Israel is a twenty-first century “litmus test of a real commitment to justice,” the “Vietnam,” the “South Africa,” and “moral issue of our time” according to leftwing icon Angela Davis, quoted approvingly by Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi on November 21 before an audience of about fifty. Khalidi’s panel discussion of “The Legal Assault on Palestinian Rights Activism” over a lunch of sandwiches and drinks at the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Washington, DC, headquarters twisted anti-Israel hatred and criminality into Israeli persecution of Palestinians.
Khalidi opened the panel by condemning a “sort of advocacy that dare not speak its name” for “unequal and inferior rights for Palestinians.” “Who wants to identify with forty-seven years of colonial occupation?” he asked, referring to territories Israel won in self-defense during the 1967 war. In facing ostensibly honest Palestinian organizations, Israel’s supporters thus resort to “underhanded means” of “disinformation” or “outright vilification,” such as “anti-Semitism” charges, “something that cheapens a very serious issue.” Nonetheless, he continued, “Palestinian rights activism in the United States has taken on a remarkable vitality” concerning a “very straightforward” conflict he portrayed in stark Israel-black/Palestinian-white terms.
Andrew Daleck from the National Lawyers Guild, a leftwing organization with Communist roots, described his involvement defending Rasmeah Odeh, who was convicted on November 10 of immigration fraud. Among other facts, Odeh had concealed from American immigration authorities in 1995 and 2004 her Israeli conviction and ten-year imprisonment for killing two in a 1969 Jerusalem terrorist bombing. Daleck reiterated Odeh’s unsubstantiated story that her “sexual assault and torture” by Israeli officials had procured a “spurious conviction.”
Daleck preposterously decried Odeh’s American prosecution as an “indictment of Rasmeah’s activism” and “identity” as a “Palestinian woman . . . committed to her people’s self-determination.” He baselessly asserted in the subsequent question period that “orientalism and racism” often motivate American prosecutions of individuals like Odeh, while “some of these prosecutors are Zionists themselves,” as if support for an American ally proved courtroom bias. “I have grown to love and adore her,” Daleck gushed, while praising the terrorist Odeh’s “unparalleled” strength. His misplaced compassion mourned an Odeh who “will languish” in a “dingy, disgusting county jail” in a “very poor and awful situation.”
In her remarks, Rashid Khalidi’s daughter Dima, a lawyer with Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, denounced the overlooked “repression . . . in Palestine activism.” Suggesting nefarious Jewish foreign influence, Dima asserted that “relentless attacks” on “speech activities . . . protected by the First Amendment” come from pro-Israel groups “at the behest of the Israeli government.” Dima, meanwhile, expressed concern that universities burden pro-Palestinian groups with demands that they provide security for events. Rather than recognize documented increases in on-campus anti-Semitism, she complained that Jewish students report harassment “at such a rate it really is astonishing.”
She misleadingly labeled as a mere “popcorn demonstration” the repeated disruptions by Muslim students of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s 2010 “speech activities” at the University of California-Irvine. Using faulty reasoning, Dima condemned the subsequent misdemeanor conviction of Muslim Student Union members for their attempt to silence the lecture as “really chilling” for free speech. Daleck, speaking later during the question period, conceded only that “some people may have been unsettled” by this “in your face” protest.
Yaman Salahi, a lawyer with Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and a member of the violent, anti-Semitic, and Hamas-supporting Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) during college, outlandishly claimed that “anyone venturing into” Palestinian issues “is worried about government investigation.” He also warned that graduate students are “not viable” professionally if they study pro-Palestinian themes, as if academia were somehow hostile to the views of people like Rashid Khalidi, which in fact dominate Middle East studies.
Salahi focused on charges of creating a “hostile environment” under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He discussed an SJP-sponsored mock Israeli checkpoint at his alma mater, the University of California-Berkeley, where, as an undergraduate, he was convicted of defamation. Salahi deemed “ludicrous” analogies of this protest “to passion plays in Europe,” yet failed to mention a campus environment at Berkeley so hostile a Jewish student was assaulted by an SJP leader.
Former Virginia Tech professor Steven Salaita concluded the presentation by discussing how the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rescinded an offered professorship due, in part, to vile anti-Semitic/Israeli tweets that called his civility into question. Rashid Khalidi, who earlier had denounced this as an “outrageous maneuver,” charged that Salaita “was indicted and convicted . . . in the court of tenure” for personal political speech, though his scholarship supposedly “was never in question.” (Israeli journalist Liel Leibovitz has written that “hyperbolic fits of hatred” mark Salaita’s “stupidly dogmatic” work, which “should not qualify as scholarship.”)
Salaita explained that Illinois’s American Indian Studies program took an interest in his work “conceptualizing Palestine as an indigenous space . . . in conversation with other colonized communities around the world.” The “specific framework of American oppression” informed Salaita’s anti-American/Israel study of “Zionist tactics” that merely “seem new-fangled” but were in fact centuries old. In his view, blaming Arabs in Gaza for children supposedly “killed by the dozen” during Israeli defensive military operations is an “old colonial trope,” a “terrible argument, morally and intellectually,” and an “outsourcing of responsibility.” Salaita sneered in a “rant” directed at Jews, “you’re the ones who told us that you are a light unto the nations.”
Rashid Khalidi and audience member Yousef Munayyer, director of Washington, DC’s anti-Israel Jerusalem Fund, both praised a “most wonderful” and “fantastic panel.” Israel’s supporters in the debate, an ideologically-blinded Munayyer claimed, “can’t win it; they’d rather shut it down.” This hate-filled event, though, revealed precisely the opposite: anti-Israel ideologues like Munayyer cannot convince others of their moral and historical correctness. As the panelists demonstrated, vitriol, not logic, often motivates Israel’s political enemies.
Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project; follow him on twitter at @AEHarrod. He wrote this essay for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.