by Aaron Goren and Walter Holzberg
(CAMERA) — When the New Jersey Chapter of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) announced plans to host a conference titled “Liberating Palestine: The Time is Now” at Rutgers University, Newark, a major university that serves more than 12,000 students, it became important to document and expose the obdurate antisemitism unapologetically espoused by speakers such as Taher Herzallah and Nerdeen Kiswani.
AMP is a non-profit organization founded in 2005 with an alarming track record of promoting antisemitism both within and outside the Islamic community. In particular, AMP maintains a close relationship with Students for Justice in Palestine, even sharing a co-founder, Hatem Bazian.
Bazian has partnered with and spoken at events hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In the past, CAIR was involved with and defended the Holy Land Foundation, a group whose founders were convicted and sentenced to federal prison for funneling Hamas millions of dollars in 2008.
According to NGO Monitor, AMP has targeted the State of Israel with numerous tropes, “including claims of ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘genocide,’ ‘collective punishment,’ ‘Judaization,’ and ‘colonization,’ AMP also publicly campaigns for a Palestinian ‘right of return,’ a dog whistle calling for Israel’s destruction.”
The keynote speakers at the AMP New Jersey conference showed little restraint. Their displays of overt antisemitism veiled as self-professed “political organizing” targeted Jews and the State of Israel, often in the same breath.
During a session titled “Rejecting Whitewashing: Ethics of Organizing for Palestine,” speaker Taher Herzallah openly posited conspiracies of Jewish power, manipulation, and control.
For instance, Herzallah claimed that Jewish Community Relations Councils who reached out to members of the Islamic community after Sept. 11 to combat Islamophobia had ulterior motives — namely, to suppress support for the Palestinian cause.
He said, “You know, one of the, one of the strategies of Zionist groups in the U.S. at the time was taking advantage of this weakness, of this weak position by outreaching to Muslim organizations and saying: ‘Hey, you know what? We’ll, we’ll vouch for you. We’ll, we’ll stand up for you. We’ll help you guys build your mosque in whatever city you guys want. We’ll advocate for the city council.’ And so, it became like the subtle effort to build these relationships with, with, Muslim community organizations. In a way, to make criticizing Israel unthinkable… Now you have them thinking twice about issuing a statement when Israel bombs Gaza or when a Palestinian child is killed in Jenin because they’re afraid of ruining their relationship with the people who helped them, for example, get the permits for their mosque when the city council was not approving it.”
Herzallah, of course, provides no evidence for these claims. He doesn’t state the alleged names of those involved or even the supposed location of this JCRC.
Herzallah also remarked, “Zionists [are] here in the audience. You know, they’re sneaky… This is the kind of stuff they do! You know, sneaky sons of guns! You know, you’re talking about people that are engaged in this type of stuff for decades. The ADL, this is a Zionist organization!”
Herzallah appears to paint the ugly archetype of the cunning and deceptive Jew, a common tactic reminiscent of Nazi and Soviet propaganda and commonly employed by anti-Zionists.
As CAMERA Senior Media Research Analyst Ricki Hollander writes, in the case of the Nazis, such baseless and serious accusations were an attempt at projection.
“Ironically, the Nazis projected their own sins onto the Jews: They aspired to Aryan racial purity while accusing Jews of being the racists,” she has written. “They were guilty of genocide and heinous crimes against humanity while accusing Jews of being criminals and murderers. They lied, slandered, incited, and ensnared the Jews with deviousness while accusing Jews of those behaviors. They acted as a malignancy that took over and extinguished Jewish life while accusing Jews of infiltrating the body like parasites.”
Herzallah’s proposed “ethics for organizing for Palestine” revolved around projection; Jews and Israel are deceitful, evil and manipulative and therefore deserving of boycotts, slander and censorship.
If that wasn’t enough, Herzallah also defended Palestinian terrorism as a “God-given right.” Towards the end of the session, he noted that “…they make us look like terrorists if we fight back, if we throw a rock, or resist. This is a God-given right.”
As expected, Herzallah makes no effort to condemn the common forms of “resistance,” a term that has become synonymous with terrorism against Israelis, including civilians. This is not by accident. It is an approach entirely sanctioned by the Palestinian Authority.
In 2012, the P.A. Ministry of Information published a book instructing Palestinians to refrain from using the term “terror” and “suicide bombing,” arguing instead that they should refer to such incidents as “resistance” and “Martyrdom-seeking operations,” respectively.
Herzallah’s remarks are especially contemptible in light of a terror attack that took place a day earlier, where a 15-year-old Palestinian killed seven Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue.
The attack was widely celebrated in Ramallah and Jenin. Even Palestinian Authority officials like Ata Abu Rmeileh, who serves as Fatah Jenin branch secretary, deemed the horrific attack a “heroic operation.”
In the next session, “Navigating Campus Organizing and Zionist Pressures,” speakers Mohammed Habehh and Nerdeen Kiswani decried the criticism they have received for targeting and marginalizing Jewish students across the City University of New York system.
In particular, Nerdeen openly displayed contempt for the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, which, while non-binding, provides comprehensive examples that would classify much of the “activism” by members of CUNY4Palestine, Students for Justice in Palestine and Within Our Lifetime as antisemitic.
“When I was trying to defeat the IHRA… definition of antisemitism in all of CUNY… they took ads of my face… and put them on people’s Instagram stories and on Facebook,” Nerdeen said.
Nerdeen and Habehh seem to favor a definition of antisemitism that does not condemn their frequent comparisons of Israelis to Nazis, incessant targeting of Jewish students and organizations on campus and rallies calling to “globalize the intifada” — a rallying cry for the murder of Jews — as antisemitic.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of her radical antisemitism, Kiswani victimized herself, stating, “They used racist depictions and false accusations of antisemitism. To vilify me, including finding photos of me at rallies and then circling like signs next to me. Um, one sign that they circled was from the river to the Sea Palestine will be free, which they branded to be as antisemitic language.”
Time and again, this slogan has been used by terrorist organizations like Hamas during their rallies, a classic dog whistle for calling for Jewish genocide.
Kiswani goes on to speak about a Jewish student who was targeted with antisemitic harassment from anti-Zionist groups and students on campus. “You know, I didn’t expect that there would essentially be a plant most likely, you know, I don’t believe this one out who came to school for one semester, um, to fabricate articles about me was… was an accident.”
Kiswani is making a reference to Rafaella Gunz, a self-identified liberal, feminist and Jewish student who attended CUNY Law for one semester and dropped out on account of harassment from anti-Zionist students.
It is deeply concerning that Rutgers Newark would offer to host a conference that would knowingly platform speakers with a track record of promoting Jew-hatred.
We call upon Chancellor Nancy Cantor, President Jonathan Holloway, faculty and students across the Rutgers University system to condemn the vile remarks made by Kiswani and Herzallah and to distance itself from American Muslims for Palestine, an organization with a history of promoting antisemitism.
Aaron Goren is a Campus Advisor for CAMERA on Campus.
Walter Holzberg is a Campus Advisor for CAMERA on Campus covering the New York and New Jersey region.