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The Center for Palestinian Studies (CPS) at Columbia University hosted an event on May 2, 2011 entitled “Gaza: Israel’s War and the Goldstone Report.” The panel of rabid anti-Israel academics included Norman Finkelstein, author of “This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion;” Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab studies at Columbia, co-director of CPS, and author of “The Iron Cage” (and former professor of political science at DePaul University who was denied tenure and resigned); and Peter Weiss, vice president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
I gathered a couple of defenders of Israel and attended the event in order to challenge the radical anti-Israel orthodoxy at Columbia. Before the event began, I handed out a printout of David Horowitz’s forceful and factual ad that ran in the New York Times last week, entitled: “The Palestinians’ Case Against Israel is Based on a Genocidal Lie.” I had the fortune to meet Danielle Reich, a Columbia undergraduate student, Hasbara fellow and campus Camera representative, who came to defend Israel as well. There were altogether 300 people, an assemblage of student activists, faculty and aging hippies with a handful of Israel supporters. Many people handed the flyer back to me after they saw the name David Horowitz Freedom Center. I engaged a few folks in debate over some of the points in the ad.
I reiterated the message in the Horowitz ad that the Palestinian claim that Israel “occupies Palestine” is an outright historical lie and that there has never been a “Palestinian” state or entity to occupy before the PLO was created in 1964 in order to obliterate the State of Israel. People asked why I am denouncing the Palestinian people. I said, “Because they are suffering,” echoing the message in the ad. But, I continued, the cause of their suffering is not Israel, but sixty years of Arab aggression. If we continue to blame and demonize Israel, we will never get to the core of the Israeli-Palestinian question, which is that Arab dictatorships have been using the Palestinian people as political pawns in their war against the State of Israel. This is the manner in which Danielle and I argued with some of the anti-Israel activists around us before the event began.
The speakers, Finkelstein and Khalidi, were venomous in their detailed demonization of Israel, and it was grueling to listen to their talks, but the audience was worse. The person I was sitting next to was mourning the death of Osama bin Laden. In fact, I think many in the audience were OBL sympathizers. I got into a vehement argument with one middle-aged lady who viciously attacked Israel, saying that Israel backed out of every deal and shortchanged the Palestinians and that I should read Dennis Ross’ book, whom she described as “one of your guys.” I said Arafat backed out of the deal which would have given the Palestinians a state and she kept hollering, “Bulls**t, Israel backed out, read Dennis Ross.”
I overheard one young woman praising Hezbollah and saying that Israel was the worst thing that happened since the Holocaust. I confronted her on her statements, asking her to repeat what she said about Israel and why she was praising a terrorist organization. She was startled to find a supporter of Israel in the midst of an otherwise compliant group of Muslims and left-wing activists and was speechless. Her friends chimed in saying, “One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter,” making the point that they, too, are admirers of Hezbollah.
Before the lecture, people were passing out nefarious literature on “Nakba” (the Palestinian anniversary of the creation of Israel, “the catastrophe”) and the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” to their activist friends and announcing upcoming events to excoriate the Jewish State. I spoke to a Palestinian Muslim sporting a 1960s beatnik goatee, who said the Palestinians have had a “culture” in the region for many past generations, after I confronted him with the fact that there was no Palestinian entity during the 400 year Ottoman reign and during the British rule after World War I. I mentioned the fact that Mark Twain said it was a desolate land with virtually no inhabitants. To everything I said, he answered, “Zionist propaganda.” He even claimed there was no Arab War with Israel in 1948. It is all Zionist propaganda. There was nothing further I could say to the deaf and dumb.
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