This story was created by the team at Al-Shabaka and curated by Slingshot Media’s advocacy team
Israel’s 2023 genocide of Palestinians in Gaza has horrified many around the world and drawn widespread public outcry, with unprecedented levels of solidarity organizing taking place across the globe. Millions have gathered in the streets, issued public statements, and mobilized to block corporate and state-led support not only for the Israeli regime’s recent onslaught but for its decades-long colonial occupation of Palestine. But as this unparalleled solidarity has emerged, so too has extraordinary repression at every level.
Al-Shabaka spoke with Layla Kattermann of the European Legal Support Center (ELSC) and Diala Shamas of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) for further insight on this suppression of mobilization. Together, they detail some of the intimidation tactics and punitive actions taken by governments across North America and Europe and offer concrete advice for how to resist such efforts to stifle Palestine solidarity.
This interview is a lightly edited version of a conversation featured on Al-Shabaka’s podcast series, Rethinking Palestine, hosted by Senior Analyst Yara Hawari, in October of 2023. The full discussion may be listened to here.1
Since the start of the assault on Gaza, what has the repression of solidarity with Palestine looked like in Europe?
The repression we are currently witnessing in Europe is the culmination of a decades-long attempt to connect the Palestinian identity and experience with terrorism and antisemitism. This false connection has been particularly exploited to suppress protests and demonstrations. Although the right to protest is considered fundamental in Europe—and demonstrations are an indicator of a healthy democratic system—several countries, such as Germany, France, and Austria, are violating that right by banning demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
In Germany, for example, not only are protests being banned, but we are also witnessing police violence, arrests, and harassment for any displays of Palestine solidarity. In Berlin alone, there were roughly 600 police detentions between October 11th and October 20th, 2023, for this reason. This crackdown has also extended to schools: The Berlin Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family, for example, sent a letter to all Berlin school authorities and supervisors asking them to ban students from wearing keffiyehs and other Palestinian symbols or slogans, such as “Free Palestine.” School authorities were likewise asked to notify the police of any violations of this ban, and in at least one instance a school director has been suspended for refusing to comply.
Work suspensions and terminations of employment such as these are also on the rise for expressions of solidarity with Palestine. Other forms of repression that we are seeing at increasing rates include smear campaigns of individuals and groups, online de-platforming, withdrawal of use of venues, cancellations of events, and disinvitations. Many of these punitive measures are justified through racist arguments and bolstered by the rise of far-right parties across Europe, which have consistently dehumanized migrants, refugees, and particularly those of Muslim backgrounds.
What about in the US?
In the US, there has been a range of incidents of both institutional and private repression. On the institutional side, law enforcement officers, including the FBI, have summoned Palestinians for questioning through “voluntary interviews,” often leveraging immigration concerns or status to coerce individuals into speaking. Additionally, local police departments have circulated notices indicating plans for special monitoring or surveillance of Palestine solidarity protests. This has come as a directive from the highest levels of government—indeed, President Biden himself mentioned that he was instructing law enforcement to monitor the situation closely. In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams went further to essentially equate protesters marching and speaking out in support of Palestinian rights with support for terrorism. Such discourse has been widespread, from elected officials across city, state, and federal levels. It is really concerning to witness the exploitation of this tremendous power imbalance, especially when these officials start publicly naming different activist groups, and sometimes even specific individuals.
Private repression is also taking place at a frightening level. For example, a conference by the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights was cancelled because the venue—a Hilton hotel—received threats and ultimately pulled out from hosting the event. There has also been a surge in hate crimes, from the violent murder of 6-year-old Palestinian-American, Wadea Al Fayoume, in Chicago, to the attempted murder of three Palestinian university students in Vermont.
Similarly, the professional repercussions of voicing support for the Palestinian people at this time have been at an all-time high. At academic institutions, for example, professors have come under pressure for statements made about October 7th and the unfolding genocide in Gaza. And across various professional fields we are learning of reports of individuals demanding that staff face severe consequences or be terminated from their positions for statements made in their personal capacities. This is happening all over the US, and we are yet to understand the full scale of it.
Doxxing is likewise on the rise, with the posting of private and identifying information of people speaking out against the genocide in Gaza. On the Harvard University campus, for instance, pro-Israeli groups sponsored digital billboard trucks to drive around with pictures of student activist leaders under the headline “antisemite.” The students featured had signed statements condemning Israeli atrocities in Gaza. Acts such as these are clearly intended to intimidate those in support of Palestinian rights and to inflict both mental health and professional consequences. It is worth noting that many of the people subjected to doxxing are Palestinian, Arab, or from other communities of color.
What advice would you give organizers at the moment—particularly those who might be feeling apprehensive or fearful in light of this repression?
It is important that both individuals and the movement as a whole are not intimidated into silence or inaction. The allegations and accusations that politicians and the mainstream media use against the Palestine solidarity movement are nothing new. I think we should therefore be confident enough in countering and challenging them. It’s also important to remember that we are stronger in numbers, as demonstrated in Berlin, where the masses defied the police prohibition on protests. Of course, the authorities can still resort to violence, but it’s important in these moments that people stick together.
Now more than ever is the time to speak up and out against what is happening. Not only is there a moral imperative in doing so, but it will also enable you to connect with other like-minded people and organize together. Smear and doxing campaigns usually aim to isolate a person from support networks and wider society. Indeed, it is always easier to attack one person rather than a group. Therefore, strength in numbers when it comes to defying the current repression cannot be underestimated.
We must remind ourselves that, while we’re seeing an unprecedented scale in repression, we’re also witnessing an unprecedented amount of solidarity and people speaking out against what’s happening to Palestinians in Gaza. The rise in repression is, in fact, in direct correlation with the growing Palestine solidarity movement. In this moment, we cannot stop speaking out and opposing genocide.
With this in mind, it’s also important to be cautious. We are all really angry and outraged at what we are seeing and experiencing. We have seen some of the most horrific images and videos coming out of Gaza, and the sense of abandonment coupled with feelings of both rage and sadness is overwhelming. In this climate, it is really difficult to remain clear-headed and rational. This is when we see lapses in judgment that are sometimes exploited by the other side. Yet as Palestinians and as advocates for Palestinian rights, we cannot afford the luxury of a lapse in judgment because it results in our energies and attention being diverted.
If one finds themselves in a situation where they are facing repression, it is imperative to know your rights. In the US, if you are approached by any authorities for an interview, you are entitled to decline and refer them to your lawyer. Alternatively, you can take their number and have your lawyer reach out to them. For legal representation, you can contact Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights, your local National Lawyers Guild chapter, your local CAIR chapter, or your local ACLU affiliate.