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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From a first-year UMD SJP member on his experience at the National SJP conference held from October 25th-27th at Stanford University.

Stanford, California. The site of the 3rd annual Students for Justice in Palestine national conference. Although this is my first semester on campus, I had the amazing opportunity to join hundreds of other students from around the country to discuss the politics of Palestinian liberation and BDS, and to learn skills necessary to lead successful campaigns against apartheid and occupation.

The conference was held on Stanford's campus. Students who attended and applied were offered solidarity housing (often someone's dorm, a gym floor with sleeping bags provided, or one of several cooperative houses on campus-- I was in one of the coops). Sessions were held all around campus, though mostly near the student union. The first day of workshops centered on theoretical and historical understandings of Palestine, apartheid, the occupation, Israel's complicity in imperialism around the world, the Israeli lobby in the U.S.,  and race & class in Israel. There were also regional breakouts where SJPs divided by region to discuss how to organize together and build strong regional connections with one another. Coming out of the SJP East break out, I hope that in the coming months SJP chapters along the East coast can find a way to coalesce their efforts for major campaigns and provide resources to one another.

I attended one talk on classism and racism between the Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews of Israel. Ashkenazim migrated from Europe, whereas Mizrahim migrated from North Africa and the Middle East. The talk and discussion analyzed how cultural and political differences between the two have exacerbated race and class discord between them throughout Israel's history, and how the Ashkenazi's dominance of leftist politics, along with exploitation, gentrification, and racism have led many Mizrahi to support right-wing parties that provide material benefits such as food aid to their families. At the same time, many Mizrahi are the foot soldiers of the occupation, and move to settlements due to their inability to afford living in places like Tel Aviv. Cultural assimilation to white Ashkenazi culture was also discussed quite a bit. The discussion then detailed how these dynamics resulted in a lack of support for Palestinians by Mizrahi-- the speaker described the strategy as "divide and conquer."

Another talk I attended was about how Israel has supported imperialism and right-wing regimes around the world. It discussed economic and political connections between Israel and apartheid South Africa, Israel's role in providing arms to various right-wing counterrevolutionaries (like death squads in Central American nations such as Guatemala and Nicaragua), and their massive drone exports (40% of the world's total drone exports are from Israel). The talk also connected the struggles against detention centers/deportations and mass incarceration in the United States to our struggle for a free Palestine. Companies such as G4S that provide the "security" services that unjustly imprison hundreds of Palestinians also run private prisons in the United States that incarcerate millions of black and brown people. Police officers in American cities even have partnership programs with Israeli soldiers, where they train together and share tactics in "counter-terrorism" operations and in maintaining the war on drugs. Following the talk was discussion on ways to continue connecting each others' struggles, and ways we can fight back on these many fronts to build a more diverse, intersectional movement.

Saturday night was fantastic. We had a Palestinian cultural night, where spoken word performers, poets, rappers, and a dabke troupe performed. For several hours, everyone in the theater heard amazing poetry and stories, and enjoyed a great performance by the dabke troupe. Afterwards, everyone got on stage and did dabke and took a group NSJP picture.

The next day was all about practical skills, like outreaching to the media, how to build and launch BDS campaigns, etc. I attended a talk on media. I learned important principals to remember when engaging newspapers and journalists, tips on writing op-eds, statements, etc., tips on how to use social media to support our campaigns, and examples from other campus SJPs that wrote successful op-eds. I also received a very useful handbook specifically geared for media outreach as a member of a Palestinian solidarity group.

Besides the great political education and cultural night, I met a lot of courageous and inspiring people. I will remember their determination every time I go to a meeting or an action in support of Palestinian human rights and dignity.


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