On Sept. 30, Stephen Zunes wrote in this paper a column in which he criticized events that took place at UCSC and a few people who participated in them — exactly three years ago. Was he in a coma and just woke up?
While Zunes mentioned that I was invited to speak at UCSC, he omitted to specify that it happened within the framework of a series of weekly talks extending over a period of two months, to which he himself participated as well. I spoke on Oct. 28 and he did on Nov. 13. There were eight speakers in total, representing a wide and for once balanced array of views on different aspects of the Middle East conflict.
I was invited to speak as director of a non-profit group called Training and Education about the Middle East (TEAM), created for the specific purpose of countering the likes of Zunes on campuses and in the media. What is puzzling in regard to his diatribe is the fact that I have never met the man in person nor even communicated with him via any medium.
He harped about the fact that I "wasn't qualified" to speak in an academic setting, which is arguable since I have a law degree from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, with a specialization in International Humanitarian Law, acquired and honed during 16 years of service with the International Committee of the Red Cross, creator of the 1949 Four Geneva Conventions. And given how bona fide faculty are harassed by the likes of Zunes when they dare express openly pro-Israel views, they are often intimidated into either silence or hiding their views, leaving room only for outsiders like me to come forward and say what intolerant radicals like Zunes work so hard at censoring.
He went on: "Surbeck ... regularly speaks before Tea Party gatherings and other far-right venues." I have actually spoken in front of any group willing to listen, from the left of the ideological spectrum to the right, in schools, churches, synagogues and libraries. He followed with a string of accusation— - without any evidence — regarding Muslims, conspiracy theories, alleged support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and — my favorite — support for ethnic cleansing and the killing of civilians. I have dedicated my professional life to human rights and education about International Humanitarian Law. My record speaks for itself.
As for "the annexation of territory seized by military force as legitimate acts of warfare," I support it when it results from a "defensive war" imposed on a nation (like Israel) by its neighbors, not when it results from vaguely described "acts of warfare" as Zunes writes. Compare that to a string of other cases which I strongly oppose such as Tibet, invaded by China in 1950, Northern Cyprus, invaded by Turkey in 1974, the Western Sahara, invaded by Morocco in 1975, and more recently Crimea, invaded by Russia in 2014. All these cases are still illegally occupied today.
What this sad rant points to in the end is Zunes' inability to accept the notion that people who do not share his views have as much right to do so as he has to express his own views. But for him, they can only be insulted and demonized publicly. It may be time for USF to consider retiring him.
In conclusion, everyone (especially Zunes) would be well inspired to read the excellent piece written in this paper by Gil Stein on Sept. 16 that ended with the following sensible parting words: "Learning implies getting information from a variety of sources ... When we only allow one side to be heard, we are only getting half an education. With the cost of tuition, students are entitled to a full education, not just the views of the loudest and most obnoxious." Indeed. Should the education of our future generations be left in the hands of real educators or political commissars? That is the question.