A question which I did not hear raised, nor did I have a chance to raise myself this weekend at the SJP national conference was: to what extent are SJPs made up of Palestinians, and if that proportion is as high as I think it might be, in what sense are properly a solidarity organization? Can a Palestinian led, largely Palestinian populated student movement be a “solidarity organization”, is this a question about framing and putting non-Palestinians on an equal footing in the organization, or even if it is a solidarity organization should there be a privileged place for Palestinian voices within the movement?
This question is important mainly because as part of the Oslo accords the PLO ceased to support GUPS – the general union of Palestinian students, which organized on college campuses, raised money for Palestinian political programs, and was organized like the student councils in Palestine – namely according to the same Palestinian political parties that make up the PLO. When this existed, Palestinians had a way of exercising political agency in the diaspora, presumably with some relation to the Palestine National Convention of the PLO which was the democratic representation of Palestinians both in Palestine, in the middle east, and in the extended diaspora around the world.
I’ve heard a narrative repeated which stresses the importance of the decline of GUPS to the rise of SJP, and yet we can’t say that SJP is in any way a replacement for GUPS – after all SJP is a solidarity organization not a part of the Palestinian political system. Palestinians inside SJP do not have a political voice, because it is not the role of a solidarity organization to enter the Palestinian political spectrum as a particular voice, but to either a) support either the general will of the Palestinian people, or b) simply to support the Palestinian people. And yet, Palestinians ought to have a political voice, and because of the criminalization of Palestinian political parties and the constraints put on the PLO by Oslo, SJP might be the only avenue in which Palestinians in North America can, for now at least, have an organized voice at all.
A few things could come out of this. One decision could be to rebuild GUPS, but this seems dubious because given the current legal situation, what pressure could a newly formed GUPS put on the PLO to recognize their voices? Another could be for SJP to pressure the PLO to renew support and recognition of GUPS, but this would arguably overstep the bounds of SJP as a solidarity organization. One option, however, looks unacceptable to me: the option of not discussing this question, of not giving Palestinians with SJP an opportunity to find a solution to this impasse. As a solidarity organization, even if we are a solidarity organization made up largely of Palestinians, there is nothing stopping us from standing in solidarity with Palestinians in the diaspora and demanding their political voices be heard!