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To begin the event, a video was shown of testimony from the Goldstone Report in which a victim described how his three children were intentionally shot in the chest by Israeli soldiers at point blank range. Norman Finkelstein went into excruciating detail on the war in Gaza. He said Israel reneged on lifting the blockade during the Hamas ceasefire. Israel needed a pretext to launch the attacks on Gaza, he claimed. As the narrative goes, Israel’s aggressive provocation drove Hamas to break the ceasefire. Finkelstein charged that it wasn’t a war, it was a massacre of 1400 unarmed civilians, including 350 children, inflicted by 2800 Israeli air combat missions. They terrorized the entire population of Gaza, bombing while they slept in their homes, intentionally targeting civilians, dropping deadly white phosphorous, and using “an insane amount of firepower.” The indiscriminate killings resulted in a disproportionate ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths, which turned out to be 100-1. There were no clashes with Hamas fighters, no battles took place, only deliberate massacres of innocent men, women and children. Amnesty International reported that there was no evidence of the use of human shields by Hamas fighters. Finkelstein went on like this for 40 minutes, elaborating on Israeli “crimes against humanity” and the sympathetic audience shook their heads in disgust and derision of Israel.
Rashid Khalidi was worse. He lambasted the American political and media establishments for their pro-Israel slant and distortions of the truth. According to Khalidi, they portray Gaza as being synonymous with terrorism, which is Zionist spin. He went on to talk about “collective punishment” of Gazans, the siege of Gaza, the blockades, like a prison where no people or goods can enter or leave. Then he went on to talk about the wave of Arab revolutions, which are for true democracy. However, he pointed to Israel as the crux of the problem. He said all of the Arab uprisings involve concern among protesters about the suffering of their Palestinian brethren, and in Egypt, the new regime will not be servile and submissive to Israel and the West like the Mubarak regime was with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli issue. The new regime will force the issue, with or without Israel’s cooperation. He said this in a threatening tone as if implying the Arab revolutions will rise up in solidarity against Israel.
Finkelstein’s and Khalidi’s talks were litanies of shameless lies and slander. Finkelstein never mentioned the eight year bombardment of 12,000 rockets and mortar bomb attacks from Gaza, 3000 attacks in 2008 alone, after Hamas seized power and started to build up its military wing. He never mentioned that Hamas is a well-armed group of over 20,000 operatives, an Iranian proxy that considers armed struggle to be its mission, in order to wipe Israel off the map. In answer, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, in which Israel engaged Hamas’ military wing and in which Hamas now admits 700 of its fighters were killed. Hamas hid in civilian population centers, in hospitals, schools and UN facilities, stored weapons in mosques and used ambulances to transport weapons and soldiers. In combat situations in population centers, civilians were duly warned by Israel in advance of attacks. White phosphorus was used as a non-lethal smoke screen to protect Israeli soldiers. It was not used to indiscriminately target civilians as Finkelstein heinously charged and was used in full compliance with international law.
The entire audience was docile and sympathetic. No one interrupted except for occasional applause. There were only two security guards in the back of the room. During the Q&A, everyone was respectful, polite and asked their questions and sat down, unlike the harassment we have had to face, like during the recent Horowitz lecture at Brooklyn College during “Israel Apartheid Week,” which was replete with obnoxious disruptions. At Columbia, I asked the question: “Why is there total silence on the Arab dictators as they massacre their own people in the Arab uprisings. Why is the only focus on demonizing Israel, the only free democracy in the Mideast? And why aren’t Israeli Arabs revolting, who have more rights in Israel than in Arab countries and in fact 80% of whom would stay in Israel if there was a Palestinian state?”
I got an answer from Khalidi who said he does speak out in other lectures about the brutality, and he agreed with me that the Israeli Arabs do have somewhat more freedom than in Arab nations. He said they would stay in Israel because it’s their home. I don’t know which way he meant it, but judging from his threatening tone, he probably meant that they are living in their true home, and Israel needs to be vanquished. After that, I shook my head and left. I had gone into the hornets’ nest, stood my ground, challenged the lies and defended the only true democracy and America’s one loyal friend in the Middle East.
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