Palestinian Activist on US Tour Says Talk at GWU Cancelled by SJP Over Antisemitism Concerns
A Palestinian activist who was scheduled to speak at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, DC said her talk was cancelled by the local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter because she and her co-speaker were deemed to be “anti-Semitic.”
Amena El-Ashkar, who describes herself as a third-generation Palestinian refugee, was booked to speak at GWU on October 19 as part of the North America Nakba Tour (NANT). She has made appearances nationwide alongside Khawla Hammad, an 85-year-old “stateless refugee in Lebanon” and daughter of “a Palestinian freedom fighter,” according to NANT.
“We were informed by the SJP group at George Washington University in Washington, DC that our October 19 talk would be cancelled because we were ‘anti-Semitic,’” El-Ashkar wrote in an article published on Saturday by the online newsletter Dissident Voice that was first brought attention to by the Israellycool blog.
“Of course, we expect such talk from our Zionist enemies, and we give it little importance,” she claimed. “But to hear it from a group that claims to be standing for justice in Palestine? Do these groups really expect to have any credibility among Palestinians when they do this?”
El-Ashkar also alluded to her cancelled appearance at Stanford University on April 2016, when she was touring US college campuses as part of her first collaboration with NANT.
El-Ashkar withdrew from her talk at Stanford after the local SJP group objected to the presence of Alison Weir — who the Anti-Defamation League accused of employing “anti-Semitic imagery” in her discussions of Israel — at the event.
In a filmed interview later that month, El-Ashkar said that she did not understand SJP’s rejection of Weir, “so I asked them why, and one of them answered that Alison Weir … says that Israel has no right to exist.”
“So I said, where’s the problem about that, I’m coming here to say that Israel has no right to exist,” El-Ashkar remarked. “So they said — they were basically Palestinians — they said these kinds of things we discuss between each other, but we cannot discuss them in front of people, American people … because that might cause problems for SJP and … the university would cut off the funds.”
She said this explanation prompted her to cancel her appearance.
El-Ashkar added she did not understand the definition of antisemitism, claiming, “every time someone who says anything so simple about any Jew, it seems like it’s antisemitic.”
In its own statement on the cancelled 2016 event, Stanford SJP said it harbored “no animus” towards El-Ashkar, and “would have loved” to hear her stories.
The NANT event page promoting El-Ashkar and Hammad’s appearance at GWU this week did not allude to a cancellation, and inquiries sent to SJP at GWU and Stanford were unanswered by press time.
El-Ashkar and Hammad are set to continue touring the US and talking about their experiences as Palestinians in Lebanon through December.
Lebanon does not give Palestinians who are born in the country citizenship, and bars them from owning property, attending public schools, passing on inheritance and working in a variety of professions, including law, medicine, and engineering. Lebanon has argued that this institutionalized discrimination is necessary to preserve the Palestinians’ “right of return” to Israel.
El-Ashkar’s April 2016 interview can be seen below: