Reporting From Inside The Palestinian Solidarity Conference
GEORGETOWN -- February 18th 2005 [I think they meant 2006--esther]
Written by StandWithUs Campus professionals
We are still here in Washington D.C., having just attended the much anticipated Palestinian conference where approximately 200 students and community activists gathered to learn how to promote "divest from Israel" campaigns, how to work with the media and church groups, and how to frame campaigns that demonize Israel.
We cannot help but wonder why the people under the PSM umbrella did not gather to teach or learn how to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians by building hospitals and schools or how to build peace-directed coalitions by promoting dialogue with pro-Israel, pro-peace advocates around the world. Nor did anyone address the tragic outcome of the recent Palestinian elections, or whether HAMAS will change its charter and work towards peace in the region. Instead, the sole purpose of this conference was to create campaigns that would hope to label Israel as a “pariah” state.
Many of the campaigns involved deception, and the agendas were the same as those in prior years, ignoring the fact that so much has changed in the Middle East during the last year in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. This conference simply ignored that so much has changed on the ground.
Non-violence was not high on their agenda. Opening panelist Philip Farah told the audience that Mahatma Ghandi had once said that “If the choice were between violence and submission, we would choose violence a thousand times.” And there was an acceptance of the art of deception throughout the conference. For example, opening panelists advised the audience to “inoculate” themselves against the charge of anti-Semitism by working with “Jews and Israelis.” The message was that when you have Jews on your team, you obviously cannot be accused of being anti-Jew.
Holding the conference on the Sabbath did not seem to trouble the two ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta rabbis who showed up and stayed all day so they could attend this conference. Neturei Karta and Hamas coincidentally have the same agenda-- they just come to it from different angles. Both want the the “dismantlement of the State of Israel.” The two rabbis were well known and greeted warmly by many of the conference leaders, speakers and participants. This is because many of the more radical Muslim groups on campuses invite Neturei Karta to speak to their student body about their vision of the end of the state of Israel.
Sadly, we found tee shirts, buttons and pins on sale at this conference that promoted the same extremist goals as Neturei Karta and HAMAS. As you can see from the photos included in this report, we found pins that depicted a fist clasping a machine gun, machine guns alone, and maps of Israel with the Territories all painted green with “Palestine” written on the entire map. The extremist message of the various maps was obviously Palestine INSTEAD of Israel, not NEXT to Israel. Simply put, this is what is meant by the term “Free Palestine.” Look at the pin showing a terrorist with a suicide belt holding two machine guns and a tag line that reads: “Revolution til victory.” And in case there remained any doubt, one could purchase tee shirts in a variety of colors with the words: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This refers to the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The only land they are talking about would be Israel.
Granted, not all the vendors selling these messages in the form of pins or shirts represented the PSM conference organizers. The ones shown in this report were found at a table organized by the New Jersey (Palestine) Solidarity Movement. But we are certain that the PSM organizers would not have allowed the KKK to sell its paraphernalia at their conference because it would clearly have tainted the reputation of the PSM. Why, then, would they allow Charlotte Kates and the New Jersey Solidarity group to sell its radically violent materials that reflect the goal of eliminating Israel? You might remember Charlotte as the organizer of the controversial Rutgers conference two years ago. She was upset when her conference was moved off campus by Rutgers University. Maybe Rutgers administration saw Charlotte's pins.
All the sessions that we attended had a single end goal: demonize Israel to your local church, your campus, and your communities in order to convince them that they should push divestment from companies that do business in Israel. Create hatred for the Jewish state by linking it to images of Nazis and to South Africa’s apartheid system so that there is absolutely no question about Israel's guilt for everything that has ever gone wrong with the Palestinian people.
Participants were taught how to frame divestment, how to work with the media, how to manipulate church communities, etc, all for the purpose of creating a grassroots movement that will lead to Israel being seen as a pariah state. There were no references to the painful steps that Israel has taken by moving Jews from Gaza in order to make way for a Palestinian State. There was no reference to the Hamas victory unless it was brought up in questioning. There was never a hint of the attacks that led Israel to decide to build a security fence. Everything was presented out of context, as though Israel is deliberately erecting walls and checkpoints in order to harass the Palestinian people.
Some incredible examples of the training we witnessed that teach deception, follow:
Maher Bitar and Nadeem Muaddi told people how to infiltrate churches in order to gain support for an anti-Israel agenda. They emphasized “targeting” small churches that don’t have their own political agendas already. “Be patient about bringing up the divestment issue with your new Christian friends”, Mauddi advised. To win the congregants’ trust, he encouraged activists to deceive their new prospective friends by “looking and acting Christian.” “Dress conservatively,” he said. No kyffias, sandals or jeans. Instead, “men should wear button-down shirts, sports coats or khakis”. He went on to say that women should wear mid-length skirts with colored pantyhose. He told them to be well-groomed and to speak nicely, avoiding curse words and slang.” “Mind your manners." he said. "If someone sneezes, say ‘God Bless you. And always come bearing gifts, especially something from the Holy Land like holy water or rosary beads.” He further advised the activists to get involved in the church community. “Don’t look down on the church ladies’ clubs—join them”. All the participants regarded the Presbyterian vote (that has been considering divestment) as an exciting victory. They gave credit to Sabeel, the Palestinian Christian group that has worked hard to demonize Israel and promote divestment in North and South American mainline churches. The people in all these sessions seemed to welcome the advice about how to deceive and manipulate the churches so they could spread the virus of hatred through well meaning religious communities..
In another session, University of Wisconsin philosophy graduate student Mohammed Abed told participants that the two-state paradigm would never give Palestinians their full right to “cultural self-determination.” In order to flourish, he said, the Palestinians need access to the ENTIRETY of their homeland, not just the West Bank and Gaza. Abed was giving a clear message to eliminate Israel.
Other sessions focused on training college students how to work more effectively with the media and how to plan and implement divestment campaigns. Students were encouraged to monitor and become involved with the school paper and to make news dramatic enough so journalists would report the stories. The goal, of course, is to get the Palestinian message out—which is implicitly translated by the speakers at the PSM conference as the demonization of Israel. Students were also told to build coalitions in order to bring a multi-cultural face to their (anti-Israel) efforts. Even though this might mean that groups will have to listen to people with other agendas, that’s part of the way to build a larger group that will ultimately promote divestment or other anti-Israel agendas on campus.
The fact that this conference was about how to demonize Israel and how to make people want to punish Israel through divestment is deeply disturbing. Not just because it is wrapped around negative goals and the ultimate demise of one state, but also because the end goals centered on the necessity of deceiving people. There was no mention of suicide bombing unless it was brought up in questions, and the answers always referred to Israel’s responsibility for any acts of Palestinian terrorism and equated Israel’s methods of self defense with terrorist attacks.
The irony is that now, particularly on capital hill, Arab groups will begin working hard and fast to spin HAMAS, to push for the continuation of US funding for the Palestinians because after all, (they argue) its the Palestinian people that will be hurt by the US divesting from the newly elected Palestinian leadership. They will site examples like Iraq, how babies and ordinary people were hurt by divesting dollars from Iraq. And these same people will work endlessly to promote hatred and divestment from Israel, completely unconcerned about the effect on the ordinary Israeli citizen.
Israel is not perfect, and we all know that Israelis of all faiths and their supporters regularly debate policy. But the extremism represented at this conference does not lend itself to a discussion about how a Palestinian and a Jewish State can live peacefully side-by-side. Maybe one day there will be conferences held by people who don’t promote lies, hatred or divesting from one side in a conflict, but instead encourage honest dialogue and sincere reflection that will lead to stable peace in the region.