In October of 2000, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) became very vocal at the University of Maryland at College Park. With the apparent assistance of some outside funding, it launched a campaign to portray Israel as a cold-blooded colonialist power that targets and murders Palestinian children. With the aid of other student groups such as the Organization of Arab Students (OAS) and the Muslim Women of Maryland (MWM), the MSA disseminated flyers, set up photographic exhibits, and hosted events with professional speakers and videos. The MSA has also taken out large ads in the daily campus newspaper, “The Diamondback.” The MSA, MWM, and OAS were able to sponsor biased (and often falsified) presentations about the conflict in the guise of impartial reporting of facts. For instance, amidst their video presentation entitled, “People and the Land,” the narrator referred to the Jewish settlements as “dozens of little South Africas.”
While the majority of attendees at events such as these have been either Muslim or Arab, an average event will draw approximately 10 to 20 non-Muslims, who are often simply students who wish to learn the truth about the fighting in Israel, and come in with no preset agenda aside perhaps, from what they have seen in the media. We feel that this number, though small, is significant.
Perhaps even more important than such events, however, is the tone that the MSA and others have succeeded in creating on campus. Because of the aggressive propaganda assault, the Jewish community has been essentially browbeaten into silence. The atmosphere has become such that even people who are in possession of material which demonstrates total Palestinian responsibility for the recent violence are remaining silent, in an effort not to “cause tension.”
We find this attitude both unacceptable and untenable. Unacceptable because those in possession of the truth should find some way to publicize it. Untenable because the Palestinian propaganda is already succeeding, and because it poses more serious long-term dangers. Among its goals is to utterly delegitimize both the State of Israel and her supporters, and to tarnish Israel’s image in the United States. A failure to respond to this threat now will make the problem far more serious in the long run.
Hence, the student-funded organization S.I.C.K. (Stop Inciting Children to Kill) was founded, with the express goal of publicizing the truth about the current situation in the Middle East. One of the primary motivators behind the founding of our group was the degree of distress that we feel regarding the coverage of this conflict, from the local to the international level. Internationally, the Palestinians have been very successful in trying to portray this issue as one of a mighty, militaristic Israel oppressing the poor, unarmed, freedom-loving Palestinians. It is clear to us that this is a gross misrepresentation of the facts, and generally we feel that most Palestinian/Arab propaganda is Orwellian; it succeeds in propagating the exact opposite of the truth about a given situation.
The primary focus of the S.I.C.K. Group is to promote awareness about the events which are taking place in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Specifically, we feel that it is crucial to publicize the Palestinian Authority’s promulgation of hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, and violent rhetoric in its school system and media. The next generation of Palestinians is being taught to hate Jews and to embrace martyrdom as a paramount goal. To a lesser (but still significant) degree, Palestinian children are also being taught to hate non-Muslims, especially Westerners. The vast majority of Americans clearly have no idea of the kind of propaganda to which the Palestinians, and indeed many Arabs in the Middle East, are exposed to on a daily basis.
Our informational flyers are based on photos and text available from mainstream sources. We avoid rhetoric and inflammatory language. (For example, we will generally refer to “The Palestinian Authority” or “Official Palestinian Media,” not “The Palestinians.”) On campus we distribute high-visibility flyers and posters. While many may find these materials controversial, they are not derogatory, offensive, or racist in any way. In general we quote the Palestinian leadership speaking for itself, and present its statements to the campus community for an independent judgment.
With regard to attendance at MSA-sponsored propaganda events, we have discovered that most of the people on campus are seeking information that is as unbiased and solidly-documented as possible. To that end, we feel strongly that the next stage of our work is to begin a series of workshops and lecture-sessions which will present the facts to those members of the campus community who are interested. The MSA’s 10 to 20 person average attendance figure has occurred as a result of advertising with highly biased posters (a particularly prominent one directed passerbys to visit “www.JerusalemIsIslamic.org”). We feel that a rational, balanced, well-documented informational campaign (obviously incorporating high-visibility media such as photos, flyers, etc.) has the potential to draw a much larger group of people.
To a significant degree, our theories were confirmed by a three-day project in which we distributed flyers and information outside the Student Union. Prominent among our handouts were excerpts from the official PA educational system and media. Numerous people responded with statements such as “Are you guys serious about this?” “I’ve never heard about any of this before” and “This is unbelievable.” More than 100 people have voluntarily signed up for our e-mail list, and we are personally in contact with double that number. We engaged in a number of conversations with students at the Union, and discovered that a number of people, even if upset by our facts, were sincerely in search of accurate information.
By S.I.C.K. founders Michael Friedman, a junior, and Aaron Sichel, a freshman, at the University of Maryland. They may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org