To the editor:
We, the undersigned Jewish students and recent alumni, write in support of our friend and peer Husam El-Qoulaq, and to condemn the efforts we’ve seen to defame his character.
At a recent panel on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations (which notably featured no speaker representing the Palestinian cause), Husam spoke out in protest, as he often does.
To add some context that has gone largely unreported, the target of Husam’s protest that day was Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli Foreign Minister. Livni played a key role in Operation Cast Lead, a 23-day military operation that was condemned by the U.N. and other credible organizations for the brutality it visited upon Palestinian civilians. In 2009, a British judge even issued a warrant to arrest Livni on allegations of war crimes for her involvement in that operation.
Over the years, we’ve seen Husam experiment with many forms of engagement on this issue, from handing out informational fliers to asking pointed substantive questions at events. Earlier this semester he tried a different tactic, calling a male Palestinian speaker a “smelly liar.” He did the same with Livni, asking her during a Q&A how it could be that she was “so smelly.”
We understand those who criticize Husam’s words as disrespectful, reckless, or inappropriate, and we know that he would probably agree with all of those critiques. But based on our own personal experiences with Husam, we reject the charge that our friend is an anti-Semite. Knowing Husam, we could all see that his aim was more mischief than malice. He said more about this in an apology he posted in The Record:
I am writing to apologize, as sincerely as I can via this limited form of communication, to anyone who may have felt offended by the comments I made last week. . . . I want to be very clear that it was never my intention to invoke a hateful stereotype, but I recognize now that, regardless of my intention, words have power, and it troubles me deeply to know that I have caused some members of the Jewish community such pain with my words. To those people I say, please reach out. Give me an opportunity to make it right. I will assure you, as I have already assured many, that had I known it was even possible that some listeners might interpret my comments as anti-Semitic, there is absolutely no chance that I would have uttered them.
Though it should be obvious, we are not condoning anti-Semitism. We have all felt the pangs of anti-Jewish prejudice at some point. We strive to vigilantly confront anti-Semitism wherever we see it, and we know from seeing him do it that Husam does too.
Husam is now the target of a vicious smear campaign. His name and face have been posted all over the Internet, where hundreds of hateful commenters pile on racist slurs, malign Muslim students at HLS who had nothing to do with Husam’s protest, and threaten various forms of violence against Husam. These tactics are part of a sadly well-worn playbook aimed at discrediting and defaming those who dare challenge Israel’s abuses against Palestinians.
Husam is one of a small handful of Palestinians on a campus where the prevailing sentiment is to back Israeli actions that he — along with much of the rest of the world — views as war crimes against his people. He is pressured either to keep silent or to speak softly about this crisis. We respect him for refusing to do either. We ask everyone else to think twice before accepting all the ignorant and hateful things that people have said about him.
We stand in support of our friend and peer Husam, and with others peacefully protesting Israeli injustice. Effective protest should sometimes make us uncomfortable and even be disrespectful. But it should not, even inadvertently, remind its listeners of anti-Semitic tropes. That is why Husam has apologized, for which we applaud him. We know that Husam’s acts of protest are ultimately motivated by an impulse to expose and confront injustice, which he does with a bravery that we envy.
Sincerely, and Chag Sameach,
Editor’s Note: The Record had previously decided against allowing comments or stories naming the speaker in order to comport with JLSA’s wishes, in the interests of furthering respectful discourse (see our “About” page for our policy), and in recognition of the fact that Husam is a member of this community. However, given the spread of Husam’s name online, and because Husam expressly gave The Record permission, we have now decided to allow the speaker to be named.
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