There is no shortage of anti-Israel speakers coming to college campuses these days. With the prevalent political correctness of universities, which seems especially conducive to the one-sided light in which the Arab-Israeli conflict is often cast, the Palestinian cause has no lack of supporters and promoters who spread false information about Israel But of all the lecturers who excoriate Israel with bogus charges, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi stands out above the rest.
On Nov. 7, 15 students from the University of Maryland traveled to George Mason University in Virginia to protest a talk by Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent spokesperson for the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority. Although she has long presented herself as a moderate PLO official who supports human rights and equality, many of her statements belie her carefully crafted public image. It was important for us to attend and make sure that others there were aware of her inciting statements, her vocal support of Palestinian violence, as well as her regular distortion of facts regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Ashrawi was brought to the campus by George Mason's Department of Public and International Affairs and Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, co-sponsored by GM's Arab Student Association and Amnesty International. Her topic was the "Global Realities of Palestine," and it was a safe bet that she would spew her anti-Israel rhetoric, much of which does not conform with political realities.
How could we challenge such a skillful polemicist? We originally considered attending her lecture and challenging her with questions about things she has said and done. We realized, however, that there was only a minuscule chance that more than one pro-Israel activist would be called on to ask a question. Secondly, and more importantly, Ashrawi is
well prepared for these types of challenging questions. She would only gain the upper hand if we asked her questions in this format.
The next strategy we discussed was to attend the lecture, then stand up and walk out together, thereby disrupting the speech and making an unambiguous point that we oppose her rhetoric and apologetics for terrorism. However, we recognized that she has a right to speak like anyone else without being disrupted, and we did not want to set a precedent for students on both sides of the spectrum to begin disrupting each other's events. That would inherently defeat our purpose, which is to educate the public.
Finally, we decided that we would create huge signs carrying slogans like "Ashrawi Calls for Violence" and "Real Human Rights Activists Don't Call for Violence." Our plan for the demonstration was to stand directly outside where she was set to speak and to carry the signs and large Israeli flags, and to hand out the flyers we had created.
The flyers contained a sampling of her inflammatory statements and falsehoods. For example, we included her justification of the murder of innocent Israeli civilians: "The army of occupation and the settlers have become legitimate and select targets of Palestinian resistance"(AP, Nov. 15, 2000).
We also noted that this so-called "moderate" had blatantly expressed her refusal to abide by the provisions of the Oslo Accords, which require the extradition of known terrorists to Israel. About these extraditions, Ashrawi has said:
It has never happened and will never happen. . . It has never happened that the Palestinian security or military forces have extradited a Palestinian. . . .It is unthinkable and is not even being considered. (Voice of Palestine Radio, Aug. 12, 1997)
In addition, under the heading "Dr. Ashrawi and the Truth: An Uneasy Relationship," we quoted her typical response when answering journalists' questions about the Palestinian Authority using children by placing them on the front lines: "Such a grand national slur is repeated. . . with no critical distance [sic] or even awareness of the enormity of such a racist charge" (Jordan Times, Oct. 29, 2000).
Unfortunately for Dr. Ashrawi, the very same Jordan Times published a report five days earlier detailing the involvement of Palestinian children in anti-Israel violence:
13-year-old Omar Assad throws down his school satchel, puts on his ski mask, [and] loads up his slingshot-school is out. . . [C]olleges and universities have been closed all month, the students being in the forefront of the assaults on the Israelis.
Furthermore, Palestinian mothers of the Tulkarm Women's Union have called on the Palestinian Authority "to issue instructions to your police force to stop sending innocent children to their death" (USA Today, Dec. 8, 2000).
We designed the flyers to look like printed programs for the event. Almost everyone read them.
We arrived at the university and found the building where she was to speak. We descended the stairs into the huge waiting room where there were approximately 300 people waiting to get into the lecture hall. Led by a student holding a large Israeli flag, we walked a slow lap around the waiting room holding our posters high and looking straight ahead. A
few students greeted us and thanked us for coming, and I began to distribute the flyers.
"Some information on tonight's speaker?" I asked, handing out tens of flyers with the Ashrawi quotes. All was going smoothly until one person attempted to spit on me and called me a "dirty kike." Other Jewish students experienced similar racial slurs and derogatory name-calling, followed by cursing, threats, and confrontational and disrespectful
All throughout the protest, none of our pro-Israel Maryland students yelled, spit, or fought back. We all experienced some hurled insult or action which was anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, but we held our ground. With straight faces, we continued to circle the area, handing out flyers and holding up our signs and flags. A few students from other schools approached us and thanked us enthusiastically for coming to refute the falsehoods.
Many colleges will face experienced anti-Israel speakers who spread false information, as does Hanan Ashrawi. But with some planning and organizing, pro-Israel students can diminish the negative effect of the speaker, provide sound information about the issues, and encourage other students to stand up for Israel.
Guest contributor Zev Singer is a junior studying government and politics at the University of Maryland