Outrage as UW Sponsors Anti-Israel Speaker

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Palestine and the Public Sphere, the controversial initiative of the University of Washington’s Simpson Center for the Humanities, proclaims as its purpose – “to create possibilities for more sustained, open, and critical exchange” on the issue of Palestine. In a page long apologia on their website, the Simpson Center makes clear that rather than “open exchange”, dialogue or debate, the core mission of this project is to engage in criticism of Israel.

Defending their singling out of the Jewish state for calumny, the UW department asserts that even questioning their special treatment of the Jewish state is out of bounds and “a form of exclusivity”. 

To those who object to criticism of Israel on the ground that it is being singled out, a question must nonetheless be put. Why is criticism of everyone else a precondition of criticizing Israel? Isn’t this argument in itself a form of exclusivity—a plea for special protection under cover of the claim that Israel is being unfairly attacked?

Jonathan Marks in Commentary Magazine noted that two of the three UW professors heading this project “Anis Bawarshi and Eva Cherniavsky signed onto a 2009 letter which describes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times” and opines that a one state solution—that is the erasure of Israel as a Jewish state—is “almost certainly” the only hope.”

With such leadership, one could not be faulted for experiencing some trepidation in advance of the Simpson Center’s premiere lecture in their UW Palestine series, they did not disappoint. Scheduled in the middle of Israel Apartheid Week, a week dedicated to the demonization of the Jewish state, the Simpson center sponsored a February 26th lecture on campus by Omar Barghouti, the founder of the anti-Israel BDS movement.

Witnesses say Assoc. Professor Amy Hagopian tried to physically prevent videotaping of the event. Photo Credit: CUNY-TV.

Witnesses say Assoc. Professor Amy Hagopian tried to physically prevent videotaping of the event. Photo Credit: CUNY-TV.

The very event ostensibly designed to promote “open conversation” began with UW Associate Professor Amy Hagopian objecting to the videotaping of this “open” event on a public campus. A struggle ensued, several witnesses told TMR that Hagopian forcibly tried to pry the ipad out of the hands of  one of the Israel supporters in the room who was videotaping. The police had to be summoned before calm was restored. An announcement was then made that videotaping and recording of the event was forbidden.

Perhaps most offensive to the Jewish community was the repeated interweaving of the Holocaust into the narrative. The UW professor who introduced Barghouti made note of the fact that her passion for Palestine is fueled by her desire never to let another Holocaust occur. The premise being that one should be appalled by Israel for the same reasons one should be appalled by the Shoah.

“Why the constant mention of the Holocaust?” asked one member of the Jewish community, “is there any reason other than that we are Jewish that we are constantly being compared to Hitler? Does Barghouti compare Hamas or Assad to Nazis? No, he reserves that opprobrium solely for Jews. Does the UW have no idea how hurtful and offensive that is?”

With about 180 in attendance, the majority sympathetic to the anti-Israel cause, Barghouti entered into a highly non-academic polemic with half facts and blatant falsehoods directed at Israel. Barghouti opened his talk with a “moment of silence for the nations on whose ancestral lands we are standing today” and then proceeded to deny the indigenous connection of the Jewish people to their own ancestral lands, saying ” Zionists want to kill the hope of the indigenous people”. Barghouti labeled Israel an Apartheid state, stating his oft repeated claim that Israel ” has 50 laws applying only to Jews”.  Retired UW Professor Edward Alexander challenges these claims in a recent article, responding that “There have never been apartheid laws in Israel. Jews and Arabs use the same buses, clinics, government offices, theatres, restaurants, soccer fields, beaches. All citizens of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnic origin, are equal before the law. That law accords full political, civil, and human rights to all its people, including the more than 1 million Arab citizens, some of whom serve in the Israeli parliament and cabinet.”

The UW sponsored anti-Israel lecture coincided with "Israel Apartheid Week".

The UW sponsored anti-Israel lecture coincided with “Israeli Apartheid Week”.

Throwing out unsubstantiated remarks one on top of the other, Barghouti told the UW students that The Gates Foundation has divested from G4S, a British corporation, because of the company’s ties to Israel. In fact the Gates Foundation has made no public statement as to the motivations for this or their management of their other 81 billion dollars in international investments other than to say “Like other large foundations, the foundation trust evaluates its holdings regularly”. Mr. Barghouti failed to mention that the Gates Foundation and the Microsoft corporation remain invested and partnered with many Israeli corporations and ventures.

Flyer for Barghouti lecture.

Flyer for Barghouti lecture.

Some questioned the academic value of the non-academic Barghouti’s presentation; much of which was a self laudatory oratorio to the success of his BDS movement. Rob Jacobs, Pacific Northwest Director of the Israel educational organization, StandWithUs told The Mike Report of the Barghouti lecture, “It was scary. He is very slick and polished. He’s incredibly skilled at manipulating information in a way that vilifies Israel and Israelis, while sounding almost saintly. He lies, makes claims that are false and attributes intent to actions that took place for completely different reasons.”

During the tightly controlled question and answer session Barghouti called for the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state, affirming that he does not support a “solution” that includes a Jewish state. He told the audience that “no Palestinian supports a Jewish state in Palestine.” He went on to tell the UW crowd that the very idea of a Jewish state is undemocratic and added that “there is nothing anti-Semitic about this charge”.

Rob Jacobs of StandWithUs.

Rob Jacobs of StandWithUs.

Rather than a standard Q&A, the format seemed designed to prevent any real dialogue or questioning of Barghouti’s statements. Said Jacobs “In spite of the Simpson Center’s Palestine “cluster” director saying that the cluster exists to create dialogue where none is permitted, the structure of the talk made absolutely sure that there was no dialogue. You had Barghouti monologue for 40 minutes, then you were supposed to have a discussion about how what he told you made you want to be engaged (the other alternative choice on the document was that you were not sympathetic to the Palestinian situation), and then the table was to come to a consensus and select one question to ask Barghouti – thus ensuring absolutely no serious question challenging him since the majority at every table was totally supportive of Barghouti and believed what he said.”

Keith Dvorchik, President and CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle

Keith Dvorchik, President, Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle

Condemning the Barghouti lecture at UW was Keith Dvorchik, President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle who posted a statement saying “While I believe in freedom of speech, this merely means that people can say what they want as long as they’re not creating a public hazard. It doesn’t mean you have to pay somebody to speak, it doesn’t mean you have to encourage somebody to speak; it merely means they have the freedom to speak. Mr. Barghouti is the co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to stigmatize Israel through lies, mischaracterizations, and divisiveness. Instead of working to find common ground, instead of working to find peace, Mr. Barghouti’s efforts ensure common ground cannot be found.”

Added Dvorchik “To see the University of Washington pay somebody to spread lies and hate made me sad. I would hope that the leadership of our finest state university would do better.”

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