- Anti-Israel activist
- Member of Students for Justice in Palestine
Will Youmans is an Arab, anti-Israel activist who has long championed a worldwide campaign of economic divestment from the Jewish state. As a young man, he was a rapper whose stage name was The Iron Sheik. His song lyrics were replete with references to alleged Jewish and Israeli transgressions against the Arab and Muslim world. One song, citing Israel’s founding in 1948, said: “From the seeds of ’48, from colonial deceit to the Jewish state…. I said our taxes paid for this damn prison [i.e., Israel], let me out now or I’ll resort to terrorism.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Youmans obtained a JD from the UC Berkeley School of Law in 2003. In 2001 he co-founded the national organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on the UC Berkeley campus. In the early 2000s as well, Youmans established KABOBfest, an Arab-American blog.
Just a few days after the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Youmans led SJP protests against UC Berkeley’s student newspaper, the Daily Californian, for having published a cartoon depicting two Muslim terrorists who had expected to be rewarded with 72 virgins in paradise but instead found themselves consigned to a fiery hell. “I thought when I came to Berkeley that hate, hateful speech [such as the message conveyed by the cartoon] was not to be permitted,” Youmans said during one demonstration.
In the October 2002 issue of Dissident Voice magazine, Youmans wrote an article titled “The New Anti-Apartheid Movement: The Campaign to Divest from Israel.” In that piece, he likened Israel’s government, which “clearly privileges humans of Jewish ancestry over those of Palestinian descent,” to the former “apartheid government” of South Africa that had infamously “privileged whites [over blacks] exclusively and fundamentally because they were white.”
In a November 2002 article titled “When Palestinians Speak Up,” Youmans lamented that “to be Palestinian in the United States means to have no voice.”
In January 2006 Youmans co-authored an article titled “The Growing Israel Divestment Movement,” in which he stated that “a just solution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict would require: (a) “the Israeli government to adhere to relevant international law demanding the decolonization of Palestinian lands”; (b) the implementation of “Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return”; and (c) “the dismantling of Israel’s system of apartheid rule.” Toward these ends, the article advocated in favor of “worldwide intervention through a strategy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS), a movement aimed at financially crippling the Jewish state.
In an April 2006 lecture at George Washington University Law School, Youmans called for that institution to divest all of its assets from Israeli corporations and governmental entities. He also condemned the checkpoints by which Israel monitored Palestinian travelers as a means of thwarting terrorist plots, and he complained that the United States was not providing enough foreign aid to the Palestinians.
In 2009 Youmans wrote a weekly column for the Arab-American News. Around that same time, he co-hosted and co-produced What’s Happening?, a program on the American channel of the international satellite station Arab Radio and Television (ART).
In 2015 Youmans was a signatory to a petition exhorting Muslims in North America to “eschew any and all participation [in], facilitation [of], or … legitimization [of]” the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), which aimed to help Muslims increase their understanding of, and respect for, “Judaism, Israel, and Jewish peoplehood.” Mischaracterizing MLI as “a clear propaganda attempt” to “influence the North American Muslim community in reassessing its preconceived notions of Judaism and Israel,” the petition rebuked the Initiative for “ignoring Palestinian calls to isolate Israel” by means of BDS. Moreover, the document accused Israel of practicing “occupation, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing.”
Further Reading: “Will Youmans” (UMich.edu, October 2009); “The New Anti-Apartheid Movement: The Campaign to Divest from Israel” (by Will Youmans, Dissident Voice, 10-4-2002); “When Palestinians Speak Up” (by Will Youmans, CounterPunch, 11-22-2002); “The Growing Israel Divestment Movement” (by Will Youmans and Nadeem Muaddi, CounterPunch, 1-24-2006).