Pro-Palestinian group cancels speaker over concerns organizer has anti-Semitic ties

Updated: Oct. 25, 2017 at 12:40 p.m.

GW’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine canceled an event featuring two Palestinian speakers earlier this month after at least one member of the group voiced concerns about their anti-Semitic ties, according to interviews with five people familiar with the situation.

The chapter was supposed to host the speakers, two Palestinian women, as part of the North American Nakba Tour last Thursday, according to emails obtained by The Hatchet. Following the cancelation of the event, one of the speakers, Amena El-Ashkar, wrote a blog post saying SJP called tour members “anti-Semitic” – a charge quickly picked up by conservative news sites like Breitbart but was refuted by a member of GW’s SJP’s chapter.

“What we’re saying is that it’s a disgrace for a group calling itself ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ to cancel one of our events or to allow itself to be pressured by groups or individuals that clearly do not stand for justice in Palestine and who have appointed themselves gatekeepers of what Palestinians may or may not say about their own genocide or anything else,” El-Ashkar wrote in the post.

Abby Brooks, a member of the coordinating committee for GW’s SJP chapter, said the organization supports the Nakba tour. The tour centers around the experiences of two Palestinian refugees, one of whom is an 85-year-old woman who was expelled from her village when the state of Israel was founded in 1948, according to the tour’s website. Brooks said the chapter had concerns about one of the tour’s organizers who has been linked to anti-Semitic individuals.

“We strongly work against anti-Semitism, and that’s a value that we hold really high as SJP, so we wanted to be especially cautious of people that might be associated,” she said. “I think that was completely a miscommunication between the organizers of the Nakba tour and a member of SJP. We did not cancel the event because we think Amena is anti-Semitic.”

Ingrid Jay, one of the organizers of the tour, said she had been in communication with Kei Pritsker, an SJP member, to host the event at GW. He said Pritsker called her on Oct. 11 and told her the event was scrapped because “elements of the tour” were anti-Semitic.

Jay said that until that conversation, no one on the tour had received word that the event was canceled. Pritsker did not return multiple requests for comment.

Paul Larudee, an event coordinator for the tour, said he was the organizer who SJP had concerns about and alleged was anti-Semitic. Brooks declined to say who the organizer was during an interview.

“It’s really upsetting that the mere accusation of anti-Semitism would be enough to close an event,” he said. “They really have to justify what they’re saying and give every side a fair chance to defend themselves and not be intimidated into and bullied into canceling an event for that reason.”

Larudee said SJP members were referring to him because he had previously been accused of anti-Semitism and having connections with anti-Semitic individuals, though he denied the claim.

“I think it’s absurd, because I don’t think anyone has found anything anti-Semitic that I’ve ever uttered, and I really object to that characterization because as far as I’m concerned, I’m not anything anti-Semitic about anything that I do,” he said.

Amena El-Ashkar, one of the Palestinian speakers on the Nakba tour, said she was “shocked” when she heard the event was nixed. She said even if SJP supported the tour, it wasn’t fair to shut down the event because of concerns about one organizer.

“It’s me who’s talking,” she said. “It’s an 85-year-old Nakba survivor who’s talking. Paul did not actually think about it and organize the whole thing.”

She said she has not seen anything anti-Semitic from Larudee. She added that canceling the tour was not only wrong because it prevented Palestinian voices from being heard, but also because it gives fuel to opposers who “use it as proof that the tour is anti-Semitic.”

“They have to fix this,” El-Ashkar said of GW’s SJP chapter. “They have to tell everybody that we’re not anti-Semitic. They have to find a way to solve this in a way that returns our respect.”

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Abby Brooks is the president of GW’s SJP chapter, she is a member of the coordinating committee. We regret this error.

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