Defying expectations, there was minimal conflict between Anteaters For Israel and Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine during the Muslim Student Union’s annual “Never Again? The Palestinian Holocaust” awareness week from Monday, May 12 through May 15.
As in previous years, the week featured multiple guest lecturers.
On Monday afternoon, Imam Mohammed Al Asi spoke of unity, saying, “It should be common ground that all people of all faiths, particularly the people of the Jewish faith, because Zionist Israel purports to speak on behalf of the people of the Jewish faith, we … should unite Jews and Muslims and Christians together against a hateful and an expansionist militant nation state as is the case with … Israel.”
Afterwards, when asked if he still holds his viewpoint from October 2001 that the Jews were responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Al Asi replied, “Yeah, I think they were involved. Those attacks took place, and then there were five Israeli individuals who were filming the attacks. … They had to have known something was happening to be there at that time, at that location.”
It was the repeated invitations by the MSU to Al Asi and Malik Ali that led Isaac Yerushalmi, president of AFI, to criticize MSU.
“I’m all for ending Palestinian suffering. But sometimes it seems like [the speakers are] more anti-Semitic than pro-Palestinian. I’m not [going to] say that MSU’s anti-Semitic, but there are anti-Semitic members,” Yerushalmi said. According to Yerushalmi, although MSU draws a distinction between Jews and Zionists in hopes to separate Judaism from Zionistic politics, “the majority of Jews that identify themselves as Jews are Zionists.”
Nida Chowdhry, the public relations officer of MSU and a third-year English and film and media studies double-major, wanted to clarify that MSU does not endorse any one message or speaker. “We … invite speakers who show the plethora of ideas and possible solutions,” Chowdhry said.
Tuesday night featured Craig and Cindy Corrie, the parents of Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer. Rachel was celebrated for her nonviolent protest in Gaza.
“When Rachel stood that day with seven other internationals from the United States and the United Kingdom between Israeli bulldozers that threatened homes, they stood against oppression … immoral occupation … they stood for international law and the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis to be secure in their homes, in their restaurants, on their buses,” Corrie said.
Corrie continued, “Rachel believed that the nonviolent direct action that she was engaged in, with Palestinians, would not only make Palestinians safer but also Israelis and Americans.”
The Corries have had trouble with investigations regarding Rachel’s death. When they expressed concern with the Israeli investigation that found no fault with the bulldozer’s driver, Colin Powell told them that he did not consider their report valid: “I can answer your question without equivocation: No. We do not consider it so.”
The Corries have a lawsuit against IDF in Israel that has failed to progress significantly since December 2006. In March 2005, the Corries also filed a suit against Caterpillar Incorporated in the United States.
“The Caterpillar [Incorporated] sold bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment to the Israel Defense Forces … long after Caterpillar Corporation knew that the equipment was being used in a pattern of human rights violation in Palestine. Rachel was not the first person crushed by a Caterpillar bulldozer in home demolition,” Corrie said. But the suit has been dismissed because it infringes on U.S. foreign policy (U.S. support of Israel), and the Corries have been waiting for a response for a further hearing since October.
Craig Corrie showed a visual presentation of a 1947 map of Israel and Palestine. “If you look at that and think about a viable state it seems kind of insane to divide it that way, but that’s what the U.N. came up with,” Craig said, as the green and white areas of border separation started and stopped multiple times throughout the region.
AFI handed out white flowers in Rachel’s memory, along with a pamphlet asking that all Rachels be remembered, including those who died as a result of Palestinian violence. The Corries thanked AFI for the flowers, and acknowledged that all deaths are a tragedy.
Joseph Haider, MSU member and a third-year political science major, agreed. “Muslims and Jews are close. We’re like cousins. To be anti-Jewish would be to be anti-Muslim. They’re people of the book,” Haider said. Haider also added that this year’s awareness week was an improvement from past events. “It’s getting less crazy, [and] more academic.”
Wednesday’s speaker, Anna Baltzer, a young Jewish-American Fulbright scholar who graduated from Columbia University, talked about her experience in the Middle East as a teacher. Baltzer said that she gained a more holistic view of the conflict beyond what she was brought up to believe as a Jewish-American.
Baltzer said she witnessed how average Israeli citizens were paid to move to Gaza (to challenge the notion that religious fanatics were invading Gaza), while checkpoints forced Palestinians to take up to eight hours to travel the distance from Irvine to Long Beach.
“The checkpoints prevent Palestinians from earning a living, and from getting [an] education,” Baltzer said.
Moreover, Baltzer said that Israel had violated “more U.N. violations than any other country in the history of the United Nations.” According to Baltzer, the U.S. government gives Israel more than $3 billion a year, which amounts to more than $10 million a day. “We are the ones paying for it,” Baltzer said.
One rabbi who attended the event, Yonah Bookstein of the UCI Jewish Community Center, said that Baltzer “misrepresented Judaism in her speech. Her solution is not a viable one.” He called her flagpole speech “a gross misrepresentation … interspersed with classic anti-Semitic innuendo.”
Jessica Bray, a third-year literary journalism major, watched Balzter’s first speech for a class, and liked it enough to attend the second presentation.
“I’m very glad I came. I want more information. If people think this is controversial or radical, that’s unfortunate,” Bray said.
Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, explained how Israel is misperceived in the conflict.
“A rapist and a raped woman are not engaged in conflict. … Let’s call a spade a spade. If it’s occupation, it’s occupation. If it’s expulsion, it’s expulsion. There is nothing that protects the Israelis better than the concept of a conflict,” Pappe said.
Pappe continued, “The fact that the crime is not even acknowledged either by Israel or by the West is sometimes worse than the crime itself. … We at least have to demand from intelligent people around the world [that] it’s high time. Let’s acknowledge the crime, before we even talk about how to find a solution.”
Pappe finished optimistically: “I am seeing this great chance. … There is a way forward that goes through strong pressure on the Israeli government through sanctions and boycott and divestment to stop the occupation … through a future for Jews, Muslims and Christians in this land, in a joint state. And through the creation of a Democratic state that would allow everyone to have an equal opportunity for rights on the torn land.”
Amir Abdel Malik Ali, one of the most criticized speakers of Palestine Awareness week, delivered the last speech on Thursday. After describing American imperialism and all the injustice it has caused in the world, he shouted, “The American Empire is falling! This is a good thing!” He then explained how the decline of empire improves domestic democracy for the United States. AFI members held signs during the speech, saying “CAUTION: Hate Speech Ahead,” and one with a past quote from Al Asi: “Oh Muslim, there is a Yahudi [Jew] in disguise, come and annihilate him.”
Malik Ali continued: “One of the things you have to notice is that the Israelis have suffered major losses when they went up against Muslims. When they went up against nationalists, the nationalists would get beat. When the Israelis go against Muslims, they lose. So now they’re trying to make up for Lebanon. Every time we fought for Islam, we won. We are their Achilles heel.”
Marya Bangee, vice president of MSU and a fourth-year sociology major, wanted to elaborate on this.
“What Ali is saying in this argument is that there is a historical reality in the Middle East of there being a common Muslim identity based off of the Islamic Empire which was existent for 1,400 years,” Bangee said. “Once colonialism came in, much of the region was carved up into artificial nation states headed by puppet regimes. With this coming back to a common transnational identity, there has been much more of a success against the oppression in the region.”
During a protest after Ali’s speech, Bangee was spotted by blogger Jonathan Constantine of RedCounty.com with his video camera.
“Constantine tried to get in my face, to scare me,” Bangee said. In response to Constantine’s harassment, a few MSU members surrounded him. However, the situation did not reach a violent level.
All the while, one of the preachers who had been on campus all week carrying signs and explaining why various ethnic, religious and social groups, including wearers of designer jeans, are going to hell, forced his way into the fray. “You will be in hell, Muslim and Jew!” he shouted to no one in particular.
However, arbitrary proclamations were taken more or less with disinterest by the student body. While this year’s Palestine awareness week evoked some criticism, the general attitude of students appeared to be an improvement from past events.
“We’re trying to foster dialogue and truth. If we found out that something was incorrect, we would change it. Promoting falsehood would be against my faith,” Chowdhry said.
Armand Cherenegar contributed to this report.