On Thursday March 25, former PLO terrorist Walid Shoebat mesmerized a Wesleyan University audience. Nearly 200 students, faculty and Connecticut residents cleared ironclad security and packed room 107 in Shanklin Hall: According to Wesleyan Public Security and the Middletown police, an email from the Bank of Bahrain had placed a $10 million price on Shoebat’s head.
The crowd took no comfort from the technical deficiencies of this particular Islamic threat: It arrived unaccompanied by a fatwa (religious ruling)—and unsigned by a Muslim sheikh. Concern for Shoebat’s safety was nevertheless palpable: His rejection of Islam, to which he was born, his avowal of Christian faith and his support for Israel, all make Shoebat a potential target of his own Muslim family and other Islamic radicals. Shoebat’s peril is all the greater for his intimate acquaintance with many PLO terrorists and their operations, in which he once willingly participated.
Turnout at Wesleyan was bolstered by Shoebat’s 30 minute interview that morning on Hartford’s WTIC news talk radio, an Infinity broadcasting affiliate. After Jim Vicevich featured Shoebat on Connecticut Today, WTIC’s switchboard lit up. Eager listeners swamped the station with calls, says producer Mike Constantino, who immediately invited Shoebat to return to the show.
Jerry Gordon conceived of Shoebat’s Wesleyan appearance after the university hosted a radical February 7 “training day,” co-sponsored by Students for a Free Palestine (SFP) and Al Awda. The latter group seeks Israel’s political destruction through a supposed Arab “right of return.” Gordon connected with Shoebat and Irish Jewish publicist Keith Davies through New York playwright Glyn O’Malley, whose one-act drama Paradise concerns Islamic suicide bombing and earlier earned him Muslim ire. After reading of Shoebat, O’Malley contacted and spoke at length with him. He then emailed Gordon, extolling Shoebat’s message. Gordon contacted Davies and obtained a preview DvD.
Gordon had learned of Wesleyan’s plan to host radicals on February 7 in an urgent February 1 email from New York Jewish activist Janet Lehr: over Tu B’shevat weekend—the Jewish Arbor Day—the university would feature an Al Awda “training day” anchored by the group’s anti-Semitic chief, Yale Medical School geneticist Mazin Qumsiyeh. Coincidentally, Shoebat grew up with Qumsiyeh in the village of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem. Their families are well acquainted. Qumsiyeh participated in terrorist activities as a teenager in the 1970’s, according to Shoebat.
More than one third of Wesleyan’s 2,500 students are Jewish. One fifth of its 250 full time faculty are Jewish, as well. By contrast, says junior Todd Stock, only five SFP members are Jewish. Despite vociferous protests from the Jewish community in advance protests of the Al Awda session, Wesleyan held the February 7 event as scheduled.
Matthew Scherzer, assistant head of Connecticut’s American Jewish Committee chapter, immediately exposed the rabid Jew-hatred Al Awda advanced there in the Jewish Ledger. Local AJC and Anti-Defamation League leaders then followed up with Kol Israel students and 10 Jewish Wesleyan faculty members.
Gordon proposed that Shoebat come to Wesleyan to counter Al Awda’s poison. On March 2, he previewed the Shoebat DvD with Kol Israel leaders Stock and freshman Vlad Gutkovich at Bayit House on campus. They invited Shoebat to Middletown on March 25th.
Shoebat’s talk was nuanced and effective.
He described an educational system that inculcates students with Jew hatred through every imaginable medium: Nursery songs paint Jews as dogs and pigs; caricatures and ubiquitous graffiti decorate every wall in Arab villages. Walid attended two elementary grades at an Anglican Lutheran school. Even Christians there perpetuate and legitimize Jew hatred, he said. Their “liberation” and “replacement theology” call for Israel’s destruction. Fatah propaganda incorrectly portrays the Jewish Jesus as a Palestinian revolutionary, he noted. For the crown of thorns, PLO churches substitute barbed wire adjoining refugee camp fences. He said Hanan Ashrawi and George Habash—one a prominent Christian member of Arafat’s PLO, the other a terrorist and founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—graduated from schools that foment Islamicized Christian Jew hatred.
The “Palestinian refugee” problem, Shoebat said, results from international hypocrisy. Fifty-six years after the first Arab-Israeli war, Arabs continue to live in deplorable squalor in camps maintained by UNWRA, he said. Past Israeli governments often proposed replacing the camps with apartment buildings, he said. But Palestinian and Arab UN general assembly members vociferously rejected each such plan as "provocative." Meanwhile, Shoebat said, Middle Eastern Arab and Muslim governments expelled more than 900,000 Jews after Israel’s 1948 war of Independence—and confiscated their homes, bank accounts, even their clothing—without recompense. Israel resettled Jewish refugees, he said. They became productive citizens. Arab League member states, by contrast, refused to help their brothers in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Instead they exploited the “refugee” camps as a propaganda tool that even today perpetuates the international jihad with a myth of Arab and Muslim victim hood, he said.
Unlike American teenagers, Shoebat spent his youth stoning Jewish worshipers at the kotel—the western wall—from the Temple mount. He was briefly detained in the Russian compound prison, he said.
After his release, Shoebat worked with Fatah bomb makers in Jerusalem, including a relation of Dalal Al-Mughrabi, who murdered an American, Gail Rubin, and 35 Israelis in a 1978 Jerusalem bus hijacking and open market bombing. Then Shoebat’s turn came. Mahmud Al-Mughrabi gave him a hollowed loaf of Jewish bread packed with explosives. This operator directed Shoebat to destroy the Bethlehem branch of Bank Leumi. He told Shoebat its timer was set to explode late that night; in reality, it was set for—and detonated at—6 p.m. Fortunately, Shoebat arrived at the target early, he said. There, he saw Palestinian children circulating outside. Concerned for their safety, he tossed the bomb onto a nearby roof, where it exploded harmlessly shortly thereafter. Otherwise, Al-Mughrabi’s bread bomb would have rendered Shoebat an involuntary suicide bomber.
Shoebat also described an attempted lynching. He and fellow Beit Sahour rioters attacked an Israeli officer and stripped him of his bullhorn, sidearm, plastic shield and helmet. They clubbed and pounded his head with a nail-studded stick, until the officer became a bloody gore. “Thank God I do not have Jewish blood on my hands,” he said: IDF reinforcements arrived and the officer regained enough strength to rise and jump to safety over a burning wall of tires. Shoebat said he hopes eventually to find him and make personal amends.
Al Awda’s Mazin Qumsiyeh participated in that Beit Sahour incident, Shoebat said privately. The Shoebat family, he noted, had once sold property to the Qumsiyehs. Nearly three years older than he, Mazin “was a product of Arab Christian education, a society that absorbed lethal confusion and hatred from its Islamic surroundings.” Shoebat would like to debate Mazin Qumsiyeh publicly, perhaps at Yale University.
Shoebat came to the US to attend Loop College in Chicago, he said. There, he worked as a PLO student organizer. Of perhaps 100 Palestinians he knew, who enrolled at that time in American colleges, only a handful actually graduated. They were too busy holding rallies and raising funds for their terrorist cause. They collected for battle fatigues, which they sent to PLO forces in Lebanon, for example. To attract participants, they advertised events deceptively, Shoebat said. In Arabic a poster might announce “a fund raiser for the cause.” In English, the same poster would invite students “to a middle east feast with baklava and lamb.”
Shoebat said he fears that Islamist hatred of Jews could lead to another holocaust in the 21st Century. To prevent such an outcome, he said the “terrorism factories” in the disputed territories and throughout the Middle East must be destroyed. Unfortunately the international community fails to even recognize the problem, he added. But even if the United Nations should unexpectedly dismantle the educational systems that mass manufacture hatred, Shoebat said, Jew hatred could not be expunged from Palestinian Authority, Arab or Muslim societies in less than a generation. He lamented the current lack of hope that such a process can ever begin.
During the Wesleyan Q+A, Shoebat was asked how and why he “converted.” He first read the Old Testament, he said, to counter the objections of his nominally Catholic third wife to his demand that she convert to Islam. He also hoped to prove to her the illegitimacy of the Jewish people and their claim to Israel. Much to his surprise, he found that the Tenach radiates with compassion, contrasting sharply with the Koran he had been taught. Thus Shoebat undertook biblical training. He gladly fled hatred of Jews and Israel and converted to Christianity, Zionism and love for Jews. He and his wife now teach this tradition to their children.
Following Shoebat’s Wesleyan talk, 30 students and community members adjourned to a campus lounge for further discussion. He enthralled them.
Central Connecticut State University Professor Jay Bergman, President of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Scholars, found Shoebat’s talk “a revelation, even for someone like myself,…an unequivocal and enthusiastic supporter of Israel and the democratic principles it practices.” That Shoebat had participated in violence gave “his testimony a special credence and credibility that it might otherwise lack. All those on the left and in America and Europe who turn a blind eye to the blatant and vicious anti-Semitism pervasive in the Middle East should be required to attend one of [his] lectures.”
Kol Israel student leader Stock said, "The evening was a success; every one I spoke with was impressed…. [Many] people…left with a new found understanding." For once, he said, the perpetrators of hatred were silenced.
Before Shoebat’s Wesleyan appearance, Hartford JFACT president Marty Shapiro heard Shoebat on WTIC radio. He phoned associate Bob Fishman to ask if Shoebat “was for real.” Assured that he was, Shapiro abandoned plans to watch UConn basketball and brought his wife to hear Shoebat in person. Now, Shapiro intends to invite Shoebat for another Connecticut visit.
A Christian WTIC listener approached a Connecticut organizer following Shoebat’s Middletown talk. “It’s about time such a message was heard,” he beamed. Most Wesleyan and UConn students were equally impressed. They echoed student reactions Shoebat received at many other campuses this spring.
One especially noteworthy response came at Montreal’s Concordia University, where Muslim students, in September 2002, had rioted to prevent former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking. They kicked, punched, spat and threw chairs on Jewish students entering the auditorium. Montreal police quelled the melee only with tear gas. “I was never so scared in my life,” a Jewish student told Lappen last month. Riot instigator Samir Elatrash, ostensibly suspended for three years, still remains enrolled. Muslims continue even now to accost Jewish students on the Concordia campus, the young woman reports. Elatrash has been emboldened by his central role in a National Film Board of Canada documentary on the riot, which he decries for its “bias.” His recent anti-Israel screen for Montreal Muslim News is featured in the news archive of the Islamic Association for Palestine terror group.
To this tense campus, Walid Shoebat arrived on March 10. Elatrash came, once again intent upon shouting down a Zionist speaker. But Elatrash was stunned, according to Shoebat, to encounter in this pro-Israel Palestinian his own cousin. Shoebat easily won student hearts. Elatrash led the Muslim toughs who confidently sought to disrupt his presentation.
Shoebat would have none of it. “This kind of behavior has made the Middle East dysfunctional,” he told them. “In Canada, we do not accept such incivility. Listen to me, and during Questions and Answers, you will each get your own opportunity to speak.” The crowd cheered wildly.
When their turn came, the Muslims lined up at the mic and spoke one by one. The audience booed each one. Shoebat again upended them. Then Elatrash reached the mic and complained of Jewish oppression. “How do you know,” Shoebat asked his cousin. “You never lived there.” Shoebat recalled a shooting committed by Samir’s father. Muslims had blamed on the Jews, he said. Rabbi Tovia Singer broadcast the two-hour program over Israel National Radio in a segment entitled: “Former PLO Terrorist Succeeds where Bibi failed.”
At Wesleyan, Concordia—and many other venues—Shoebat earned well-deserved standing ovations. His truthful message should be replicated on college campuses across North America.