In an op-ed published earlier this week in the The Daily Princetonian, several accusations were made against the co-sponsoring organizations of the event “Fighting for Justice from Gaza to Ferguson: Black and Palestinian Solidarity.” Among them, the one that most caught my attention was the assumption that we and our members are lacking “moral-political compasses” and do not oppose “manifestations of hatred.” These are strong accusations, and, as an organizer for the event, I find that such a personal attack warrants a personal response.
The article is unhelpful because it is not an invitation to rebuild, but a shout-out to foment guilt and in so doing prevent any future solidarity-building. The author’s performative apology does many things, but solidarity-building is not one of them.
Speaking from my personal perspective as a leader in one group, a member of the other, and an organizer for the event, there are several points to address concerning our “lack of solidarity.” As is clear from the title of his op-ed, Sippy argues that neither the Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) nor the Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP) were in solidarity with the Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP) or the Jewish community following the critical reception of the event. One of the main pieces of evidence Sippy refers to is an open letter published and signed by members of AJP that condemns Finkelstein and apologizes for his invitation. Sippy seems to imply that our lack of signature on said letter was evidence of a lack of solidarity.
The language of the letter, however, demonstrates that it was not one written in collaboration with YDS or PCP, but one solely written by AJP. The organization only retroactively asked for other organizational signatures, not looking to include input, just blanket agreements. Accordingly, the letter was written from the perspective of AJP members speaking from their own affiliation and perspective as Jewish students, and solely opposed to the inclusion of Norman Finkelstein on the panel without addressing the content of the panel as a whole. With regards to Finkelstein’s comments, we’ve addressed them within the ‘Prince’ and elsewhere (as documented here and here).
Despite the author’s assurance that it is important to shed light on the oppression against both black Americans here and Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories, the AJP letter makes little to no mention of this topic. Instead of both condemning Finkelstein’s comments and reaffirming that the State of Israel is violating the basic rights of Palestinians and that the U.S. government does the same to black Americans, it only chooses to do the former.
Instead of speaking to the necessity and urgency of the event, Sippy’s condemnation does little more than reaffirm the extreme belief that the event shouldn’t have happened in the first place or was inherently anti-Semitic. There is a difference between apologizing for a speaker's comments and apologizing for having an event in the first place. To believe the latter is to present a threat to the free speech of other activists on campus seeking to discuss similar issues.
While we were informed of the contents of the AJP letter and had conversations with AJP members regarding it, Sippy was involved in none of them. That Sippy is now calling us out publicly without offering to have a conversation either with me or anyone in a leadership position in YDS or PCP is absurd. This one-sided logic is a hypocritical display of the lack of solidarity that Sippy himself claims to want. Disagreement is not a manifestation of lack of solidarity — an unwillingness to discuss it and thereby build solidarity is.
I am deeply disappointed by Sippy’s comments, but here it goes: we are and always have been willing to have a discussion with AJP to discuss the ways its membership was affected by the comments made by Finkelstein at the event, and how solidarity can be built hereafter. We have held conversations between YDS, PCP, and AJP on the ways we could have done better with the event, and we are willing to reach out to our partners at AJP for further discussion and reconciliation. If we did not release a joint statement with AJP, it was because we were willing to speak from our perspective as event organizers and activists, not as AJP members.
Further, Sippy fails to consider who he is standing for when other members of AJP did engage in solidarity building. What Sippy failed to mention were the AJP members who stood by us, disagreeing with Finkelstein’s statement but not with our hosting the event, who talked with us and offered us their thoughts and criticisms face-to-face. Sippy and whoever he is trying to represent here (it is unclear) did not.
As an organizer, I am willing to admit fault and acknowledge the ways we and our organizations can better our activism on campus, but, first and foremost, we must be willing to have a conversation with the people who are most directly impacted by racism and oppression on this campus. In this case, black, Palestinian, and Jewish students. From his article and the baseless accusations it presents, it would seem Sippy is interested in only one of these conversations. Without this basic building block of solidarity, how can we ever achieve our goals as activists?
Fred Hampton once said “We've got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don't fight racism with racism. We're gonna fight racism with solidarity.”
What exactly Sippy wants to fight against is unclear given his article. Whatever it is, it seems he does not wish to do so with solidarity.
Leopoldo Solis is a junior from Tucson, Arizona. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.