By Noor Haydar, LSA Senior at the University of Michigan and Bayan Founas, LSA Sophomore at the University of Michigan. This piece was also featured in the Michigan Daily, which can be seen here.
Over the past couple years, there has been increased curiosity and speculation about SAFE (Students Allied for Freedom & Equality) and what it stands for. Simply put, SAFE is a diverse group of student activists at the University of Michigan, organized to promote justice, human rights, liberation, and self-determination for the Palestinian people, as well as other oppressed people. We are committed to standing with the disenfranchised and are staunchly against the sugarcoating of oppression. Furthermore, we do not approve of allowing representatives of a government that is currently militarily occupying another nation and imposing an apartheid system on people whom it claims as citizens to come speak on our campus. When Ishmael Khaldi, a top advisor to Avigdor Lieberman (Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs) came to our campus, many student activists were offended by the fact that our university, which prides itself on social justice, openly provided a platform for Khaldi to speak. Lieberman, Khaldi’s boss, has blatantly employed his racism on more than one occasion, and according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Lieberman said: “[Palestinian] prisoners should be drowned in the Dead Sea” and that he would provide the buses to take them there. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Lieberman said that Arabs and Jews must be separated in order to achieve peace in the Middle East. In other words, Israel’s 1.25 million Arab minority was a “problem” which required “separation” from the Jewish state. Interestingly enough, he believes, in his own words, that minorities are “the world’s biggest problem,” despite being a minority himself. Khaldi spoke about Arabs in Israel and the great privileges they enjoy, yet the people who Khaldi claims to represent (Arab Bedouins) are being expelled from their land on a daily basis. Khaldi travels as a mouth piece for Lieberman, and his fallacious and racist remarks are all reasons why we walked out of his speaking engagement in protest.
When we used a similar protest method against two Israeli Occupying soldiers who visited our campus last year, we were faced with criticism for not “dialoguing.” This call for dialogue is inappropriate in a situation where the power disparity between parties is so immense. Dialogue can only work when two parties are on the same playing field and have significant differences between them. In the case of Israel-Palestine, we have one party, Israel, that boasts the Middle East’s most powerful military (including hundreds of nuclear warheads, illegally held and undeclared) and enjoys limitless material and diplomatic support from the world’s lone superpower, the United States. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are stateless and without basic human rights. They are also victims of the worst of crimes: they’ve had their history and existence denied by those who continuously assert that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Although Palestinians have received overwhelming recognition internationally, Israel and the United States have yet to recognize the Palestinian struggle, much less push for their right to self-determination and freedom from a brutal occupation.
Our mission statement emphasizes that we are a student organization contributing to the campus community as social justice advocates. Nowhere within our mission statement will you find that we are anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. We, as an organization, do not endorse or ally ourselves with any political platform, organization or politician. We don’t advocate for a one-state, two-state or no-state solution. We do not support the PLO, Hamas, Fatah or any such entity. We simply believe in the self-determination of the Palestinian people.
In October, 30 SAFE members attended the first national Students for Justice in Palestine conference at Columbia University. The conference was endorsed by many national activists, including Ali Abunimah, Noam Chomsky, and Cornel West. Before departing, members from the 140+ schools represented voted on points of unity, those being:
Students for Justice in Palestine is a student organization that works in solidarity with the Palestinian people and supports their right to self-determination.
It is committed to:
1. Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
We believe it’s time to bring Palestine to the forefront of our conversations at this university. Next semester, we will be launching our PalestiMe campaign, as it is time, for Palestine.