The Palestine Solidarity Movement
The Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) was an umbrella organization that brought together various university-affiliated anti-Israel groups. Established in 2002 after the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in Israel, its primary focus was the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The PSM’s goal was to portray the Palestinian cause as a struggle for justice against the “racist” state of Israel.
Although dozens of professors signed on to divestment petitions on many campuses, the campaign's arguments have not been persuasive to mainstream Americans and the overall results have been unsuccessful. No college or university ended its investments in companies that do business in Israel in response to PSM initiatives. Nevertheless, the PSM continued to use divestment as a means to organize anti-Israel activists on campus.
The PSM refused to condemn violent acts against Israelis, stating that “as a solidarity movement, it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation.”
Furthermore, the PSM refused to credit Israel with its commitment to the Palestinian people or to peace. Instead, it continually blames Israel as the sole proprietor of the Palestinians' suffering.
The PSM’s principal activities were to organize five student conferences at Berkeley and Michigan in 2002, Rutgers and Ohio State in 2003 (originally one conference was planned, but internal disagreements caused the movement to split and two separate divestment conferences were held within a month of each other), Duke in 2004 and Georgetown in 2005.
University of California, Berkeley - February 16-18, 2002, Berkeley, California
The first national PSM conference was initiated by Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group from the University of California, Berkeley, in conjunction with the San Francisco chapter of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee. It was supported by a coalition of mostly far-left and radical Muslim groups (student and non-student). One of the resolutions adopted at the first PSM conference expressed an unreserved support for the Intifada: "We, the national student movement for solidarity with Palestine, declare our solidarity with the popular resistance to Israeli occupation, colonization, and apartheid." On the issue of Palestinian violence, the resolution also stated that "as a solidarity movement, it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation."
University of Michigan - October 12-14, 2002, Ann Arbor, Michigan
The second national PSM conference, held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, attracted about 400 people, included former University of South Florida Professor Sami al-Arian, (who was later convicted of providing support to the Palestinian terrorist organization Islamic Jihad). Representatives of Al-Awda sold T-shirts with the inscription “Intifada! Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.” The slogan was also shouted by conference-goers confronting a handful of protesters outside the building.
Rutgers - October 10 - 12, 2003, North Brunswick, New Jersey
The conference, originally announced for Rutgers University, was actually held in a nearby motel after failing to get permission to use a university facility.
The conference was hosted by New Jersey Solidarity, which calls for the dismantling of Israel and its replacement by a Palestinian state. Conference supporters included Al-Awda, while endorsers included the Islamic Association for Palestine, an anti-Semitic organization that reportedly has had ties to Hamas and the Holy Land Foundation.
Resolutions adopted during the conference included a refusal to condemn Palestinian terrorism, a commitment to the divestment campaign and an affirmation of the movement's claim that "Zionism is racism." Conference attendees also reaffirmed the movement's goals: the right of return for Palestinians, a "full decolonization of all Palestinian land" and an end of the "Israeli occupation of…all Arab lands."
To provide alternative perspectives and help balance the volume of anti-Israel rhetoric coming from the PSM conference, ADL's New Jersey Regional Office took part in an “Israel Inspires” rally at Rutgers University that kicked off a yearlong series of pro-Israel activities designed by students to counter the message of anti-Israel activists with accurate and factual information on the state of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Ohio State University - November 7 - 9, 2003, Columbus, Ohio
The OSU conference was hosted by the local Committee for Justice in Palestine and attracted about 200 people. Attendees reaffirmed their commitment to the movement's guiding principles, including language that equates Zionism with racism.
Duke - October 15-17, 2004 - Durham, North Carolina
Prior to the conference, the movement’s organizers rejected a request to endorse a letter calling for a civil debate that would “condemn the murder of innocent civilians,” “support a two-state solution” and “recognize the difference between disagreement and hate speech....”
Rann Bar-on, PSM's local spokesperson at Duke, said the PSM “would not sign the statement because it violates the philosophy of the organization, which will not condemn any Palestinian action.”
The conference included workshops teaching participants how to deceive the organizers of the Birthright Israel program, which offers young Jews free trips to Israel. The workshop taught attendees to try to get into the program to gain free transportation to Israel and then abandon the Birthright program to join anti-Israel activities in the West Bank conducted by groups such as the International Solidarity Movement.
Another workshop called Bringing the Palestinian Struggle Into Our School instructed participants on how to infiltrate public schools with the goal of teaching children lessons that portray Israel in a negative light and encourage sympathy for the Palestinians.
Keynote speaker Mazin Qumsiyeh referred to Zionism as a “disease.” Workshop leader Bob Brown deemed the Six-Day War “the Jew War of '67.” Another speaker, Nasser Abufarha, praised the terrorist activities of Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Georgetown - February 17-19, 2005 - Washington, DC
Like its predecessors, the Georgetown conference provoked substantial criticism of the university for allowing an anti-Israel meeting to be held on its campus. The university defended hosting the meeting on free speech grounds. President John J. DeGioia issued a statement opposing the conference’s goal of encouraging divestment from Israel.
When asked about the conference, PSM spokesperson Nadeem Muaddi told the Washington Jewish Week “the group has refused calls to condemn terrorism and suicide bombing because such efforts never include a condemnation of Israeli violence as well.” Instead, the PSM calls for “addressing the deep-rooted issues of Israel's racism and ethno-religious centricity rather than debating facts on the ground.”
After its final conference, PSM dissolved and was ultimately replaced by an organization with similar goals, Students for Justice in Palestine.
Source: Adler, Eric/Langer, Jack, “Why Is Georgetown Providing a Platform for This Dangerous Group?,” Washington Post,(February 12, 2006);
Lappin, Yaakov, Halkin, Talya, “Israel fumes at UK academics' boycott,” The Jerusalem Post, April 25, 2005;
Blackwell, Sue, “Frequently Asked Questions About Sue and Her Palestine/Israel Web Page," http://www.sue.be/pal/FAQs.html;
“Points of Unity,” Palestine Solidarity Movement;
Rohrs, Kelly, Rotberg, Emily, “Palestine conference debate continues,” The Chronicle Online, Sept. 9, 2004,
Fingerhut, Eric, “Controversial Palestinian group coming to area,” Washington Jewish Week, Jan. 11, 2006;
“The Georgetown Campus Activity Facilities Policies and Procedures,” Georgetown University;
“Palestine Solidarity Movement to Hold its Fifth Annual Divestment Conference at Georgetown University, February 17- 19, 2006,” Stop the Ism.