Character Assassination as a Tool to Silence a Palestinian Woman

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Addressing Lammeh Conference, Istanbul 25–02–2017


The past month has been an incredibly difficult time as I have had to endure an apparent organised campaign against me, a Palestinian student. The campaign hinges around a false belief that I am a racist and is designed to silence and punish me for my Palestinian activism. Not only have I been smeared, but my work in anti-racism, including recently co-organising a march against anti-Semitism, has been completely ignored as clearly it does not fit the narrative used to discredit me and my activism for Palestine.

I have been subjected to bullying, harassment, threats, and serious defamation of character. There have been multiple articles written about me including one by an Exeter student for the Times of Israel in which I am called a terrorist supporter. I do not need to explain how serious this is in the current global atmosphere of Islamophobia. These attempts at character assassination are part and parcel against those involved in the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality. As I will show below, there is no truth in them whatsoever. However the point of these attacks is not to determine the truth, but rather to bully those who speak up for Palestinian rights, in order to scare others away from Palestinian activism.

The ‘evidence’ used to smear me is largely based on my tweets, taken entirely out of context and manipulated to create the worst possible picture of me. Most of these tweets were posted back in 2012–2014 and have previously been brought to discredit me in other institutions.

For example, my 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 a tweet where I said “the Holocaust was one of the bleakest chapters in the history of the 20th century”. Both tweets are inter-linked 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 recognized undoubtedly the horrors of the Holocaust. 140-character tweets are not enough to elaborate on the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but my social media audience usually has a strong contextual background. Conveniently the first tweet was ignored by these media outlets that have been attacking me.

Three tweets from the 8th February 2013 were inserted by a hack. The tweets follow the same format and content, and they were all tweeted in a short space of time. I also had other social media accounts hacked at some other time. As soon as I saw these tweets, I removed them, changed all of my passwords and took further security measures for my social media accounts. It is very common for social media accounts of Palestine solidarity activists to be hacked in this way and the false content used to smear.

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 as a radical statement that could raise serious concerns at both the University of Exeter and its Students’ Guild. However, it is my honest belief that this was part of a chain of other tweets to which I was highlighting a conversation I had with a student, this tweet in specific was said by the student not me.* As I will attempt to explain, these kind of statements by Palestinians in general are most commonly 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 by Israeli descriptors of ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ whenever referring to the ‘Arab’ population. Palestinians who throw stones in response to Israeli soldiers invading their villages are labelled violent thugs, rioters and terrorists. Palestinians who nonviolently protest the illegal occupation are portrayed as violent individuals who terrorise Israeli Jews. 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 that particular tweet. It has never been demonstrated anywhere that I condone or support violence against civilians in any way or that I have incited violence towards anybody. I refute such allegations in the strongest possible terms. No one has clarified how the controversial tweets have anything to do with anti-Semitism.

Other social media posts that have been brought up by individuals attempting to discredit me were written between 2012–2015. During these years, the Gaza Strip was still devastated by heavy Israeli bombing campaigns, as well as subjected to a heinous Israeli military attack in 2014 in which over 2000 Palestinian civilians were killed. As a Palestinian from Gaza, during these years I experienced trauma and devastation that I would not wish on anyone. Many family members, friends and neighbours of mine were killed by the Israeli Army. My posts were written in an incredibly emotional state when my very existence and that of my love ones were in danger.

I believe the attacks against me have been an attempt to defame my character, particularly as a Palestine activist and as a Muslim woman. It is no coincidence that they coincide with my election to various positions in Exeter University Students’ Guild. Current NUS president Malia Bouattia faced similar, if not worse, attacks when she ran for and won her position. This pattern of attacks against Muslim women of colour who are elected into positions of power serves to silence and exclude us and demonstrates that racism is not a thing of the past, it continues to infiltrate our institutions at all levels. I should also point out that these unfounded charges against me will certainly have an effect on my freedom of movement. Countries do not need much of an excuse to refuse visas to Muslims and a simple google search of me reveals many of these inflammatory and abusive articles calling me an anti-Semite and a terrorist. The fact that mainstream media has, in an extremely one-sided way to date, 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.

Even this current horrendous attack will not stop me continuing fighting against all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. My activism for Palestine is not contradictory to, but indeed is totally compatible with fighting against all forms of racism. In fact the struggle for Palestinian human rights is part of a struggle against racism and for all human rights globally. My commitment to equality will guide me in my newly elected positions as Trustee, NUS delegate and VP Postgraduate Research. I will represent all students equally regardless of their faith, or none, race, gender and sexual orientation.

Just last week, I co-organised a march with my friends in Exeter University against fascism in response to a swastika and a “Rights for Whites” notice that were found in halls of residence earlier in February. The march was an attempt to send a clear message to all those whom these racist attacks were intended to incite against, including all my Jewish colleagues and friends, that you will never be alone. We stand in solidarity with you and we will defend you. A few weeks earlier, I co-organised the largest protest in Exeter in twenty years against the USA Muslim travel ban (My name is Malaka Mohammed in both articles — I have not used my family name ‘Shwaikh’ previously since this can have serious consequences to the safety of my family back home in Gaza because they are under Israeli military occupation and siege). However, conveniently, my role in organising these protests has never been mentioned. I have been attacked, threatened, and bullied throughout without a single attempt to clarify with me the true facts. After I changed my Twitter username @MalakaMohammed, it was hijacked in an attempt to discredit me even more (my current Twitter username is @MalakaShwaikh).

The attacking media defamed me without even seeking my response, denying me the right to reply. While in Gaza Israel used its military arsenal and now in the UK I’m targeted by the media. Every tweet, post and comment I ever said is sifted through in search for ammunition to tarnish my reputation and silence me. With all the resource going into what I said, or didn’t, the attacking media showed no appetite to find out my thoughts and believes. For example, as a campaigner for justice and equality I believe in a One-State Solution, a state that is based on equality and justice for all regardless of their ethnicity, political identity, religious beliefs or none. But this is really what Israel fears, a solution with equal rights for all the people, without apartheid. The reality is that Israel imposes apartheid even against the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

Why are so much media dedicated to attacking me, is it because I’m a Palestinian woman from Gaza daring to speak out and enjoying the respect of many? It’s natural that we Palestinians resist the Israeli occupation and oppression, like in all struggles for freedom. This is why I support the Palestinian led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which is modelled on the boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa. BDS is human rights based campaign, to bring non-violent international pressure on Israel to abide by international law. As governments have failed to push for justice, people of conscience are supporting BDS, including Israelis and people across the world.

On the other hand, the media has shown little interest in scrutinising the groups that have attacked me. At this time especially, we need focus on genuine anti-Semitism, rather than supporting organisations that seek to defend Israel by defaming its critics.

I’m inspired by the letter of support signed by over 130 students’ leaders and PhD researchers at Exeter University in solidarity with me:

“Following the recent defamation, attacks, and threats that our new VP research postgrad has received based on 140-character tweets posted some four years ago, mistranslated and taken out of context, we, the postgraduate and wider student community in Exeter, wish to show our support and solidarity with Malaka.”

Malaka Shwaikh
A Palestinian from Gaza, currently a postgraduate at Exeter University

*New details following a request of Twitter archive.

Written by

PhD candidate @UniofExeter || MA Global Politics & Law @sheffielduni || Trustee Board @ExeterGuild ||

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