Robi Damelin, left, and Nadwa Saranda
The beachfront community of Santa Cruz, California, hosts more than just an amusement park and beaches. It is one of the most radicalized communities in the country, exceeding even Berkeley in the number of radical leftist groups that make up the local political mainstream.
Like Berkeley, Santa Cruz is a college town. The UC Santa Cruz campus provides a ready supply of young students and radical professors to proselytize them to hate America and Israel. Santa Cruz also is the home to nonprofit groups like the Resource Center for Nonviolence, a group that claims to promote world peace.
In reality, the center promotes a variety of far-Left causes, most notably opposing the War on Terror and military recruiting in general. Part of this is its unbridled anti-Israeli (sorry, “pro-Palestinian”) advocacy. An active and vocal supporter of the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-terror group that recruits American students to pose as peace activists while they abet terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza, the center routinely launches rhetorical attacks on Israel and denigrates the American presence in Iraq.
Much of this advocacy can be traced to the RCNV’s permanent “Middle East coordinator,” Scott Kennedy, a self-styled “leftist” and “peace advocate.” A seasoned politician—Kennedy is Santa Cruz’s former mayor—he has elevated the center’s political doublespeak to an art: Events sponsored by the center always invoke peace. Then they proceed to bash Israel and America, usually relying on false information for ammunition.
To promote its radical agenda, the center sponsors almost weekly events in town, often at UC-Santa Cruz. Of late, the center has even targeted public high schools, using its typical deception to indoctrinate young people to believe that both Israel and the United States are immoral abusers of human rights, and that the “apartheid state” of Israel must be dismantled.
The latest event put on by the RCNV is a case in point. Billed under the deceptive banner of “Palestine Awareness Week,” it featured two women—one an Israeli named Robin “Robi” Damelin, and the other a Palestinian woman named Nadwa Saranda—who appeared as representatives of a group called the Parents Circle. Participants were led to believe that both women had both lost loved ones in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Supposedly, both women had family members killed by the opposite side, tragedies that compelled them to reach out together to create a “dialogue” in the name of peace and non-violence. It all sounded perfectly innocent.
Thus, Palestine Awareness Week—note that it was not Palestine and Israel Awareness Week—scheduled seminars with these two women on the campus at UC Santa Cruz. Sponsored as well by several university faculty members, the women managed to do three seminar presentations to hundreds of students in public high schools in the area during regular school hours. Among the high schools that hosted them were the Soquel High School, Aptos High School, and Santa Cruz High School. Scott Kennedy and the RCNV have sponsored similar events nationwide.
What these high school students did not know was that these women were not the peace activists they affected to be. Touring all over the United States, they are regular features at pro-PLO functions. Nor are their stories of their personal losses completely true. It is true that Robi Damelin lost her son, David. A 28 year-old graduate student in education at Tel Aviv University, David was killed while guarding a checkpoint in the West Bank that was set up to prevent suicide bombers and terrorists from getting into Israel to kill Israelis. But Nadwa Saranda explains her presence at these seminars as an attempt to come to terms with the death of her sister, Naela, a Palestinian activist, who was supposedly knifed to death in East Jerusalem by a “Jewish settler."
Yet an investigation into the details of Nadwa Saranda’s story reveals that, her claims notwithstanding, her sister, Naela, was not in fact killed by a “Jewish settler.” She was, rather, killed by a Palestinian Arab who confessed to killing her. According to Al Quds, the Palestinian national newspaper, Naela was killed after being stabbed in the chest several times near the Jerusalem Municipality building in al-Musrara quarter. She was killed by 23-year-old Mohammed Sha'lan from the village of Hizma, who claims he thought she was an Israeli. After realizing she was Palestinian, Sha'alan turned himself into Israeli police, confessing his crime. It seems there was also another Arab serial killer who murdered with a knife 13 Arabs in East Jerusalem who also may have been involved in Naela’s killing. Yet Nadwa has been traipsing all over the country letting audiences, including Jewish ones, think her sister was murdered by an Orthodox Jew living in East Jerusalem. Far from acknowledging the facts, Saranda blames Israel for her sister’s death and says she will continue to do so. Testimony from Saranda in 1999 reveals that she claims no matter what, her sister’s death was Israel’s fault. (The evidence indicates that the Palestinian Arab who murdered her sister thought he was knifing a Jewess.) Today, she blames her sister’s death on the “occupation” of “Palestine” by Israel.
The Parents Circle was created by Yitzhak Frankenthal, a wealthy Israeli businessman whose son was murdered also by PLO terrorists. Frankenthal gets hundreds of thousands of dollars from the European Union, including Germany and Norway. The EU has a habit of funding Palestinian corruption. His organization also pulls in a buck a minute for phone calls placed between Palestinians and Israelis who have suffered bereavements.
Frankenthal’s message of “reconciliation and dialog” gets the Parents Circle into high places besides high schools and colleges. People fall for it so much the organization has even been featured on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. They, like the U.S. State Department, don’t check what this group really does once in front of a captive audience. And that is support the goals of the PLO against Israel by making misleading comparisons with South Africa, and distributing anti-Israel propaganda materials. At Santa Cruz, Naela Saranda told the audience Frankenthal is an Orthodox rabbi (he isn’t) and read a letter from him in which he apologizes “for all the bad things Israel has done to the Palestinians, both real or imaginary.” (Nobody has such a letter from a Palestinian religious authority.)
As for Robi Damelin, she is hardly the nonpolitical activist she purports to be. It is a longtime practice of the PLO to find radical leftist Jews to attend pro-Palestinian seminars to give the appearance of “balance.” Adam Shapiro was one. Damelin is just such a shill. Robi Damelin immigrated to Israel in 1967 from South Africa, where she was active in the anti-apartheid movement there by the ANC and Nelson Mandela. Once her goal was achieved, Damelin, like many leftist radicals, went to Israel to try and find a new cause there. Once in Israel she became active in radical leftist groups that support the goals of the PLO while claiming to be working toward “peace.” Peace, of course, means blaming Israel for the murders against its citizens in adherence to the PLO agenda of “fighting occupation.”
Damelin tells audiences that she previously ran a successful public relations firm in Israel before going to work for Parents Circle full-time. Significantly, Damelin describes it only as a “successful PR firm.” In fact, her public relations agency specialized in doing spin and promotions for leftist groups in Israel that wish to see the country dismantled but bill themselves as “co-existence groups.”
Besides her public relations agency handling publicity for radical Israeli groups, Damelin herself also encouraged Israelis to refuse to serve in the military. Her son, David, at least according to her, was also such a “peace activist,” but like all Israelis he was required to do three weeks a year in reserve duty to protect the Israeli people. Damelin claims David was opposed to the Israeli presence in the West Bank, and he may well have been. But he did not take after his radical mother.
Whereas David served in the Israeli army, Robi Damelin has always worked to support a movement in Israel called the Refuseniks, a corruption of the term used to describe former Soviet Jews who refused to remain in the USSR, many of whom were sent to the gulags. Today’s Israeli Refuseniks comprise the less than one tenth of one percent of the Israeli army who refuse to protect the Israeli people from terrorists. David Damelin was not one of them. Even though his mother was a big wheel in the movement to get Israeli soldiers to refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, and even though she says she asked him to refuse to serve in the West Bank (the worst that would have happened to him was he would spend his three weeks reserve duty time in jail then be released), he insisted on serving as assigned. He wanted to set a good example for younger Israeli students where he taught school. Lt. (Res.) David Damelin knew he was needed to protect his fellow Jews and other Israelis, which is why he never signed onto a tiny list of Israeli reservists who refused to serve to protect their country. He was killed while going to the aid of his men who were manning a checkpoint to keep out suicide bombers and terrorists by an Al Aksa Martyr’s Brigade sniper. Of note is the fact that David Damelin was offered a safe spot in the Israeli Army Band because of his musical talents.
He requested instead to be placed in a combat engineers unit.His mother, by contrast, has not evinced the same sense of patriotism. Among other acts of anti-Israel agitation, Damelin has gone to Perugia, in Spain, to meet Palestinian activist women convening to condemn the Israeli “occupation of Palestine” and came back with a full-time sinecure touring with Nadwa Sarandha. Despite films distributed in the Palestine Authority showing Palestinian mothers sending their sons off on suicide bombing missions, Damelin insists those mothers grieve as much as the mothers of those Israeli boys killed along with David Damelin by the Palestinian sniper. She ignores the fact that those Palestinian Arab mothers speak proudly of what their sons did even on film and pass out candy to celebrate killing Israelis as a path to heaven. Unsurprisingly, she has never corrected the claim that Nadwa’s sister was knifed to death by “an Orthodox Jewish settler.” In an interview with the Seattle Post Intelligencer, she called Jewish communities in the West Bank and Gaza that are open to all Israeli citizens “ghettos of hate.” So much for her apolitical nature and sense of co-existence. Frankenthal calls the Israelis living in Gaza the “sons of Satan.”
Damelin still maintains that the Parents Circle message is nonpolitical, only meant to stop the violence and promote peace. But a recent confrontation between this writer and the activist duo gives the lie to that contention.Recently, Robi Damelin and Nadwa Saranda were invited to appear on the Santa Cruz television show Club Cruz to discuss their “peace and reconciliation” movement. They were also accompanied by Scott Kennedy of the RCNV.
Over Kennedy’s protestations, the two women decided to stay. Immediately, Kennedy yelled from off-stage that “the mistake” about a Jew killing Nadwa’s sister was somehow a mistake on his part. However, I was able to point out that Nadwa Saranda had been traveling the US for weeks, perfectly content with that tale long before she came to Scott Kennedy’s RCNV in Santa Cruz. In addition, even after Scott Kennedy started claiming the mistake was his, the RCNV still called the local synagogue and also claimed the sister Naela was killed by a Jew while trying to get members of the congregation to attend the RCNV event. The Blood Libel of an Orthodox Jew murdering Nadwa’s sister is still advertised on the web with Scott Kennedy and his RCNV listed as the sponsors.
At that point, Robi Damelin interrupted us and complained that we were “discussing politics.” So we gave her the floor. Immediately she began talking about apartheid South Africa and its Reconciliation Commission. The intent was obvious: to try to paint the pluralistic democracy of Israel as the same as apartheid South Africa. I pointed out that Robi Damelin was indeed discussing politics herself and trying to smear the pluralistic democracy of Israel as a racist state. She denied this. Then Becky Johnson, my co-host, pulled out a flyer handed out at their event titled “Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign Fact Sheet” attacking Israel’s security fence against terrorism. The RCNV flyer advertising the event claimed Nadwa’s sister was “stabbed to death by a Jewish settler” and sought other venues for Parents Circle presentations. In addition, the event was said to be sponsored by local high schools and even UC Santa Cruz, places which hosted the event but most of which denied “sponsoring” it when I contacted them. Still another announcement mentioned an upcoming seminar on Rachel Corrie, claiming that the ISM activist was killed by a bulldozer while guarding a house (In fact, she was nowhere near a house and was guarding a weapons-smuggling tunnel used to kill Israelis).
I then asked Scott Kennedy how he could have made such an error and why he pointed out it only was “a mistake” made by him only after I called the Israel government press office and learned the truth from the Israeli police. He claimed he’d read it in the Washington Middle East News Report, a slick magazine put out by Saudi Arabia. What is even of greater interest is that Scott Kennedy claims to be on a Human Rights Commission on Saudi Arabia as part of his RCNV duties. (Talk about a contradiction in terms.) Scott’s name is still all over the Web with articles about the Parents Circle claiming Naela’s sister was killed by a Jew.
I next turned my attention to Nadwa Saranda and asked her what she thought of the Al Aksa Martyr’s Brigades. As a terrorist group, should they be closed down or arrested? She refused to discuss it. I pressed on and asked if she felt what they did was wrong? Again, she refused to answer. I then pointed out that Robi Damelin’s son had been killed by the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade and that the IDF killed the sniper a year later. Robi Damelin said it wasn’t true that she met her son’s killer and he was fine. Robi Damelin began talking very fast and trying to interrupt my queries to Nadwa, but failed. “Violence is ineffective,” Nadwa said. I mentioned that Prime Minister Abbas of the Palestine Authority had said that violence would be temporarily stopped only because it was deemed ineffective politically, but that killing Jews was not wrong (he will not condemn in Arabic the killing of Jews). “Will you condemn the killing of Jews?” I asked. She replied, “I don’t discuss it.” Again, I pressed, “Is it wrong to kill Jews?” She refused to answer. Since Nadwa Saranda’s sister was killed by a Palestinian Arab and not a Jew, what “pain” was she sharing as a bereaved woman whose sister had been killed by Israelis? Wasn’t she a fraud?
This line of questioning proved too much for Scott Kennedy. He stood in front of one of our cameras to block the picture, and Robi Damelin began to scream and carry on. She threw off her microphone and walked out, ordering Nadwa to follow her. So much for honest dialogue from the Parent’s Circle and the Resource Center for Nonviolence.
As should be clear by now, both organizations are indistinguishable from the PLO-created “peace groups,” such as the “Wheels of Justice Tour,” which also pose as peace organizations in order to infiltrate colleges and high schools. Once inside, they proselytize against Israel’s existence and U.S. foreign policy, implying that peace will only come when the “occupation” of “Palestine” is over and Israel will be under Arab domination. The idea is to indoctrinate the next generation of anti-Israel activists through a false presentation of Israel as an “apartheid state” (despite its being the only pluralistic democracy in the Middle East).By equating Israel with apartheid-era South Africa, the radical activists aim to suggest that it can be dismantled by international pressure.
Though this is clearly the agenda of the Parents Circle, it has found an audience among the highest echelons of the American government, meeting with diplomats at the U.S. State Department. More worrying is that it has found a warm reception in American schools during school hours.
Colleges, high schools and even synagogue administrators allow events featuring the Parents Circle because its claims to be promoting peace. But once on campus, the group attempts to create the impression that Orthodox Jewish settlers are blood-thirsty killers of Arab women, an idea that will stay in the minds of high school and college students for your years to come. In time the goal is that US support for Israel will be eroded enough to dismantle the Jewish state and aid terrorist elements within the PLO.
Parents and taxpayers must be especially vigilant. They must demand that school administrators thoroughly investigate groups like the Parents Circle before allowing them to speak on school time. Above all, they must understand that benign-sounding descriptions like “peace and social justice” are often a mask for radical advocacy aspiring to destroy democratic Israel in order to create another Arab-Muslim dictatorship in its place.