Guest Post – By Sul Nowroz – 20th April 2023
Bloomfield Hills High School (BHHS) is in the state of Michigan. It owes its existence to the merging of Andover and Lasher high schools. Before 2013 it didn’t exist; before March 2023 many outside Bloomfield didn’t know it existed, but it has since become a lightning rod in Palestinian censorship.
BHHS is a sprawl of a low rise building with a dark modern veneer. On Tuesday March 14th four assemblies took place, one for each grade 9 through 12. The organisers invited five outside speakers to discuss any oppression or discrimination they may have faced, and what people around them could have done to make it better?’ The student organisers deemed it important to have a Palestinian speaker, so one was included, Huwaida Arraf.
Huwaida spoke for an average of seven minutes per assembly; it was a busy stage and others had a lot to say. But her seven minutes about seven million oppressed Palestinians, who face daily discrimination proved too much for Bloomfield.
By the end of the day the school’s principle, Lawrence Stroughter, sent out an apology, which incorrectly stated Huwaida had ‘gone off script’ to discuss her own perspective on Palestine. On Wednesday March 15th the school, under intense pressure from Zionist organisations, issued a second apology. It was from superintendent Patrick Watson, who had not attended any of the planning meetings or assemblies. It again incorrectly claimed Huwaida ‘deviated from the prompts’ provided. Watson’s actions were designed to distance the school from Huwaida, and in doing so he also morally distanced himself from the internationally recognised injustices being experienced by the Palestinian people.
Six days later, on March 20th, a special meeting of the school’s board took place. It was an intense affair. Huwaida’s participation in the assemblies was described as a mistake, and the school board promised it wouldn’t happen again. On March 24th Stroughter was placed on indefinite leave pending further action. On April 18th Watson unexpectedly announced he will retire in July.
Throughout this period, Huwaida has been called antisemitic, hateful, someone who used incendiary rhetoric, and an individual with ‘links’ to terrorism. The usual tropes are being deployed.
What did Huwaida say in those fateful seven minutes?
“I shared about my parents leaving Palestine because they wanted their children to grow up knowing freedom and having rights and opportunities denied to Palestinians. I recounted how, years later, I decided to move to Palestine with the hopes of making a difference. And how witnessing first-hand injustice and repression led me to co-found the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led, nonviolent resistance movement … and its fight against racism and discrimination – the theme of the assembly,” said Huwaida.
Fellow panellist, Eaven O’Meara, told Click On Detroit, “She was very specific to point out that it [her position] was not anti-Jewish, antisemitic, anti-Israel. It’s criticizing the policies of the Israeli state.”
The student organisers of the assembly added that in ‘no way or form’ had Huwaida presented antisemitic views. They continued “we will not apologize for having a Palestinian speaker and giving Arab and Muslim students representation. The assembly is something we’re proud of, and will continue to be proud of.”
Within days the Detroit branch of Jewish Voice for Peace posted a petition, endorsed by 190 organisations, including Jewish groups and congregations, in defence of Huwaida. It reminded us that Huwaida is ‘a highly respected civil rights attorney and long-time human rights activist’ and concluded the attacks were attempts to ‘discredit Huwaida’s message, and silence all advocates of Palestinian rights.’
Huwaida is an American-Palestinian citizen of Israel. She majored in Arabic and Judaic studies and political science at the University of Michigan, and spent a year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The International Solidarity Movement, which she co-founded, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She is Christian, her husband is from a Jewish family.
Roger Waters is eighty years old and an accomplished musician. He co-founded Pink Floyd in 1965, which went onto become a worldwide phenomenon. People still pay hundreds of pounds to see him live, unless you’re in Germany, where you might not be allowed to see him perform at all.
Jump onto Roger’s web site for his ‘This Is Not a Drill’ tour and you might be surprised by what you read: Roger thanks 25,000 signatories for signing a petition to allow him to play in Frankfurt’s Festhalle. He also asks Frankfurt’s City Council to ‘leave free speech alone.’
Roger was due to perform at the Festhalle in May, yet by early February there were rumours the event might not go ahead. By February 28th industry journal Billboard confirmed the event was cancelled by order of Frankfurt council. Munich council also introduced a motion to cancel his concert at the Olympiahalle. The motion was subsequently withdrawn.
Roger was labelled “one of the world’s most well-known antisemites” by Frankfurt council and cited his repeated calls for a cultural boycott of Israel, and his comparisons of Israel to the apartheid regime in South Africa, as reasons for cancelling his concert.
Roger is not someone to back down and has taken legal action to overturn the Frankfurt ban. This is a developing story.
A year earlier Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur for the state of human rights in the Palestinian territory shared his assessment: “Israel, conforms to the definition as a political regime which so intentionally and clearly prioritizes fundamental political, legal and social rights to one group over another, within the same geographic unit on the basis of one’s racial-national-ethnic identity”.
In the same year, Amnesty International released their findings on the treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Agnès Callamard, Amnesty’s Secretary General concluded: “Our report reveals the true extent of Israel’s apartheid regime …. Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights. We found that Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession, and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid.”
Two years prior, in January 2021, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B’Tselem, called Israel an apartheid state due to laws, practices and state violence designed to ‘cement the supremacy’ of one group over another, restrictions of legal rights and movement based on ethnicity, and the deliberate denial of political participation to key groups.
In 2011 Dan Senor and Saul Singer wrote a book called Start-up Nation which trumpeted Israel’s entrepreneurial prowess. Technology start-ups featured heavily. What wasn’t mentioned was Israel’s emerging influence in censoring the digital space. Israel has two weaponised technology entities. Unit 8200, which is believed to be the largest single unit in Israel’s Defence Forces, is responsible for digital intelligence gathering, offensive and defensive cyber security operations, and general cyber warfare. The Cyber Unit is responsible for all aspects of cyber defence in the civilian sphere, a sphere that isn’t limited to Israel’s borders.
The organisation of the Cyber Unit was formalised in 2015 with the mandate to ensure Israel could effectively deal with its ‘enforcement challenges’ in cyberspace. This means actively listening to chatter on the world’s key social platforms, identifying ideological threats, and neutralising them. Tactics include secretive collaboration and coordination with international social media outlets, censorship through removal or ‘takedowns’ of posts, links and feeds, shadow banning, where content is calculatingly demoted, the suspension of social media accounts, and restricting access to social platforms and web sites.
By September 2017 human rights organization Adalah was concerned about the lack of legal oversight of the Cyber Unit, and petitioned Israel’s Attorney General demanding operations cease. A further petition was filed in November 2019. In April 2021 the petition was rejected and the Cyber Unit was officially free to use ‘alternative enforcement’ methods for censoring the civic digital space.
In October 2020 Facebook created an Oversight Board. It is described as independent, and its function is to review content moderation decisions taken by the firm. It currently has twenty board members. One of the members is Emi Palmor, the former Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Justice (2014 – 2019), under whose leadership the Cyber Unit was set up.
In April 2021 an academic event, ironically titled “Whose Narrative? What Free Speech for Palestine?”, co-sponsored by San Francisco State University, the Council of UC Faculty Associations and the University of California Humanities Research Institute, was cancelled by Zoom, Google, Eventbrite and Facebook,
In May 2021 Reuters reported both Instagram and Twitter ‘blamed technical errors’ for the deletion of posts that mentioned the possible illegal eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem. No additional detail was forthcoming from either media outlet on the type of error experienced, the cause of the error, or the likelihood of two separate technology platforms malfunctioning around similar content, at the same time.
Are advocates of Palestinian rights being deliberately silenced?
©2023 Sul Nowroz