Malaka Shwaikh

Palestinian activist smeared

Malaka Shwaikh
Palestinian activist smeared

THE PAST FEW WEEKS HAVE BEEN INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT, since I have become the focus of an organised campaign of character assassination by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA). Media outlets published the CAA’s fallacious claims, without seeking my response, denying me the right to reply. Not only have I been smeared, but my work in anti-racism, including recently co-organising a march against antisemitism, has been completely ignored as clearly it does not fit the narrative used to discredit me and my activism for Palestine.

The ‘evidence’ used to smear me is based on old tweets, taken entirely out of context and manipulated to create a false picture. For example, a tweet on Holocaust Memorial Day, “The shadow of the Holocaust continues to fall over us from the continuous Israeli occupation of Palestine to the election of Trump”, was a follow-up to another, in which I said “the Holocaust was one of the bleakest chapters in the history of the 20th century”. The tweets are interlinked and cannot be separated. I have never denied the horrific crime of the Holocaust that was inflicted upon the Jewish people and others, neither have I ever made light of it.

The tweet in question was referring to how, following this genocide in Europe, and in an attempt at making amends, European powers supported a settler-colonial project which would see Palestine wiped off the map. The message of the tweet was that Palestinians have been made to pay for a genocide that was committed in Europe. The tweet prior to that recognised undoubtedly the horrors of the Holocaust. 140-character tweets are not enough to prove a point without elaborating on the context.

Without understanding the wider context, the ‘terrorist’ tweet, “If terrorism means protecting and defending my land, I am so proud to be called terrorist”, posted in January 2015, may appear to be radical. However, it is my honest belief that these kinds of statements are most commonly made in response to efforts by Israel advocacy groups and the Israeli government to demonise and dehumanise Palestinians. This is done by using the emotive dog whistle of Israeli descriptors of ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ whenever referring to the Arab population. Palestinians who throw stones in response to Israeli soldiers invading their villages, and those who non-violently protest the illegal occupation, are labelled violent thugs, rioters and terrorists.

Practically any Palestinian who resists the Israeli occupation and its plethora of human rights violations, war crimes and serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law is stigmatised in this way. It is absolutely vital to understand the wider issues before making a judgement on one particular tweet. So far the CAA has not demonstrated anywhere that I have incited violence towards anybody, since clearly I have not. How this particular tweet has anything to do with antisemitism is beyond me. This connection also was not explained by the CAA.

These unfounded charges against me will certainly have an effect on my freedom of movement. It seems that countries do not need much of an excuse to refuse visas to Muslims, and a simple Google search of my name reveals many abusive articles calling me an antisemite.

The fact that the mainstream media has, in an extremely one-sided way, reiterated these untruths, gives further weight to the slurs and defamation. It will also have serious implications when I return to Gaza - threats have already been sent to my family back home. Gaza is under siege by Israel and all movement in and out is controlled by the Israeli military occupation - making it highly likely that they will not let me out again, that is if I ever manage to get back in.

Why has the CAA become dedicated to attacking me? Is it because I’m a Palestinian woman, daring to speak out and enjoying the respect of many, including my fellow students? It is no surprise this coincided with my election to various positions in Exeter Students’ Guild. The attacks against Muslim women of colour who are elected into positions of power, seen before in the response to the election of Malia Bouattia as President of the National Union of Students, serve to silence and exclude us. Importantly, they demonstrate that racism continues to infiltrate our institutions and society at all levels.

It is a great pity that the CAA acts in this way. We need a proper campaign against antisemitism rather than a groupwhich seeks to defend Israel by attacking its critics and falsely accusing them of antisemitism.

  • The Students' Guild, with legal advice, decided none of my actions or words brought it into disrepute so I will stay in the three roles I was democratically elected to.  

is a PhD student from Gaza, studying at the University of