Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. and a fellow leader of the Civil Rights Movement, wrote in a 2002 San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, “During an appearance at Harvard University shortly before his death, a student stood up and asked King to address himself to the issue of Zionism. The question was clearly hostile. King responded, ‘When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews; you are talking anti-Semitism.’”
I am reminded of this quote, because from April 12 to April 19, UMD Students for Justice in Palestine hosted Palestinian Solidarity Week. The week featured speaker Obi Egbuna, whose remarks some construed as advocating the killing of Zionists, on April 14 and “Your Tax Money to the Israeli Military?” on April 15. This week was less about showing the plight of the Palestinian people and more about demonizing Israel.
The week ended with an event on April 19, “I Saw Palestine,” which attempted to portray an Israeli check point. Organizers put up posters filled with half-truths and distortions. Participants handed out information packets that included some blatant lies. The event tried to demonize Israel through calling the security barrier between the West Bank and Israel an “apartheid wall” and saying Israel was ghettoizing the Palestinians (a clear reference trying to link Israel to Nazi Germany). Conveniently left out was the mention of the thousands killed or wounded in the second intifada and the thousands of rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza. Also ignored was the fact that hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid comes to Gaza from Israel and that Egypt has completely closed off its border. Egypt has even started to build a wall of its own. It left out that the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, had refused to negotiate with Israel until the country delayed building housing projects in East Jerusalem, even though the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, has implemented the largest settlement freeze in the history of Israel.
The day selected for this event, April 19, was Yom Hazikaron. It is Israel’s Memorial Day, a day when Israelis and others around the world mourn the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in battle or in terrorist attacks. For the planners of the solidarity week to knowingly hold this event on that day would be malicious. Or, if they didn’t realize what day it was, it was extraordinarily ignorant. For a week that professes to be about raising awareness, the planners of the solidarity week prepared a deeply insensitive, inflammatory event that did nothing to promote dialogue and peaceful resolution of century-old issues.
For these reasons, I, along with other Jewish students, decided to rally against this event. We came dressed in remembrance of Yom Hazikaron in Israeli flags and Israeli shirts. We peacefully handed out pamphlets to show both sides of the conflict. The only people screaming and swearing were the solidarity week supporters when some students outside our rally went to talk to them. Throughout the day, there were more Jewish students there than those supporting the event. Our statement was that hate speech is not, and will not, be tolerated on our campus.
The pseudo-checkpoint event did nothing to work toward a peaceful solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If the event had been about the plight of the Palestinian people and promoted a fair discussion of the issues, I would have been there supporting the event, not rallying against it.
Daniel Brenner is a senior government and politics major and can be reached at brenner at umd dot edu.