[Georgetown University Law Center Alumni issued the following letter on 29 April 2022 in support of Mohammed El-Kurd after members of the Georgetown community accused him of antisemitism, misquoting a sentence from his poem Rifqa referencing Israeli necropolitics and the infamous Israeli National Forensic Institute organ theft scandal.]
To the Georgetown University Law Center Community:
Following a public lecture featuring Palestinian poet and activist, Mohammed El-Kurd in conversation with Palestinian legal scholar, Rabea Eghbariah, on 26 April 2022, members of the Jewish community at Georgetown University Law School, including faculty, accused El-Kurd of antisemitism and decried the University administration’s refusal to cancel the lecture in advance and condemn him. The characterization of El-Kurd as an antisemite, however, is based not on his remarks at Georgetown or any of the dozens of other public lectures, interviews, or articles written by El-Kurd but on no more than one line in a poem that contains a metaphor about the Israeli state. We detail our concerns below.
The entire accusation of antisemitism revolves around the allegation that El-Kurd has claimed that “Jews harvest and eat the organs of Palestinians.” While the faculty hyperlink and quote several other references, they oddly fail to substantiate this accusation. Had they tried, they would have revealed that El-Kurd has not a single speech, article, or media interview where he says this. In fact, the only reference to this trope is in a poem from his collection of poetry, Rifqa, where one-line reads “Seven decades later / they harvest organs of the martyred/feed their warriors our own.” Significantly, El-Kurd refers specifically to the Israeli state and its officers, rather than Jewish people as suggested by the faculty letter. More, the literal interpretation of what is clearly figurative speech appears to be done in bad faith. The leap from the stanza to the accusation is dismally disappointing on the part of people specializing in textual scrutiny that seems unavailable in this instance.
Rather than consider that El-Kurd may be unaware of antisemitic tropes, they leap upon him with seeming opportunism to condemn him to a condition of irredeemable antisemitism and hate. El-Kurd is already on record in dozens of speeches, lectures, articles, and media interviews where he has never made these claims or suggested them or anything even approximating anti-Jewish bigtory. Moreover, this is a poem meant to be expressive of a young man’s experience at the hands of a military and racist regime. In fact, the poem—titled Rifqa after El-Kurd’s grandmother—describes the ongoing Nakba and continuous violence and dispossession suffered by the El-Kurd family since 1948. Assuming that concerned community members have no tolerance for even this expression, it is of deep concern that they also lack compassion for El-Kurd who is himself at the direct risk of dispossession. How does a human being become reduced to one line in a poem?
Our own experience illuminates that anti-Palestinian racism, and Islamophobia more generally, is constitutive of the construction of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims as inherently antisemitic. The accusation itself is leveled systematically and without scrutiny to the detriment of Palestinian livelihoods, careers, and reputations. Should it be taken seriously, El-Kurd, who is only twenty-three years old, may be denied an entire lifetime to come, a future, and potential as an author, a poet, and an advocate. All based on an uncompelling accusation that has found fertile ground among those trained to assume that Palestinians are born hateful and not born with a fever for freedom from their conditions under Israeli state violence.
Finally, this attack on El-Kurd reeks of a disturbing tendency. It undermines and subjugates his message—about state-sponsored dispossession of Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem—to concerns about antisemitic slurs and dog whistles. The condemnation of El-Kurd is first, foremost, primary, and elevated above concerns about Israel’s structural violence, which has been recognized as an apartheid regime by B’tselem, Yesh Din, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, and the UN Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, among so many other organizations and scholars. The cause of Palestinian liberation is buried under bad faith interpretations of El-Kurd’s poetry. A single metaphorical line, subject to interpretation, becomes prioritized over the vile condition of Palestinian unfreedom.
We end with a quote from El-Kurd, who should be given the chance to speak for himself.
It is baffling to me that a community devoted to the study of law would see no problem in falsely quoting me, without examining the original quote and its context, or disclosing the fact that it is from a poem in a poetry book filled with metaphors. In this instance, I was not even aware this metaphor could be interpreted as a trope. The assumption that I would even believe such a nonsensical and unscientific thing is beyond offensive to me and rooted in anti-Palestinian racism. What could have been a learning opportunity was instead turned into a bad-faith attack of defamation to discredit my advocacy.
We ask that members of the University take this opportunity to reflect on their biases and engage in honest discussions of antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism, and other forms of racism that have come to shape our society. A refusal to do so renders them complicit in the continuation of Israeli apartheid. What would it take for us to achieve collective liberation? This is a question for Georgetown Law and for us all.
Georgetown University Law Center Alumni