Free speech under fire

Censorship of Palestinian protests, student blacklists, event cancelations, and firing of reporters and cul-tural workers are not stopping the movement condemning the genocide in Gaza.

October 2023 — London has seen frequent, massive demonstrations for the Gaza Strip. Similar support is springing up — and being suppressed — all over the world. PHOTO: Alisdare Hickson
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All over the world multitudes have taken to the streets to decry the Israeli slaughter of Gazans. This global explosion has alarmed pro-Israel governments in Europe, the U.S., and allied nations. They fear that mass protest will somehow hinder Mideast peace negotiations with Israel. To stem the tide of solidarity they are clamping down on demonstrations, expelling students, and firing those who speak against the genocide. Their propaganda machines work overtime to present support for Palestinians as antisemitism and backing of terrorism.

Attack on democratic rights

From Kashmir to Australia, Switzerland to Hungary, demonstrations have been banned or denied authorization. Those that proceed, many in defiance of prohibitions, face police brutality, arrests, teargas, water cannons, and censorship of chants, signs, and the Palestinian flag.

The most severe restrictions are in Germany, whose stringent policy of standing with Israel stems from its Nazi history. There, most marches are banned or allowed only when silent. Armed patrols occupy Muslim neighborhoods intimidating residents.

Initially, France outlawed all marches; now it does so on a case-by-case basis. The London Metropolitan Police warned an October march, “Anyone with a flag in support of Hamas will be arrested.” A 2022 law gives police broad power to ban rallies that glorify terrorism or disrupt people’s daily lives.

The censorship extends beyond the street. Management is firing journalists who defy the media’s pro-Israel bias (see “Criticism does not equal antisemitism” at socialism.com). Innumerable art and cultural events featuring Palestinians have been canceled. Radical Women wrote in support of U.S. Congressional Representative Rashida Tlaib when Congress censured her for remarks in defense of her homeland.

In the U.S., the crackdown has been most fierce on college campuses, which are bursting with protest. Several universities suspended chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. Others slapped disciplinary charges on rally organizers, threatened some with expulsion, and arrested demonstrators. Far-right bigots use the turmoil to agitate against diversity programs.

In December a congressional inquisition fomented hysteria when it accused three college presidents of tolerating anti-Jewish bias. Wealthy donors followed suit demanding suppression of pro-Palestine rallies. Private schools are beholden to these corporate donors, exposing the limits of campus free speech.

A pretext for repression

The ruling class knows that civil liberties are vital to workers and rebels who need to discuss issues and gather to organize. Since 9/11, the “war on terrorism” has been used to clamp down on free expression. The latest conflict is an excuse for accelerating this assault. Claiming that Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations allows governments to charge advocates of Palestinian rights with supporting terrorism.

The champions of Israel justify their suppression by alleging they are countering antisemitism. Indeed, the war has unleashed ugly violence and bullying toward both Jews and Muslims, behavior that must be strongly condemned. But the majority of the outcry is criticism of Netanyahu’s Zionist policy and support for a hounded people, not anti-Jewish bigotry as the propagandists claim.

Resistance blooms

Despite the repression, actions against the slaughter in Gaza continue to grow.

Leading the way are anti-Zionist Jews. “On the 8th night of Hanukkah, 8 cities, 8 bridges,” Jewish Voice for Peace declared as they blockaded roads this December. Hundreds of Jewish demonstrators were arrested in October when they staged a sit-in on Capitol Hill. The popular chant “Not in our name” challenges Israel’s claim that it speaks for all Jews.

The defense of civil liberties is fierce. In Germany, 100 Jewish writers, journalists, academics, and cultural workers published an open letter calling on the government to “adhere to its own commitments to free expression and the right to assembly.” Human rights organizations like Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, and PEN International have steadily condemned the repression. Palestine Legal, a U.S. civil rights group, warned of a “McCarthyite backlash” on free speech.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Governor Ron DeSantis for violating the First Amendment rights of the University of Florida’s Students for Justice in Palestine by ordering its deactivation. In Los Angeles, the Latino community, joined by the Freedom Socialist Party, rallied for two Ethnic Studies teachers who were taken to court for including Arab studies in their curricula.

Droves of unions are speaking up. (See “Palestine is union business — Israel out of Gaza!” at socialism.com.) Many, like Teachers and School Staff for Palestine, a rank-and-file committee of the Australian Education Union, are training members on how to document harassment. Britain’s University and College Union has organized “Exposed,” a campaign to uncover government interference and surveillance of academics.

When Palestinian unions issued a call to “Stop Arming Israel,” workers and protesters at ports in Spain, Italy, Belgium, California, and Washington state halted or delayed arms shipments. In Canada, Indigenous and rank-and-file labor activists shut down four weapons factories.

What you can do

  •  Young people are the backbone of the movement. They connect justice for Gazans with the fights for reproductive rights, for Black Lives Matter, and against fascism. Let’s build with them multi-issue democratic coalitions.
  •  Get your union involved. Visit www.workersinpalestine.org/resources.
  •  Expose and decry the role of the U.S. in funding Israel.
  •  Go beyond the call for a ceasefire. Demand an end to genocide and occupation. (See “Israel must be stopped” at socialism.com.)
  •  Oppose all censorship, even against Zionists. Unless resisted, censorship laws will be used against the Left. The way to fight the right wing is by organizing against and isolating it.

3,761 pro-Palestinian actions were held in more than 80 countries in the world Oct. 7 –27, 2023.

497 U.S. cities in 49 states hosted 2,100 protests from Oct. 7 to Dec. 20, 2023. Actions also took place in Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam.

Source: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project