After attacks from Hamas that killed 1,000 Israelis on October 7, groups around the country have been retaliating against vocal Palestinian supporters.
Among the most prominent examples is of Ryna Workman. Workman, a Black New York University Law School student, penned a letter in an email newsletter of the Student Bar Association (SBA) saying, “I want to express, first and foremost, my unwavering and absolute solidarity with Palestinians in their resistance against oppression toward liberation and self-determination. Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life.”
Workman, who is nonbinary, was ousted from their role as the school’s SBA president. The law firm where they planned to work upon graduation, Winston & Strawn, rescinded their offer, they’ve been receiving online threats, and they are reportedly being investigated by the university.
The outrage from those who called for their firing centers on Workman discussing Israel’s “full responsibility” and not attributing any violence to Hamas, the party Palestinians elected to represent them in 2006.
In the full letter, Workman added that “[t]his regime of state-sanctioned violence created the conditions that made resistance necessary.”
The blowback was swift and widespread.
In Workman’s first interview with news media since the repercussions made headlines, they told the Intercept that “the resilience of Palestinians” is “driving [them] in this moment,” as they stood by their statement.
In an Oct. 16 press release, they added context to the initial SBA letter.
“I’ve been getting a lot of backlash for the message I sent to my fellow NYU Law students where I voiced my support for the human rights of Palestinians. My message came across as insensitive to the suffering of Israelis during a time of crisis and that is not what I intended,” they stated.
Workman added further:
What I wrote was inspired by, and in line with, what many Jewish peace activists and Israelis, including the editorial board of Israel’s largest newspaper, have voiced over the past week in response to the violence. I am surprised and disheartened that so many have read malicious intent into my email. The killing of children and other innocent civilians is horrific. When I step back to think about the situation, I cannot reconcile the fact that some of the loudest calls for acknowledgement of Israeli pain are ignoring the loss of Palestinian children in Gaza.
An NYU spokesperson on the other hand distanced the university from the student, responding that “The statement issued by the president of the Student Bar Association does not in any way reflect the point of view of NYU, which condemns the terrorist attack on Israel. Acts of terrorism are immoral. The indiscriminate killing of civilians and hostage-taking, including children and the elderly, is reprehensible. Blaming victims of terrorism for their own deaths is wrong.”
Reporting by The Intercept examines the consequences facing vocal proponents of Palestine.
“This is an unprecedented moment of anxiety and fear for everyone speaking out publicly in support of Palestinians, who are compelled to do so to stop an unfolding genocide in Gaza,” Dima Khalidi, director of the advocacy group Palestine Legal told the outlet.
“There has always been a concerted effort to shut down the movement for Palestinian rights through censorship, legal bullying, doxxing, and more, as Palestine Legal has been documenting for years. Now that attack has been magnified by 100,” Khalidi continued.
Between just 2014 to 2020, as The Intercept highlights of the group’s research, they have responded to 1,707 incidents including cases of discrimination, disciplinary investigations, and censorship,” of Palestinian supporters.
Palestinian Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has called out this kind of censorship in a 2021 letter, and Georgia MAGA empathizer, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, is calling for Tlaib to be censured.
The letter, initially published on her Congressional website (but is no longer available) and addressed to multiple social media companies, Tlaib stated that “social media companies like yours…explicitly treat criticism of Israel and Zionism, a political ideology, the same as racism towards the Jewish people.”
Meanwhile many groups and individuals, like Workman, are upholding their stance, which included multiple protestors of color, like the Harvard students whose faces were blasted on a digital billboard that drove around campus on a rented TV truck.
“We are coming together to support Free Speech rights. We oppose the efforts to demonize and criminalize dissent. We reject the campaign that tries to silence those who support the Palestinian people in their just struggle against occupation and apartheid,” supporters of the Harvard protestors wrote in an open letter.