When a rally against Islamophobia excluded our campus pro-Israel group

By: Anthony Berteaux
When faced with the seemingly insurmountable structures of racism and oppression in modern day America, the first instinct of any activist is to call for solidarity from communities who also seek to fight against these structures. For the Muslim-American community who live in the shadows of the
Chapel Hill and Donald Trump's dangerous schemes, the need for genuine human solidarity is exceedingly relevant as Islamophobic rhetoric has physically manifested as violence. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in an article "Nonviolence and Racial Justice," that true peace requires us -- if we are to seek a world without hate and oppression -- to recognize the "presence of positive force -- justice, goodwill and brotherhood."

Solidarity is what happened at San Diego State University on Nov. 23 after a Muslim female student on campus was assaulted in an act of Islamophobic hate. According to a statement made by a representative of the American-Islamic relations, a student came up to the victim and choked her with her hijab, calling her a "terrorist" connected with the Paris bombings. Hundreds of students and members of the community righteously united in a display of solidarity shouting a mantra of "No Hate at State," letting the community and the administration know that this hate was morally repugnant and unacceptable. Inaction to make our campus a safer, more tolerant place would only serve to normalize and excuse the marginalization of Muslim students on campus.

Rally against Islamophobia at the SDSU campus


The Muslim Student Association at SDSU drafted a list of demands made to students, the administration, local, state and national leaders, calling for zero tolerance for Islamophobia and concrete measures to be taken to make the campus community a safer place. An astounding 30 student organizations co-signed onto the demands, including Students Supporting Israel, a pro-Israel organization that I am on the board of.

When MSA posted their demands, SSI was one of the first to support the demands made to make our campus a more inclusive environment for marginalized communities. As an organization that acutely understands the history of violence that results from the demonization present in Islamophobic speech, SSI explicitly showed our solidarity and expressed our desire to co-sign the document against Islamophobia. Many of our members attended the rallies, shouted their support and prayed with their fellow students.

However, it became aware to SSI that members of the pro-Palestinian group, Students for Justice in Palestine, who took part in organizing the event had rejected SSI's signature. Out of the over 30 organizations that had signed the document, SSI was the only organization to be excluded from the statement. When asked why SSI was excluded from the statement, the response was simple and damning: "It didn't serve the interests of the community."

A rally that was supposed to serve as a unified solidarity march against hate became politicized and divided. SSI had members who were Israeli-Jews and Jewish Americans at the rally fighting against a hate that threatened their own Muslim friends in Israel and America. They were rightfully confused and hurt. For how could a display against hate become politicized? If a group of people aren't allowed to join because of identity and foreign politics, isn't this also discrimination? Isn't this also intolerance?

Martin Luther King Jr. saw value in nonviolent unity. But, he also saw value in putting aside political and ideological differences to strike a unity in the struggle against oppression.

It is a well-documented fact that Martin Luther King Jr. and prominent civil rights activist, Roy Wilkins had significant ideological differences when it came to social change. However, in 1960 when Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested at a lunch counter sit-in in Atlanta, Wilkins put aside these differences and worked persistently to show support for his brother in the struggle by working to securing his release from prison. Wilkins even flew to Atlanta to work on strategies for his release. At the time, the black community faced tremendous racial injustices that necessitated that these two leaders support each other, despite these differences. For the greater good, they were able to find solidarity.

I believe that we can do that too, here on our campus.

Despite their opposition to SSI's support, we are still going to support them in our fight to make this campus a safer place for Muslim students because we believe that the need to combat Islamophobia transcends our differences on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The nascent Islamophobia seen last week is a part of a larger hateful attempt to deny Muslim Americans their right to self-determination and safety in a country that prides itself on freedom and liberty.

We can be better than this, we must be better than this. We can disagree on the Israel-Palestine issue and still support each other in times of need. Especially at a time when Islamophobia is rising both in America and Israel in response to recent terror attacks, we need models of coexistence and solidarity against hate.

For the greater good, we must unite in solidarity.

Anthony Berteaux is a third year journalism student at San Diego State University, a Huffington Post Campus Editor at Large and the Vice President of Public Relations for Students Supporting Israel.