University students and instructors periodically drop into my inbox with stories of repression and reprisal for having criticized Israel—or merely for having spoken favorably of Palestinians. In some cases, faculty have been demoted or fired, or have been denied tenure. In other cases, they’ve lost funding or opportunities to publish. They’ve been threatened, if only implicitly (plenty of times the threat is explicit). Students have been profiled by websites aiming to destroy their careers (pro-Israel zealots are expert snitches) or subject to some kind of disciplinary action.
People so targeted want to know how to respond. Unfortunately, there’s no formula for surviving a Zionist smear campaign. Those campaigns are well-organized and find a receptive audience among administrators possessed of an impulse to capitulation. It’s possible to escape smear campaigns, likely even, but doing so requires fortitude and confidence.
Hundreds of activists and intellectuals targeted for punishment have shown that Zionist operatives warrant no kind of awe. They are loudmouth reactionaries more worthy of disdain than accommodation. While nothing is guaranteed, practical steps exist to minimize the negative outcomes of defamation and censure. If anything, I hope the following suggestions will mitigate the stress good people often suffer for empathizing with the dispossessed in an industry that so deftly rewards obedience to power.
—Document all interaction with administrators and antagonists, no matter how banal. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass. Loading people down with unremunerated labor is part of the calculation. But a comprehensive record will be extremely helpful if you end up in court or some kind of disciplinary hearing.
—Plan on ending up in court or some kind of disciplinary hearing. Chances are strong that it won’t happen, but proceed as if it will. Think of it less as a material reality than a pragmatic outlook. What kind of case will you have if it’s arbitrated in a hostile system? How will people with conventional minds interpret the wording of your tweets and statements? Assume a worst-case scenario and put together a survival strategy according to that assumption.
—Explain your situation to trusted colleagues (preferably in your institution). Their support and feedback will be a blessing.
—Having a lawyer is good, but a good lawyer isn’t easy to find. Start researching contract and/or higher education attorneys that practice in your area. Contact a few if things begin to escalate. A lawyer that understands Zionist repression is optimal.
—Don’t ever believe an upper administrator who proclaims to be looking after your best interests.
—Students: enlist the help of faculty on your campus who brand as radical. Make them prove their bona fides.
—Gather materials that show you to be a good teacher, researcher, and/or community member.
—Write a rigorous defense of the comments or actions that drew negative attention. (For instance, I was once pilloried for saying I wish all West Bank settlers would go missing. In response, I produced a body of material illustrating how Israel’s illegal settlement of the West Bank causes massive suffering and inequality.)
–Reach out to friends. Emotional support is critical. Don’t worry about imposing. Any decent friend will be glad to offer support.
—Nobody’s obliging you to speak on behalf of any oppressed community, but if you choose to do it, then do it well. Ditch the soft imperialist shit that excites so many Western academics and channel the sensibilities of the dispossessed. Earn your punishment.
—In public interchange, focus on the facts of Zionist colonization. Israel serially violates international law and the human rights conventions to which it is a signatory. A huge documentary record details eight decades of war crimes and ethnic cleansing. Your antagonists would love to transform the issue into a referendum on your incivility. Implicate their support of massive, demonstrable violence, instead.
—Beware the climbers who will attach themselves to you the second they detect a spotlight. No matter what they say, no matter how nice they sound, you are nothing more to them than a disembodied source of social capital, a nebulous commodity fit for extraction—or else to provide credibility for a rich kids’ club pretending to be a leftist political community. Stick with people you know to be principled. Trust your instinct.
—Gentle reminder: in the end, it’s not about self-gratification, but the well-being of a people suffering military occupation.
—Don’t apologize. It will only embolden your tormentors. (Besides, nobody should ever apologize for condemning atrocities.)
—Have an op-ed or two ready to go.
—Remind yourself that devotion to justice is a greater accomplishment than any reward conferred by the ruling class.
—If this all sounds like a tremendous hassle, well…it is. Disrupting your ability to work (in terms of both livelihood and organizing) is baked into repression; in turn, disruption is an essential feature of struggle. Liberation and labor are inseparable. Plan on being inconvenienced.
—Most important: after another long day of surviving mendacity, sleep easily. You’ve earned that right. Enjoy the hell out of it.
This essay first appeared on Steve Salaita’s No Flags, No Slogans blog.