Saint Louis University was the site for a weeklong series of presentations entitled “Palestine Awareness Week.” The student group “SLU Solidarity with Palestine” sponsored the event. The term “Solidarity” signifies the SLU group’s affiliation with the “International Solidarity Movement” which disrupts and interferes with the security operations of Israeli military and police units. The week’s events were presented in collaboration with the Muslim Student Group and the off-campus “Center for Theology and Social Analysis.” I endured three of the five presentations: a film by John Pilger, a lecture by Norman Finkelstein, and a seminar taught by students entitled “Palestine 101.”
Pilger’s film “Palestine is Still the Issue” may be called a documentary only as one would characterize the polemic Fahrenheit 911. A mixture of directed interviews, documentary footage, and artsy scenes with ominous accompaniment, the filmmaker hammers away at his message: Israel is the oppressor, the aggressor, nothing can justify Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians, or their aloofness to Palestinian suffering. Pilger repeatedly stands history on its head, describing the Israeli War of Independence as a war of aggression by Jews against Palestinians, five Arab armies attacking only to protect and support their Palestinian brethren. A few short quotes indicate there is no historical support for this thesis:
“We will do everything in our power to maintain peace, and establish a cooperation gainful to both [Jews and Arabs]. It is now, here and now, from Jerusalem itself, that a call must go out to the Arab nations to join forces with Jewry and the destined Jewish State and work shoulder to shoulder for our common good, for the peace and progress of sovereign equals.”
- Assembly of Palestine Jewry, October 2, 1947
“The main theme behind the spontaneous celebrations we are witnessing today is our community's desire to seek peace and its determination to achieve fruitful cooperation with the Arabs…”
- Jewish Agency Statement, November 30, 1947, the day after the UN Partition Vote
“In the midst of wanton aggression, we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its bodies and institutions. We extend our hand in peace and neighborliness to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all.”
- Israel's Proclamation of Independence, issued May 14, 1948
Pilger’s film started off the week as a scholarship-free zone of one-sided, ahistorical assertions, in which the Palestinians’ difficult living conditions are an intrinsic indictment of Israeli policy from 1947 onward.
Bellicose rhetoric from Arab leaders, broadcast currently by Hamas and Iranian president Ahmadinejad, not cited:
"This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre
which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”
- Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League May 15, 1948
Also excluded, serious historical analysis by Arabs:
“The Arabs thought they would win in less than the twinkling of an eye and that it would take no more than a day or two from the time the Arab armies crossed the border until all the colonies were conquered and the enemy would throw down his arms and cast himself on their mercy.”
- Aref el-Aref, History of the 1948 War
Pilger’s film spends several minutes describing life in pre-withdrawal Gaza, for instance that roads had been created within Gaza primarily for Jews, to the great inconvenience of Gaza Arabs. No mention is made of the reason for such thoroughfares, or security checkpoints: homicidal roadside attacks on civilians. The completely one-sided assertions brought to life on Pilger’s screen, without attribution, historical context, or scholarly rigor, leads to the conclusion the film is not merely pro-Palestine, but anti-Israel.
Norman Finkelstein, author of several anti-Israel books, lectured for over two hours on Tuesday, reiterating many of the same themes as Pilger’s movie. Finkelstein is a master rhetorician and polemicist, who pleased a crowd of approximately two hundred activists and credulous students. Finkelstein spent a great deal of time defending and justifying his theses, relying on debatable UN Resolutions, the International Court of Justice, post-Zionist historian Benny Morris, and Jimmy Carter’s recent “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” Finkelstein presents his version of history as commonplace fact, repeating self-soothing phrases such as “everyone agrees…” He glibly brushes off his critics, variously describing their version of history as “concocted…conjured…contrived…a fraud.”
In Finkelstein’s world, six million Jews in Israel and six million in the USA are entirely culpable for the suffering of the Palestinians and the ire of the Arab world. When challenged about this Protocols-esque perfidy, he accedes, stating that small nations, such as Imperial Japan and the British Empire, were able to dominate great portions of the world and oppress millions. Finkelstein attributes zero responsibility to the Arab states that launched repeated wars on Israel, and never encouraged the Palestinians to assimilate. He exonerates the Palestinian leadership, which looted funds, rejected peace efforts, and neglected to develop basic civil infrastructure.
Questioned about repeated Israeli withdrawals from territories in the West Bank, Finkelstein claims these withdrawals are insufficient to allow autonomy, and do not provide sufficient recompense for the overarching oppression of the Palestinian people. The historic withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005 is brushed off as a small gesture—the suffering of displaced Gaza Jews, the destruction of their productive commercial greenhouses—unmentioned. The 2000-year Jewish presence in Gaza is irrelevant. Arab rockets launched daily towards Israeli towns, the tunnel attack and abduction of Gilad Shalit (whereabouts unknown), the Hezbollah attacks and abductions, the January 29 homicide bombing in Eilat—not in the January 30 syllabus.
The most depressing night may have been “Palestine 101.” At least with Pilger and Finkelstein we witnessed deft propagandists. This PowerPoint mini-class prepared by students repeated the similar themes, with a few obvious blunders. One of the slides contained a misquoted phrase from UN Resolution 242, addressing the aftermath of the 1967 War: “Israel will withdraw from ‘the’ territories occupied in the 1967 War” [emphasis added]. The misquotation is: there was no “the” in the resolution, and it may be the most famous absent article in the history of the UN. The phrasing of the resolution was thoroughly debated—it was a purposeful absence of “the” or “all” that shapes the intent of the Resolution. Israel has withdrawn “from territories” many times; violence followed their retreats. The fundamental purpose of Resolution 242: “just and lasting peace,” and Israel’s “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force” is invisible to these pseudo-scholars.
Israel’s separation barrier and security checkpoints are recurrent themes, without considering the reason for their existence. The presenters’ youthful cheeriness wore off after an hour, and as the lecture came to a close, the leader thinks he has covered all bases: “Are there any questions? I mean, I can’t imagine there would be.” Here’s one: “One million Arabs live and work in pre-1967 Israel; why must Arab lands be Judenrein? This was only the 1st Annual Palestine Awareness Week, or so they stated.
In Natan Scharansky’s recent book, The Case for Democracy, he describes three components of anti-Israel argumentation that crosses the line into anti-Semitism – delegitimization, demonization, and applying a double-standard – these events employed all three tactics.
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