Palestinians silenced

June 9, 2023

From the May-June 2023 issue of News & Letters

Detroit, Mich.–Early this spring, Palestinian-American attorney and activist Huwaida Arraf was invited to speak at Bloomfield Hills Senior High School. The debate among Jewish, Arab and Muslim community members over whether her talk was anti-Semitic and anti-Israel continues to intensify.


After apologizing for inviting Arraf to speak, the principal and school superintendent announced their resignations. Three mainstream and rightist Jewish organizations—the Jewish Community Relations Council, Temple Israel and StopAntisemitism—have denounced Arraf’s talks.

Jewish Voice for Peace held a town hall with Arraf along with Jewish and Palestinian leaders which drew 150 participants.

Arraf told the Detroit Free Press about the school officials leaving: “That creates a chilling effect. People who speak about Palestinian rights will think twice about it. And people who would give a platform for someone to speak about Palestinian rights also need to be concerned. And I think that’s the intention of it, to silence the Palestinian narrative, and that’s dangerous. That’s why we did not want to be silent about it, while we wanted to do something to actually amplify how wrong this is.”

Three days later, Arraf attended a rally for a synagogue which had been defaced by a Nazi symbol.

Meanwhile Democratic U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib held a Nakba event with a packed crowd that Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had earlier tried to block. The 75th birthday of Israel is also the 75th anniversary of the Nakba (catastrophe) in which most Palestinians were kicked off their land and deported with no right to return, unlike the right of return granted to Israeli Jewish citizens. The event was praised by Arab American and Muslim groups while the Anti-Defamation League called it “disgraceful.”

The U.S. has supported the Israeli version of 1948 and has met the Palestinian experience with institutional silence. Congress has allotted billions of dollars in weapons that were used to raid Gaza in the latest strikes which killed 13 Palestinians, four of them children.

Arraf had been told to speak on a personal experience of discrimination, but the principal asked her to “tone down” her remarks because they were “too political.” She had mentioned the death of Rachel Corrie, with whom she had worked. Corrie was run over by an Israeli bulldozer as she protested for Palestinian rights in 2003.

Rabbi Alana Alpert of Congregation T’chiyah defended Arraf at the April 30 Detroit town hall: “We make it impossible for Palestinians to talk about their lives without being accused of anti-Semitism.” Alpert said in a statement. She said those who silence others are saying: “You didn’t tell that story right, you didn’t say it in a way that we could hear it.” Alpert continued, “When we police and censor their most basic relationship to history and family, we tell Palestinians that they cannot exist in the world except according to our very strict parameters.”

—Susan Van Gelder

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