With controversy still simmering about the September “Palestine Writes” conference at the University of Pennsylvania headlined by antisemites Roger Waters, Noura Erakat and Marc Lamont Hill, its organizer, Susan Abulhawa, has enthusiastically praised the murderous Hamas onslaught in Israel.
Writing in The Electronic Intifada on October 12, she exulted: “Palestinian fighters finally broke free on 7 October 2023 in a spectacular moment that shocked the world.” Abulhawa went on: “In a stunning display of low-tech guerilla warfare, a few dozen sparsely armed commandos disabled Israeli watchtowers and paraglided over the electrified fences…These brave Palestinian fighters overtook Israeli colonies built on their ancestral villages, seeing their stolen lands for the first time in their lives…”
Incredibly, in this twisted account, there is no hint of the Hamas barbarism and slaughter of more than 1400, or the rape and kidnapping that have stunned the world and drawn near universal condemnation. The alleged small band of a few dozen “brave Palestinian fighters” was, of course, at least 2,000 heavily armed terrorists in an aerial and ground attack that targeted and murdered whole families, including small children, in their homes, among other unspeakable atrocities.
As in everything Abulhawa says and writes about Israel and the Palestinians, whether regarding events in the present that are factually undeniable – such as a mass slaughter of innocents – or events of the past – such as the millennia-long connection of the Jews to the land of Israel – that are also inescapably true, a burning hatred of Israel appears to be at the root of falsehood and fabrication. The obsessively repeated preeminent lie is, of course, that Jews have no rightful claim or historical connection to their country.
Abulhawa, an author and poet, is open about seeking eradication of the Jewish state. She, for instance, tweeted in January 2023 “Someday we will demolish this racist colonial zionist military ‘state.’ And the world will be a better place for it.” She also tweeted: “…Israel is a heap of lies built on genocide of Palestinians.” Abulhawa’s record of animus also includes routine comparisons of Israelis to Nazis. In a typical comment, on February 25,2023, she tweeted: “Calling Israel a Nazi state doesn’t quite capture the depths of their malevolence.”
Abulhawa’s display of a photo of herself in her study decorated with images of Palestinian terrorists – including Dalal Mughrabi, leader of the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre that left 38 Israeli civilians dead, among them 13 children – seems especially in keeping with her celebration of the October 7 Hamas massacre near Gaza.
At the opening event of Palestine Writes, scheduled during the Jewish high holidays, Abulhawa welcomed more than a thousand attendees assembled in Penn’s Irvine Auditorium. She had to rewrite her opening remarks for the conclave, she explained, because of the “hysterical, racist conversations and panic” of the university administration, Jewish organizations and media regarding the speakers appearing at her event. Evidently not anticipating that students, alumni, trustees, professors, Jewish organizations and the wider public might take offense at her project featuring notorious antisemites, she denounced the “foul accusations” – claiming “we are the victim.” She insisted it is “our presence in the world as an indigenous people that seems to offend.”
What offends, of course, is the incessant promotion of falsehood, bigotry and incitement, instead of, especially at a university, the expansion of knowledge through genuine scholarship, respectful discussion and debate. Regrettably, the radical themes of anti-Israel propaganda she repeats are found in many academic departments, NGO’s and parts of the burgeoning ethnic studies arena that seeks to inculcate in American school children her perspective and hatred of the Jewish state.
Abulhawa’s UPenn remarks were laden with references to Palestinian “humanity” and the supposed “love” suffusing the event (audience members were repeatedly asked to turn to their neighbors and convey love to them). But expressions of loathing for Israelis and Zionists by her and the other speakers were the dominant message.
In her opening comments at Penn, she also mocked the notion that Jewish students on campus might be “fearful” in an environment hospitable to her violent message and her line-up of antisemites and terrorist sympathizers and thus uncomfortable wearing public displays of Judaism such as a kippa. She used the topic to attack the “so-called Birthright trips” and their “propaganda tours” that “teach Jewish students to be colonizers, tormentors and lords.” Like her other fevered attacks, the claim about Birthright is disconnected from reality.
In a September 2nd letter to Penn President Elizabeth MacGill, Abulhawa had called it “galling and insulting – if not outright libelous – to suggest that we pose a threat to Jewish students on campus.”
She was no doubt equally indifferent to the impact on Jewish students of a letter from 36 Penn faculty members endorsing “Palestine Writes” and condemning criticism of the gathering. Some 200 Jewish students subsequently signed their own letter deploring the hate-infused event. But they publicly released the letter without their names attached, to avoid academic reprisals by the numerous hostile professors they might encounter in their years at the university, many in the English and comparative literature and language fields.
Abulhawa was candid that the event (while overflowing with good feeling) was not meant to be a gathering of “polite” society but an “intersectional, defiant space.” In her opening remarks and other statements she claimed the blowback against Palestinian Writes was because of Palestinian “refusal to forego our ancient past”, “our stolen past”, “our glorious, ancient past”.
The repeated invoking of a “glorious past,” “ancient past,” “stolen past,” in the land of Israel, the erasing of Jewish history in the land, seems to be driven by the propagandist’s conviction that lies repeated often enough will be embraced as truth. Her repetitious invented history is accompanied by such absurd claims as there being no archeological proof of any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. She tweeted on July 18, 2021 that “As Israelis try to seize Al Aqsa as the site of the Temple Mount, it is worth reminding that there is literally zero forensic/archeological evidence the Temple ever existed on that site, despite over 5 decades of Israel digging under the compound to find proof. Facts Matter.”
Indeed, facts matter. There is extensive archeological evidence uncovered by, among others, the Temple Mount Sifting Project, regarding the two Jewish Temples’ existence on the Mount. It includes, for instance, a seal with an inscription referring to the “Immer” family, a well-known priestly family at the end of the First Temple Period around 7th-6th centuries BCE. There’s abundant archeological evidence of the later Second Jewish Temple, including more than 800 coins. One is a rare silver coin minted during the first year of the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome in 66-67 C.E. The coin features a branch with three pomegranates and an inscription in Hebrew reading “Holy Jerusalem.” Also, famed archeologist Eilat Mazar’s dramatic discovery of a gold medallion at the foot of the Mount bearing a menorah, ram’s horn and Torah scroll from the First Temple period is dated from the seventh century CE.
In addition, there is, of course, an extensive literature by Greek and Roman historians discussing the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Such information can be found in minutes thanks to the miracles of the Internet.
In her September 2nd letter to the Penn president, Abulhawa explained what she meant by the constantly reiterated references to the glorious past, in doing so elaborating on her propagandistic history: “We Palestinians are an ancient people whose identity passed through and encompassed many identities over millennia – including religious identities of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – as our ancestors converted between religions, and mixed with occupiers, invaders and pilgrims who settled among us. We know the difference between our ancestors and the colonizers destroying their memory; between Judaism and Zionism, Jews and Zionists. These are not synonymous terms and suggestions otherwise are cynical ploys deployed by those who have no convincing argument against Israel’s systematic and ongoing destruction, theft and colonization of Palestine and her people.”
Abulhawa’s denial of ancient Jewish bonds to the land, which are affirmed by archeological, historical, DNA and biblical evidence, is an element of the contrived history she and many others espouse and in which the history of the Jews is denied and appropriated at the same time. She and others like her repeat the claims along with false narratives of innocent victimhood at the hands of an inhumane, powerful oppressor.
Now that the “Palestine Writes” event has come and gone, it’s worthwhile to consider the speakers and the content of the multi-day conference, as it was aimed in large part at showcasing themes that radical anti-Israel voices seek to implant not only in American universities but in K-12 schools and the wider society. The scapegoating of the Jewish state in session after session by radical authors, poets, musicians, teachers and commentators, may be a new low in campus complicity with antisemitism. But – like Susan Abulhawa’s recent addition to her rhetorical repertoire in cheering the Hamas slaughter of women and children – it’s also a warning of more and worse to come if administrations don’t face the harm they’re doing and the public doesn’t wake up and resist the vile defamation of the Jewish people and their national homeland.