In a powerful blow to the anti-Israel movement on American campuses, the University of California at Riverside has canceled the Fifth Annual International Al Awda Conference that was scheduled to take place there on the weekend of May 24-26th. This marks only the second time that an American university has declined unconditionally to host an anti-Jewish hate fest that masquerades as an educational event about the Middle East (the other campus being Rutgers University in New Jersey in 2003). Such a cancellation comes on the heels of a new ruling by the US Civil Rights Commission that anti-Semitism on campuses has been masquerading as discussion of the Middle East.
Al Awda’s conference was set to be a training and strategy session for boycotting American and Israeli Jewish businesses -- and even some American Jews -- and for aiding the goal of extremists like Hamas to destroy Israel. Like Hamas, Al Awda’s motto has always been “from the river to the sea,” meaning the organization favors not a peaceful two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the ultimate destruction of Israel and its Jewish and Christian population. Indeed, Al Awda’s founder once called Jews who live in Israel “a disease” and the group calls the founding of the Jewish state a “catastrophe”(al Nakba in Arabic).
At UC Riverside, this campaign of demonizing has come to a crashing halt. According to Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs James Sandoval, student organizers advised him “without explanation” that the event was being canceled. While Sandoval maintained that the cancellation of the event was the decision of the student organizers that included the Students for Justice in Palestine and Muslim Students Union at UC Riverside, both International Solidarity Movement-affiliated groups, the UC Riverside administration deserves praise for setting up ground rules that obviously made the event too risky for the organizers to conduct on campus.
Specifically, Sandoval set up three restrictions on the event that Al Awda obviously could not abide by. First, he objected to a disclaimer, posted on the Al Awda website, that “the convention host committee reserves the right to decline any reservation at its sole discretion for any reason,” a code for refusing admittance to any potential critics of its radical political platform, particularly against certain Jews. Yet public taxpayer-supported universities cannot bar people from events because of their ethnicity or point of view as long as they behave in a lawful manner. A similar disclaimer on the Al Awda website last year for the same conference at San Francisco State University was removed after it was brought to the attention of the SFSU administration. At SFSU, some pro-Israel students found their reservation requests ignored by the organizers. When notified that the same thing was happening at UC Riverside, Sandoval intervened and insisted that the conference be open to anyone who could pay the entrance fee and attend in the spirit of an open university. He made Al Awda remove the restriction from their website.
Sandoval’s second intervention concerned security. At the previous Al Awda conference at SFSU, organizers had goons from their organization tail and intimidate anyone they deemed suspicious -- such as reporters who might write what was really happening at the event. This reporter was accosted more than once and was even followed into the men’s room. Some members of the press were harassed simply for taking notes or asking questions. Sandoval agreed that such conduct should not be tolerated at a public university and made sure that UC police officers, some brought in from other campuses, would have sole authority for security.
Most important was Sandoval’s decision that cameras and tape recorders would not be banned at the UC Riverside event. In all other Al Awda and ISM events, cameras and recorders are banned to prevent outsiders from seeing the anti-Semitism and outright support for terrorist groups overseas that takes place. Sandoval advised the organizers that UC Riverside was not to be used for secret meetings that the public could not scrutinize.
Apparently, the above three requirements were more than the Al Awda organizers could handle. In announcing a change of venue, Al-Awda explained that the new location was required because “unacceptable conditions were demanded by certain UCR administrators well after they had approved the venue.” Most outrageous for Al-Awda was that “the university administrators insisted that Zionists be allowed to attend the convention, and that they film the convention and its participants, a remarkable attempt at intimidation.” That the organization considers the mere presence of “Zionists” a scandalous violation of its rights speaks volumes about the anti-Semitic prejudices of the organization.
The above three requirements were more than confirmed by the Al Awda organizers in this press release last Thursday:
VENUE CHANGE- UNITING FOR THE RETURN - FIFTH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL AL-AWDA CONVENTION
DATE: May 25-27, 2007
The host committee of the Fifth Annual International Al-Awda Convention announces a change in venue. The convention will now be held at Embassy Suites Hotel - Anaheim South, 11767 Harbor Boulevard, Garden Grove, CA 92840. The convention will take place on the May 25-27 memorial day week-end.
The date of the convention commemorates the Nakba, the 59th year since the "State of Israel" was declared on stolen Palestinian land, and which led to the Zionist occupation of all of Palestine.
The Fifth Annual International Al-Awda Convention promises to be an amazing three-day event from speakers and workshops, film showings, to a Palestine Cultural Dinner Event. The opening will be held on the evening of Friday 25 May and include a moving event at which survivors of the Nakba, the great catastrophe, share their recollections of their first-hand experience in 1948.
On Saturday May 26, the convention will devote itself to political assessments, and to developing the ongoing work of organizing right to return campaigns such as refugee support, media work, student, art/culture, etc., in addition to our recruitment and outreach projects.
On Sunday May 27, the convention will arrive at its resolutions based on the concrete recommendations of the various workshops.
The Saturday evening Palestinian Cultural Dinner Event will include keynote addresses as well as music by world-renowned maestro Dr. Nabil Azzam, poetry readings and more. A Naji el-Ali exhibition will also be on display in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of his assassination. The cartoons for this exhibit were kindly provided by Khalid el-Ali, his son.