of antisemitism” featuring Dr. Maura Finkelstein and “the war on Palestinian journalism” led by Amahl Bishara. The event commenced around 3:30 p.m. with illuminating introductions from the keynote speakers, providing insights into their backgrounds and setting the stage for an engaging discussion.

“Since mid-October I have been under a coordinated attack from Zionist[s]” Dr. Finkelstein remarked, referring to the recent controversy regarding Finkelstein’s social media presence, after the associate professor at Muhlenberg College made a post related to violence in Gaza. Thereafter, a petition for Finkelstein’s removal over “pro-Hamas rhetoric” and “blatant classroom bias against Jewish students” has received over 7,800 signatures, and Dr. Finkelstein has been placed on administrative leave after the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights began an investigation into Muhlenberg College.

Using her situation to discuss the broader treatment of faculty around the country in regards to academic freedom, the anthropologist remarked that “[my] social media presence is being framed as antisemitic, which is funny cause I’m Jewish,” critiquing the treatment of academics throughout the country who vocally criticize Israel.

Discussing the resignation of Claudine Gay from Harvard University and Liz McGill from the University of Pennsylvania following controversy, Finkelstein linked her experience to a larger, seemingly more prevalent issue, claiming that “antisemitism was weaponized and manipulated by anti-[Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)] conservatives.”

Referencing popular right-wing activist Christopher Rufo, Finkelstein proceeded by discussing the links between the conservative-led attack on DEI and critical race theory. In an interview with Politico, Rufo remarks “I’ve run the same playbook on critical race theory, on gender ideology, on DEI bureaucracy … this is a universal strategy that can be applied by the right to most issues. I think that we’ve demonstrated that it can be successful.” Paired with the “coordinated attacks,” Finkelstein used Rufo’s statement to understand the broader controversy related to the alleged neglect of Jewish students in DEI initiatives, especially after one of her online “trolls” specifically accused DEI of neglecting the concerns of Jewish students.

“This silencing of Palestinians and anti-Zionist voices has nothing to do with combating antisemitism. Instead, it’s the continuation of a long-term strategy to manufacture moral panics and translate this conservative outrage into attention, donation and votes.”

The second keynote speaker, Amahl Bishara, associate professor at Tufts University, centered her discussion on journalists in Palestine, and how the recent violence perpetrated by the Israeli military impacts the survival of Palestine.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, characterizes the period since Oct. 7 as the deadliest period for journalists since it started gathering data 31 years ago. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reports that 103 journalists have been killed since Oct. 7, with 22 being killed during the course of their work. RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire remarked that “these 103 journalists are not numbers, they are 103 voices that Israel has silenced, 103 fewer witnesses of the catastrophe unfolding in Palestine, 103 lives extinguished. If the numbers show anything, it is that since [Oct. 7], no place in Gaza is safe, no journalist in Gaza is spared, and the massacre has not stopped. We reiterate our urgent appeal to protect journalists in Gaza.”

Linking the killing of journalists to larger suppression of Palestinian freedoms, Bishara considered “[the] destruction of knowledge systems and the knowledge they generate, or epistemicide” before directly referencing a blog by Abdulla Moaswes of the Institute for Palestine Studies which discusses epistemicide as a tool of colonialism. “The war on Palestinian journalism is entangled across space, time and multiple forms of violence,” she notes. With regards to the alleged targeting of journalists by the Israeli military, Amahl Bishara discussed the larger effect of the war on Palestinians as knowledge producers.

Arguing that the suppression of journalists is a part of epistemicide and therefore genocide, Bishara heavily considers “how physical and symbolic violence amplify each other” through which the United States is complicit.

During the Q&A portion after the keynote speakers, students in attendance discussed the climate at Brandeis in relation to the themes at hand, with some students raising concerns about Brandeis’ handling of academic freedom.

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