As I walked into the “teach-in on Palestine" at San Francisco State on March 16 I reflected that in 1982 when I was first a student at State, it would have been far easier to recruit me as a foot soldier for the Palestinian cause.
I grew up in Berkeley in the ‘70’s. At 16, the first time I went to Israel, me and my 16-year-old fellow travelers knew from Palestinian suffering. I wrote letters to the Israeli government on behalf of Amnesty International, I supported a two-state solution when only left-wing nuts supported such a thing, and winced whenever someone accused Israel-critics of being anti-Semitic.
Fast-forward to 2,002: I marched in a pro-Israel rally, traveled twice to Israel during the intifadah. You’d still have to put a tank to my head to get me to vote for Ariel Sharon, but the viciousness of the second intifadah and the Left’s refusal to condemn it have put me in a kind of ideological refugee camp with no home on the Right or Left.
So I was curious what a teach-in on Palestine could teach me. Already on campus this year I’d been greeted by a large banner proclaiming “Zionism is Racism”. On another day the campus was plastered with fliers announcing an open dialogue on “the occupation of Palestine.” But how open is a dialogue that uses deliberately loaded words like “occupation” and “Palestine”?
Palestinian-American activist, Jess Ghannam, a psychoanalyst and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, set the tone for the teach-ins’ twin themes, imperialism and racism. Ghannam said that Zionism is a colonizing project born in Europe and Russia.
“What is going on in Palestine is no different than what is going on in Haiti, Venezuela, South Africa, Cuba, Central America. It’s really not accurate to say it’s an occupation (in Palestine). What we’re seeing right now is the effects of 56 years of a colonial-settler process. It’s not about religion.” If it’s not about religion (or a perversion of religion), you wouldn’t know it from reading Hamas’ website. “The Slogan of the Islamic Resistance Movement: Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Quran its Constitution, Jihad its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.”
What most disturbs me about the current dialogue is this contempt for history, this convenient memory loss, in a conflict, ironically, deeply mired in memory and history.
Ghannam characterized Israel as a “fundamentally racist society that believes in racial purity. He called the proposed two-state solution racist. “The only just solution is one person, one vote. This is 2,004. We don’t create countries based on race and ethnicity anymore,” he said. He did not illuminate which countries have been formed under these new terms. By my count, there’s one, America. He professed bafflement at why Israeli’s wouldn’t want a one-state solution. Well, besides the defacto destruction of the Jewish state, Israelis and Palestinians have been embroiled in deep and volatile tensions for decades. Even a Berkeley-bred idealist like me has to concede that, no, we can’t all get along. Is it really so baffling that Jews, like Palestinians would want sovereignty?
Ghannam encouraged people to read what David Horowitz has to say on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “You will understand this kind of white supremacist mentality.” David Horowitz happens to be my father and I’m used to people attacking him, but this was over the top. More importantly, it’s a conversation stopper. When a young man in a 49ers that brought up the fact many of the Jews who founded the State of Israel were escaping the Holocaust, Ghannam responded (after jokingly telling him to get a new team), “The only reason you’re asking that question is a master mentality. You can’t compare the suffering of the master with the slave.”
The other speaker, Toufic Haddad, a Palestinian activist from Ramallah, echoed Ghannam’s theme of Israel as a racist society, pointing to inequities in land ownership and segregated neighborhoods. What he didn’t mention was that Palestinian Israeli’s have the right to vote and hold high-level government offices. Nor did he mention that Jews are not only not allowed to live in many parts of the Arab world, Israeli’s are not allowed to even fly over Arab countries (El Al routinely re-routes its flights). Haddad somewhat obliquely defended suicide bombing, saying “We have to support this (resistance) uncategorically.” He also mentioned that he works with an Israeli woman (an “anti-Zionist Israeli”), to emphasize that it was Israeli policy he was against, not Israelis, and certainly not Jews. Fair enough.
But there’s one image that still haunts me. What if his friend chose to still make her home in Israel? What if one day she waited at the wrong bus stop at the wrong time?
Sarah Horowitz is a student, writer and special educator living in San Francisco.