Racism and tokenization within the Palestine solidarity movement

I want to start off this post by saying that the Palestine solidarity movement in the US, as a whole, is truly amazing and inspiring. It is so diverse. There are so many people of different ages, classes, races, sexual orientations, and religions involved in the movement against Israeli apartheid and in support of Palestinian rights.

However, as someone who is heavily involved in the movement, I have many critiques of the way things are done. There are so many ways we can grow and improve. So many ways. But one thing that is often not discussed, an elephant in the room, is the internal racism and tokenization, specifically toward Palestinians.

There is a certain type of fascination in the Palestine solidarity movement with white and/or Jewish folks who have traveled to or lived in Palestine. Oftentimes, people who go on delegations or trips to Palestine are asked to give presentations about the atrocities they saw during their trips. I think that’s great and definitely necessary. However, I think it’d be helpful to get perspective from an actual Palestinian as well. You know, like, someone from the actual group being targeted and oppressed by racist Israeli policies.

I guess maybe it’s more entertaining to hear and read the experiences of a white person visiting the exotic, dangerous East. I think it is important to hear about their experiences, but if there is more interest in having a white and/or Jewish person speak about their experiences than hearing from an actual Palestinian, then there is a major problem here.

This is also sad because a lot of Palestinians are not allowed to visit or live in Palestine because they are refugees. Is their knowledge or experience then less important than a white person who visited Palestine? Isn’t the very act of being ethnically cleansed also not a direct consequence of racist Israeli policy?

I have also seen countless times many Palestine solidarity groups make sure to have a Jewish speaker alongside a Palestinian speaker to make the event look more legit. I understand the importance of having Jewish voices speak out against Israeli policy. And I understand that a lot of folks leading the movement in the US against Israeli apartheid are in fact Jews. But to imply that Palestinian voices telling their own experiences and stories being affected by Israeli policy is not legit enough is very problematic, to say the least.

There are certain audiences that will only take a Jewish activist or academic seriously. They will listen to them if they say Israel is committing human rights abuses against Palestinians, but if a Palestinian says it, they’re ‘biased’. Why do we cater to the racism of these types of audiences? Why should we learn about the Nakba of 1948 from a Jewish academic when there are surely many Palestinian Nakba survivors alive today who would be happy to tell their stories to the world before they go? Or maybe even a Palestinian currently facing home eviction at this moment in East Jerusalem as a result of Israel’s ongoing Nakba?

Umm Kamel (left) tells the story of her family's eviction from Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. Her husband died as a direct result of their forced displacement.

Umm Kamel (left) tells the story of her family’s eviction from Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. Her husband died as a direct result of their forced displacement.

And then people in the movement complain and ask why there aren’t more active Palestinians in the US. I personally hear this question all the time. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe it’s because they feel disempowered? Maybe because they feel their voices don’t matter? Maybe they feel like their contributions aren’t valued in certain organizing spaces?

On the other hand, tokenization is also an issue. You cannot assume that just because someone is Palestinian that you can push them into the limelight to speak at your event: “Hey, we need a Palestinian on this panel. Wanna do it?” This is not the way to approach someone. It’s tokenizing to ask someone to be on a panel simply because you need a Palestinian and they’re Palestinian. It’s as tokenizing as college brochure photographers who grab the nearest black person to snap a photo of to show their “diversity”.

Many Palestinians have reasons for why they choose to organize behind-the-scenes and not be public. They might have family in Palestine and have their names out there publicly might easily ban them from seeing their family for ten years. All it takes is a simple Google search by the Israeli airport security. It’s no joke and it should not be taken lightly.

Thankfully, this type of racism and tokenization is not the case with every Palestine solidarity organization in the US. But it is a problem so common that it must be discussed and addressed.

We need to ground ourselves. Why are we involved in the Palestine solidarity movement in the first place? Is it not to promote freedom, equality, and human rights? Then why are we continuing to perpetuate certain forms of racism within our organizing?

The process is always as important as the outcome. We all want a free Palestine and we claim to be anti-racist. Let us make sure we constantly check ourselves and make sure we are organizing in an inclusive way that follows our principles for how we want a better world. We have to do this sooner rather than later.

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