This weekend, the "Popular Palestinian Conference 2008" will be held in Chicago, and if past is prologue, a slew of anti-Israel propaganda will be part of the repertoire. The organizers make no effort to conceal their nefarious intentions, titling one of the workshops [emphasis added], "Inserting Palestine into High School Curricula in the US & Empowering Students to Challenge Dominant Narratives" and subtitling the conference, "Palestinians in the US: Reclaiming Our Voice, Asserting Our Narrative." Unfortunately, this "narrative" is a false one in which Israel is the oppressor, the Palestinians its perpetual victims, and the United States an accomplice in crime.
Various Middle East studies academics will be on hand to help propagate this fictitious narrative. UC Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian, a skilled propagandist for Palestinian victimhood in the classroom and a radical activist outside it (he called for an "Intifada in this country!" at a 2004 anti-war rally in San Francisco), will be speaking on a panel titled, "Palestinian Political Prisoners in the US: The Attack on Palestinian Activists and Scholars." Bazian has long perpetuated the idea that off-campus criticism of Middle East studies is a form of persecution. To state the obvious: there are no "Palestinian political prisoners" in the U.S., only criminals convicted through the justice system of aiding and abetting terrorist organizations.
One of them, former University of South Florida computer science professor Sami Al-Arian, who pled guilty in 2006 to conspiring to provide goods and services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and who awaits an August 13 trial for criminal contempt, will be represented on the panel by his daughter, Laila Al-Arian. Al-Arian has enjoyed unstinting support from the Middle East studies establishment, particularly founding director of Georgetown University's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, John Esposito. Unmoved by the murder of innocent civilians by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Esposito penned a letter last month to the presiding judge urging that Al-Arian be granted bond and describing him as "a man of conscience with a strong commitment to peace and social justice." Al-Arian's radicalism is nothing new: at a 1991 commemoration of the Palestinian Intifada featuring Islamic Jihad spiritual leader Abdel-Aziz Odeh, he called Jews "apes and pigs."
Wayne State University anthropologist Thomas Abowd will moderate the "political prisoners" panel. This is fitting, for Abowd fashions himself the victim of what his supporters call "right-wing Zionist elements on campus." But Abowd is hardly impartial. He is affiliated with the radical group Anti-Racist Action (ARA-WSU), whose members have accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing" and pro-Israel groups at Wayne State of practicing "white supremacist politics," along with defending the use of a swastika to equate Israel with Nazi Germany at one of their rallies.
Abowd spoke at "Palestine Awareness Week," an anti-Israel event at the University of Michigan in February 2008. Several students who attended Abowd's lecture described in a Michigan Daily op-ed his hostile and dismissive attitude towards a student who dared ask a challenging question. Abowd, as they put it, "smirked and glared" and "used scare tactics to intimidate and to alienate the student and to negate the importance of his question."
The conference ends with the panel, "One-State Solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict." The so-called one state solution is really just a fig-leaf for the destruction of Israel. There's no evidence that the Palestinian political leadership has any inclination towards the sort of multi-religious, multi-ethnic democratic nation envisioned by "one-state solution" proponents. The pathological hatred towards Jews, persecution of Christians, advocacy of Sharia law, indoctrination of children, and violence among rival Palestinian clans and terrorist groups all demonstrate the danger to Israel that lies down this path.
Yet some scholars advocate the "one-state solution" in spite of these glaring obstacles. Jennifer Loewenstein, associate director of the Middle East studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be one of the conference panelists doing just that. In a March 2008 article for the rabidly anti-Israel, far-left publication Counterpunch with the ridiculous title, "Gazan Holocaust," Loewenstein asserts that "Israel and its U.S. Master have long since resided in the lowest circle of Hell for betraying the name of humanity." No word from Loewenstein on the betrayals of humanity by the Palestinians, both towards Israelis and each other.
Another panelist, Tomis Kapitan, chair and professor in the Department of Philosophy at Northern Illinois University, displays a similar blind spot. In a 2004 paper on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Kapitan waxes philosophically about the "reciprocal" nature of Arab terrorism, calls the suggestion that "cultural or religious beliefs" motivate suicide bombings "incredible," and concludes that "the maximalists in charge of Israeli policy and their supporters in the United States and elsewhere, are chiefly to blame for the ongoing cycle of violence."
Panelist Seif Da'Na, professor of sociology and international studies at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, takes a Marxist, populist approach. In a 2001 Media Monitors Network article, Da'Na calls for a "Palestinian liberation strategy" and urges activists to view the "Palestinian struggle against Israel…in the larger context of the struggle to bring human dignity and social justice to the world." Surely "human dignity" and "social justice" would first need to be established within before serving as some sort of shining beacon to the world, but Da'Na overlooks this minor matter.
So too do conference organizers, who, as part of pushing their "narrative," bemoan the 60th anniversary of "al Nakba," the Arabic word for "catastrophe" used to describe the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948. But the "60 Years of Catastrophe" trumpeted at the conference website would more appropriately be placed upon the heads of Palestinian and regional Arab leadership. They have perpetuated a constant state of victimhood and refugee status while fomenting chaos and violence. Palestinians are the second largest per capita recipients of foreign aid in the world, yet precious few resources have been dedicated to the building of a functioning civil society. In fact, rising levels of violence can be directly correlated to rising levels of aid. The current civil war between Fatah and Hamas and the resultant human rights abuses are just the latest examples.
If the Palestinians in the U.S. that conference organizers profess to represent, and Middle East studies academics sympathetic to their cause, truly wanted to effect a just resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, they would start looking within for answers. Instead, such conferences simply peddle propaganda intended to demonize Israel. Those seeking the truth would do well to steer clear.
Cinnamon Stillwell is the Northern California Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.