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May 12, 2014

Pro-“Resistance” Conference In Beirut Draws American Activists

A recent conference held in Beirut to discuss issues related to Palestinian political prisoners featured the participation of members of several Palestinian terrorist groups, as well as the attendance of at least three American activists.Arab-International Forum of the Solidarity Organizations Supporting Freedom Prisoners in the Prisons of the Zionist Occupation

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a founder of the International Action Center (IAC), reportedly brought an American delegation to the conference, billed in the Arab media as “The Arab-International Forum of the Solidarity Organizations Supporting Freedom Prisoners in the Prisons of the Zionist Occupation.” The American activists were joined by representatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as ambassadors from several countries, including Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Yemen, Morocco, and Sudan.

The conference took place at the Commodore Hotel in Beirut on April 30. Maher al-Taher, the Political Secretary of the PFLP, spoke at the opening ceremony of the conference and delivered greetings from the PFLP’s General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat who is currently serving a 30 year sentence in an Israeli prison for his role in leading the PFLP. In his remarks, Al-Taher said, “Sa’adat’s message is to end the negotiations entirely; they have failed and this has been proven repeatedly. We must develop a new strategy on the basis of Palestinian resistance.”

Charlotte Kates, a longtime activist with Al-Awda and a coordinator for the North American Network for the Steadfast Support of Prisoners, also spoke at the conference. According to a news article about the conference in The Ambassador, a daily Lebanese Arabic-language newspaper, she said: “We remain in support of the cause, which the prisoners have been killed and fought for…and topping it is the Right of Return and the liberation of their country from the occupation…We are in solidarity with the prisoners and in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and we declare and stand by the side of the Palestinian and Arab resistance.”

According to a news article about the conference from Al Watan Voice, a daily Palestinian Arabic-language newspaper, other notable attendees of the conference were Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs and Fadwa Barghouti, the wife of imprisoned Fatah leader Marwarn Barghouti. During her address, Barghouti reportedly said, “We are here to revive the issue of the prisoners and to expose the crimes of the Israeli occupation in international forums.”

This is not the first time a conference held in Beirut featuring Palestinian terrorist groups has attracted Westerners. In January 2009 and 2010, similar conferences were held in Beirut, which Clark and other American activists attended as well.

News reports indicate that this year’s conference concluded with a series of proposed action steps, including an affirmation by participants “that the Resistance option in all its forms is the shortest way to liberate the prisoners from Israeli jails.” A second action step from the conference reportedly called for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against “all foreign companies and states that provide logistic, security, or administrative support” to Israel on issues related to detention of prisoners in Israeli jails.

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June 21, 2013

Norman Finkelstein Throws Wrench In Anti-Israel Movement’s Claim To A Rights-Based Agenda

A panel discussion held during last weekend’s Left Forum, an annual gathering of left-wing activists in New York, revealed some startling fractures and points of dissent within the domestic anti-Israel movement. The conference, which typically features a variety of anti-Israel sessions and speakers, included a panel this year called “How to Solve the Israel-Palestine Conflict: 0, 1, or 2 State Solution.”

From Left: Stephen Shalom, Lamis Deek, Sherry Wolf and Norman Finkelstein at Left Forum 2013

From Left: Stephen Shalom, Lamis Deek, Sherry Wolf and Norman Finkelstein at Left Forum 2013

Three of the panelists expressed support for a one-state solution as one that is more “just.”

The most surprising presentation, however, came from Norman Finkelstein, a former professor at DePaul University and noted critic of Israeli policy.

Finkelstein, who caused quite a stir in anti-Israel circles last year when he claimed that the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement has characteristics of a “cult” and seeks to destroy Israel, began the discussion by arguing that Israel is a state recognized under international law with responsibilities, obligations AND rights. He challenged the latent hypocrisy within the anti-Israel movement (and his co-panelists), which constantly points to international law to justify its agenda while ignoring the fact that international law established Israel as a Jewish state. “How does one propose to win support for the Palestinian cause based on international law yet not support two states? That just doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

He continued to assault common objectives of anti-Israel activists. He specifically took issue with the BDS movement’s claim of being “rights-based” while again not recognizing Israel’s right to exist, saying, “That’s pure unadulterated hypocrisy. And, speaking personally, I don’t want to have anything to do with it. And speaking politically, it won’t go anywhere.”

If Finkelstein was a pro-Israel advocate, his views would perhaps come as no surprise. But Finkelstein has made a career out of demonizing Israel. He has described Israel as a “satanic state,” accused Israel of caging Palestinians “into a ghetto” and exalted Hezbollah’s military achievements against Israel as a “victory of liberty and a victory for freedom.”

Members of the audience reacted hostilely to Finkelstein’s presentation, talking and shouting over him and even yelling at him during the question and answer period. While he spoke, two of the other panelists – Lamis Deek, a founder of Al-Awda; and Sherry Wolf, an avid BDS  activist – who both later expressed support for a one-state solution, frequently rolled their eyes and put their heads down, displaying visible discomfort with his positions.

At one point, Deek and Finkelstein engaged in a hostile back-and-forth exchange. After acknowledging that she could never “recognize the right of the entity known as Israel” to exist, Finkelstein challenged Deek’s use of the term “entity,” stating, “Israel is a state. It has the same rights and the same obligations as the 190 other states.” Deek countered that she has “no obligation to operate strictly under the auspices or within the framework of international law despite the fact that Professor Finkelstein or other professors would like me to do so because they don’t make that requirement of the Israeli entity.”

 

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February 7, 2013

Free Speech Is A One-Way Street For The BDS Movement

In response to the controversy surrounding a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) event taking place tomorrow at Brooklyn College, numerous pro-BDS public figures, activists and groups have labeled concerns about the event as a “smear campaign” designed to get the event canceled and suppress the expression of legitimate viewpoints.

A statement by the national coalition of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) referred to opposition to the event as an “onslaught of intimidation.” Al-Awda and American Muslims for Palestine, two off-campus anti-Israel organizations, condemned the pro-Israel community’s reaction as a “smear campaign” designed to suppress free speech. Jewish Voice for Peace went so far as to call for Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz to be fired for arguing that Brooklyn College’s political science department should not sponsor anti-Israel events.

Similarly, Roger Waters, the founder and lead singer of Pink Floyd, issued a statement of solidarity with the SJP chapter at Brooklyn College, the group organizing the event, that conspiratorially claimed: “That you have come under attack from powerful political and media forces for trying to shed light on the predicament of the good peoples of Palestine and Israel is wrong. I stand with you. Sadly, none of us knows what lies behind the closed doors of government, even though we should for we have a right to know, to speak, discuss, still not your voice, be not afraid. More power to you.”

Other more mainstream commentators have also used abrasive language to lambast those who disapprove of the department’s sponsorship of the event. Glen Greenwald, in a piece over the weekend on The Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, described those urging the political science department to drop its sponsorship as an “ugly lynch mob” and claimed that elected officials in the U.S. support Israel for less than earnest reasons: “It is all but impossible to succeed in New York City politics – or US national politics – without faithfully embracing pro-Israel orthodoxies. That’s the nature of politics in general: it requires subservience to empowered factions and majoritarian sentiment.”

It is the BDS movement, however, that is inherently predicated on the suppression of speech and “free exchange of ideas,” which Greenwald claims to vehemently support in his article. Supporting boycotts of Israeli academics, diplomats and performers is simply not consistent with free speech values.  Furthermore, anti-Israel students cannot legitimately claim to support a “free exchange of ideas” when they regularly disrupt and heckle pro-Israel speakers on campus. One anti-Israel student who heckled Israeli soldiers at an event at UC Davis last February flatly admitted, “My only purpose today is that this event is shut down.”

In fact, an increasing number of anti-Israel groups do not support a free exchange of ideas and explicitly argue that the pro-Israel voice does not even deserve to be heard. The tactic, known as anti-normalization, is increasingly being felt by pro-Israel groups on campuses across the country whose counterparts refuse to engage in dialogue with them and often try to disrupt or shut down pro-Israel events. It seems that the BDS movement’s commitment to free speech and an open exchange of ideas is only a one-way street.

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