College instructors, particularly those in Europe and North America, are generally limited when it comes to meaningful intervention in imperialist horrors afflicting the Global South. Nevertheless, it is usually their governments either orchestrating or abetting the horror. They ought to do something, then, even if it seems pyrrhic or inadequate.
People around the world are now witnessing a particularly gruesome event as the Zionist entity, armed by its U.S. sponsor and enjoying the support of capitalist institutions across the globe, commits one atrocity after the other in the Gaza Strip (along with the West Bank and at times further afield). The atrocities, anyone with a modicum of integrity agrees, add up to genocide. The depth of grief and suffering Palestinians now experience is indescribable, immeasurable.
Do professors and other campus workers have any ability to mitigate the grief and suffering? Not really. But we’re not entirely powerless, either. Higher education is an important sector for information and activism and an industry where participants like to contemplate the role of both exceptional and ordinary people in making a better world. Like anybody else, teachers and researchers can be most effective in their own communities, which are not inoculated from the genocide. Zionist groups have organized hundreds of defamation campaigns against Palestinian students and faculty, often resulting in employment termination and other serious forms of recrimination. These campaigns don’t exist in a vacuum. Targeting Palestinians and anti-Zionists is an extension of the genocide, or at least one of its attendant tactics. And then, of course, many of the campuses are somehow invested in the Zionist entity—financially, politically, or logistically. It does no good to say that “we” aren’t affected by what happens “there.”
The following is a list of suggestions for Western academics, with the understanding that not all professors are equal and each campus is different in terms of its cultural and economic composition. In turn, I have tried to be comprehensive, offering comments that I hope will be useful to everyone from contingent faculty whose employment is precarious to senior scholars with big platforms at elite institutions. (The latter are much more likely to be facilitating the genocide, either obliquely or explicitly, but nevertheless.)
One thing is clear: the world is now experiencing a moral crisis whose enormity will reshape political attitudes and alliances for generations to come. Pretending that life, no matter how sheltered or comfortable, can simply continue as normal is its own kind of moral crisis.
Try one or more of the following if you can:
Defend Palestinian Students: Be it from forces on or off campus, or be it individuals you know or don’t know personally, it is reprehensible that students should suffer doxing and harassment, whether it is orchestrated by skeezy has-beens like Michael Rapaport or hysterical faculty on their own campus. Speak on behalf of your students. It can be done publicly through the usual channels or in private communication with chairs, deans, and other administrators. Or keep it simpler: reach out to the students and offer yourself as a resource.
Defend Palestinian Colleagues: The same idea holds, but with a quick addendum. Being a Palestinian in Western academe can be deeply alienating, in no small part because shitting on Palestinians is a reliable method of upward mobility. I’m sure some of your Palestinian colleagues will appreciate any gesture that might make them feel slightly less alone.
Boycott: Up to this point, academic boycott of Israeli universities has been controversial, even in supposedly progressive quarters of the industry. The facts, however, are clear. Israel has destroyed every institution of higher learning in the Gaza Strip. It has murdered dozens of faculty and administrators, including university presidents, and an untold number of students. There is no academic freedom in Palestine. There is no academe at all in Gaza. Reluctance to boycott is no longer acceptable. It is the baseline of political decency. Anybody who continues to oppose or dissemble about academic boycott should be regarded as untrustworthy on everything else.
Divest: Start or join a local campaign to force your university to divest any holdings from the Zionist entity. Divestment can include study abroad programs in Israel, which inherently discriminate against Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students. In the past decade, students have successfully passed divestment resolutions at numerous universities, but management simply ignores them. Faculty voices will help these efforts.
Invite People from Gaza: Surely the rank-and-file in academe are tired of the same few dozen big-name professors and celebrity activists saying the same three or four things in the lucrative lecture economy. Decisionmakers on campus invite speakers for prestige, for the brand, or else to network or be in the presence of fame. The habit needs to die and there’s no better time than now. Instead of summoning the usual Endowed Chair of Gobbledygook at Wealthy Private University to deliver radical affectations at a cost of multiple thousands, reach out to scholars and journalists from Gaza (and for God’s sake give them a proper honorarium). They will assuredly be more insightful than warmed-over relics of the pre-millennial theory craze. Likewise: recruit graduate students from Palestine. You can also look into bringing Palestinians as visiting writers/scholars or as researchers/consultants in any effort to document the genocide. Start with people who are currently outside of Gaza; when conditions are better, reach out to those still inside the territory. Gaza is filled with individuals of remarkable talent. You will be better off for having sought it.
Organize or Attend a Demonstration: You don’t need to be a seasoned organizer to raise hell about the abomination that is the Zionist entity.
Direct Action: Why should students always be the ones to shut down administrative offices or gum up the machinery of genocide? Professors can participate, as well. I’m not saying you need to do it. I just want you to bear in mind that nobody, no matter how urbane or well-published, is too good to get fired or sit in jail for a few hours in solidarity with a people whose heroism is known and admired around the world.
Teach Palestine: Hundreds of Palestinian poets, novelists, and essayists write in English or are available in translation. Consider including them on your syllabus. So what if your courses don’t focus on Palestine or the surrounding region? If you’re a modernist, then assign Fadwa Tuqan or Mahmoud Darwish. If you’re in gender studies, look up Fatima Bernawi or Rasmea Odeh. If you teach novels, try Susan Abulhawa, Susan Muaddi Darraj, Sahar Mustafah…on goes the list. If you’re an Americanist, there are numerous options. Same for Latin Americanists. A critical theorist? No problem: there’s Elias Sanbar and Bassel Al-Araj and Ghassan Kanafani. And if you’re, say, a medievalist? That’s no problem, either.
Stop Pandering to Customs of Civility: You don’t need to condemn “Hamas.” You don’t need to “affirm Israel’s right to exist.” You don’t need to bang on about “democratic values.” You don’t need to be “nuanced.” You need to defend the people suffering a genocide. Not a single one of them is asking for anything else. (“Who is my audience?” keep asking yourself. If the answer is anything other than “the dispossessed,” then recalibrate your ethics and try again.)
Shun the Genocidaires: Those rationalizing or cheering on the genocide are personae non grata from here on out. No co-authoring articles with them. No sitting together on conference panels. No buddy-buddy bullshit on the networking circuit. Sure, sometimes circumstance will force you onto the same committee or whatever, but, if the association is voluntary, then decline the opportunity and find colleagues who don’t celebrate mass murder.
Or better still: Listen.