On September 27, 2019, Professor Lila Adib Sharif of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, gave a presentation at UC Irvine on the Palestinian olive oil business in Israel. Sharif, a Palestinian-American asst professor of Asian-American studies and something called the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory, is reportedly trying for a teaching job at UCI. Some have described this speaking appearance as a "job talk". The talk was sponsored by the Dept. of International and Global Studies, part of the School of Social Sciences. Whatever type of talk it was, she argued that the Israelis are abusing the Palestinians in the olive oil business as part of their "settler colonialism."
According to reports by Canary Mission and others, Sharif has close ties with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), has spoken before them, and also has supported such controversial figures as San Francisco State University professor Rabab Abdulhadi and Rasmea Odeh.
Back in 2017 a similar presentation by Sharif with a similar title was cancelled by the Free University of Berlin after complaints were received that her presentation would be anti-Semitic in nature.
If you note the photo credit on the photo in the UCI flyer announcing the talk, the name Mazem Qumsiyeh is listed. Could he be any relation (or same person) as the Mazin Qumsiyeh of the International Solidarity Movement that I have previously written about? Just asking. The photo was also the first one shown in her presentation.
Since the event was advertised publicly, I decided to attend it. There were about 30 people present. It was also my intention to participate in the q and a, and, if possible, ask her about her association with SJP. I did not videotape it.
Basically, Sharif read her entire presentation, which was based on some previous paper she had written and went on for about 40 minutes. There was also a short power point presentation made up of a few photos and a few slides with text on them. Instead of reading it, she should have just made copies of the whole thing and given them to us as a handout so we could take them home and read them.
I don't want to get into too much detail here because it was really boring being about olive oil, after all. How can you get more boring than that? She began by describing the olive trees in the West Bank and how they are a symbol of Palestinian culture as well as producing things like olive oil and other products, which are marketed and sent to the US, UK and other places for the enjoyment of various gourmets and gluttons. Sharif informed us that the olive trees are a major source of income for Palestinians. She described sumptuous banquets in the West where white people enjoy the fruits of the labor of brown people. Race was a part of her presentation as well as questions from some of the true believers in the audience.
There were numerous references to terms like, "white settler colonialism" ( I didn't know all Israelis were white.), "imperial warfare", "neo-liberal multi-culturalism", "cultural genocide", "global formation", "global empire", "advanced capitalism", "brown grower-white consumer", and, of course, race. It was all connected according to one of her slides with a long paragraph explaining her basic Argument. It was too much to write down. Make no mistake: Sharif is not only anti-Israel, she is apparently into all that leftist lexicon. Intersectionality on steroids though she never used the word.
But the main point of her talk was to describe how the Palestinian olive oil business is marketed in the West with images of happy, brown "dirty" Palestinians growing olives for the dining pleasure of white westerners. The contrast, according to Sharif, is that those white, Israeli colonial settlers are destroying the olive trees, cutting them down, in some places, using the space to build that infamous Wall. She told of raids of villages and olive groves by IDF soldiers and/or settlers-sometimes with loss of life. She said that olive groves near settlements were razed by Israeli settlers, and that Israel limited the amount of water available for the Palestinian farmers.
I should state here that I am no expert on the olive tree issue in the West Bank, but I was left confused by her presentation and asking myself how the industry could survive if the Israelis are cutting all the trees down?
During the q and a, my question-for purposes of saving time- had to be taken lumped in with two or three others before Sharif would respond. In my question, I introduced myself as a former part-time teacher at UC Irvine. I mentioned that UCI had an SJP chapter which, like other SJP chapters across the country, routinely engaged in acts of disruption of pro-Israel events as well as bullying and intimidation of pro-Israel students, some occasions of which I had personally observed. I told her I was troubled by her own association with SJP. At that point, she asked if there was a question. I then directed my question to the department who had sponsored her talk and asked if, in the future, they would be willing to sponsor someone with a different point of view on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. At this point, the departmental chair, Eve Darian-Smith, who was acting as moderator, answered my question by saying "Certainly", and that UCI is open to all points of view. I replied that in my experience at UCI only student groups like the College Republicans and Students Supporting Israel sponsored pro-Israel speakers, but that was not the case with university departments. Sharif, for her part, chose not to address the points I had made in my question.
Afterward, Dr Darian-Smith came up to me and reiterated that she agreed that all sides of an issue should be heard. Her being newly-arrived at UCI, I gave her a run-down on my own experiences at UCI in documenting anti-Semitism on campus. We both agreed that no groups should be subject to intimidation on a college campus.
I was then approached by two young ladies who introduced themselves as members of UCI's Olive Tree Initiative. They informed me that they were sponsoring an Israeli speaker at UCI on November 18 and invited me to attend. I was assured that there have been changes in the OTI in recent years and that it is not slanted to either side. After relating my own experiences with OTI in which I have felt that it is slanted to the Palestinian narrative, I thanked them and gave them my contact information.
So let's see if the Dept of International and Global Studies really is willing to provide their audience with an opposing point of view. Until it does, I must assume that this latest anti-Israel event, featuring another ideologue, represents the official position of the department. And if they are really looking for a new teacher in their department, they might consider one who can give a presentation without reading it.