By: David Kadosh, ZOA Campus Coordinator
The event I attended at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) on Monday, March 30th, 2009, was a wake-up call that the type of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slander you would expect from Arab, European, or Canadian universities are present on campuses in our own backyard. The forum was a debate about the recent Gaza conflict and its relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace negotiations. An overwhelming majority of the audience at the event supported the Palestinian side. There were many religious Muslims in the crowd, and many students wearing Free Palestine shirts with Palestinian flags on them. In fact, throughout the debate a large number of students wearing those shirts stood in the back of the audience facing the speakers, possibly to support the speaker for the Palestinians and to intimidate the speaker for the Israelis.
The speaker for the Palestinians was Ramsey Abdallah (B.S., 2002 NJIT). He is the former President of the Palestinian American Congress in New Jersey and is the founder of a group known as The Middle East Policy Political Action Committee. He also worked as the Commissioner of Human Rights in New Jersey for ethnic and minority affairs. The speaker representing the Israeli side of the debate was Dr. Daniel Mandel (B.A. Hons., 1989; PhD, 1999, University of Melbourne). Dr. Mandel is the Director of the Zionist Organization of Americas Center for Middle East Policy.
Dr. Mandel performed outstandingly. He was able to express himself and defend Israel in the face of a hostile audience, and he managed to retain his composure and speak with dignity though confronted by personal attacks from Mr. Abdallah. Mr. Abdallah called Zionists sneaky and experts at twisting the truth. When Dr. Mandel questioned his resorting to personal attacks, Mr. Abdallah said he was merely quoting Charles Freemans reference towards Zionists. Mr. Abdallah relied on rude and condescending language and intimidation techniques such as approaching the podium though it was not his place to speak and commenting in the middle of Dr. Mandels responses. I thought Mr. Abdallahs simple language and few-worded responses, that better resembled rallying cries, belonged at a Middle School discussion, not a college forum. While Dr. Mandel expressed himself with eloquence and defended his positions in an educated fashion, Mr. Abdallah would raise his voice and shout out key phrases/propaganda such as What happened in Jenin?, referring to the alleged Jenin Massacre which was disproven, or invoking the name of Rachel Corrie, a peace activist inadvertently killed while acting as a human shield as she tried to prevent an Israeli military operation. The correlation of Israel to apartheid South Africa was brought up by an audience member during the question and answer session. Mr. Abdallah encouraged the question and not only said that the minority, Jews are oppressing the majority Muslim population, but that the minority, rich Israelis were oppressing the majority, poor Palestinians; attempting to mold the conflict along a socio-economic basis. Dr. Mandel repudiated, in detail, the canard that the qualities of apartheid South Africa including segregation applied to Israeli society. He explained that Israeli Arabs ride the same buses, attend the same theaters, and drink from the same fountains as Israeli Jews. However, the audience seemed more interested in hearing the propaganda-based, minimalistic responses of Mr. Abdallah, than the logic-based responses of Dr. Mandel. Dr. Mandel also was able to rebut with detail on hand false allegations about Israeli atrocities in Gaza that had recently been aired in Haaretz and the Guardian (London).
On three occasions throughout the debate, a student would yell takbiir which is Arabic for greatest? inviting the response of Allahu Akbar meaning G-d is Great. I felt like I was at a Hamas rally rather than a campus in New Jersey, and Im sure the sentiment was intimidating for the handful of Israel supporters at the event.
The debate also resorted to the usual anti-Semitic attack that has been leveled against the Israelis, especially since this most recent conflict; the comparison of the Israelis to Nazis. As a grandson of a Holocaust survivor, I am particularly distressed when such claims are made. I feel that comparing any war to the worst evil the world has ever seen only serves to diminish the real atrocities committed. There is no comparison between civilians killed as a result of collateral damage in a war and the systematic extermination of an entire ethnicity. The comparisons Palestinian sympathizers make of Israel to Nazi Germany, and Zionism to Nazism, must be exposed and stopped. Every time this hateful correlation is used, we must expose it to the mainstream press and have our opposition heard. The anti-Semitic remarks came from the audience as well as Mr. Abdallah. Mr. Abdallah went on to offend the memory of the millions killed in the Armenian, Rwandan, Cambodian, Kosovar, or Sudanese genocides when he said There is no event more horrific and horrible than the Holocaust, only to be followed by the crimes against the Palestinians. This message is just as evil as those that would deny the Holocaust because it attempts to diminish its significance.
Perhaps the only bright note following the talk was that about a dozen Muslim students came up to Dr. Mandel to thank him for his presentation and, in some cases, to shake his hand.
It is evident that a campus like this needs active support from ZOA to counter the propaganda.