Sunday, 17 April 2016
If Americans Knew What Stanford SJP Stands For
Some people who oppose If Americans Knew are misrepresenting a recent event at Stanford University in which the Stanford SJP demanded that their invited speaker, Amena, a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon, censor her talk. She refused to do so and the event was not held. (UPDATE: Amena explains what happened: iakn.us/22vvXxE)
The organizer of the speaking event, the North America Nakba Tour, posted an account of what transpired. (iakn.us/1VV1GYL)
However, to our astonishment, some opponents of If Americans Knew then tried to divert attention to me and IAK rather than keeping it on this woman and her colleague who traveled so far to tell us their story. Someone at Stanford SJP posted a fraudulent statement about the incident on their Facebook page, which we expect will be repeated far and wide by people bent on taking down If Americans Knew.
While the Nakba Tour statement already gives the basic facts, we are now augmenting this with a more detailed description of what transpired.
Below are the facts:
The Stanford SJP event was part of a tour by two Palestinian women who have recently arrived in the US from a Lebanese refugee camp to speak at events under the North America Nakba Tour. They are Mariam Fathalla (respectfully known as Umm Akram) an 86-year-old Nakba survivor, and Amena Ashkar, the 22-year-old granddaughter and great granddaughter of other Nakba survivors, who has known no other home than refugee camps.
The purpose of the Nakba Tour (iakn.us/23tcAuX) is to bring Palestinian refugees from camps in Lebanon to tell Americans about Israel’s mass expulsion of Palestinians 60 years ago and of their subsequent plight, voices that are almost never heard in the U.S. Nakba means catastrophe, the term Palestinians use to refer to the 1948 war of ethnic cleansing that created Israel. (For details, read the excellent book by Israeli historian Ilan Pappeiakn.us/1VlUsOA and see our short brochure on it. iakn.us/1XvmchG)
Several months ago, the organizer of the Nakba Tour, Paul Larudee, asked me and many others to help with various aspects of the tour. Like others, I responded that I’d be glad to help.
On request, I agreed to help, as needed, with driving, with visits to Capitol Hill and with promoting the tour. As you’ll recall, IAK posted announcements of the tour to our list and on our Facebook page encouraging people to organize venues for the speakers.
When the two women arrived, Paul asked me to join a discussion on how to present to Americans (we both live in the SF Bay Area), since this is their first visit to the U.S. I agreed to do this and mainly emphasized how little most Americans know about this issue. The tour organizers had not had time to put together written materials to take along, so we arranged that IAK would provide these free to the Nakba Tour to make available to audiences, particularly our Synopsis factsheet, which gives important history and context about Palestine-Israel.
Since speakers can only cover so much in a 45 minute talk, it’s always valuable to provide additional informational materials to audiences. Many groups around the country use If Americans Knew materials, which are largely articles written by respected experts that IAK republishes into booklets and factsheets. (iakn.us/IAKmaterials) Some of the most popular are the Origin booklet (written by Jews for Justice in the Middle East) (iakn.us/1XvmCVa), Right of Return booklet (by Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh) (iakn.us/25ZZzYp), Synopsis fact sheet (iakn.us/1RUbPDS), and map cards (iakn.us/1MQhEzM). We also arranged that IAK would provide some of my books (/iakn.us/AOBJ-book) for the Tour to sell at events, with all proceeds going to the Tour, as a fundraising contribution and to educate attendees about the history.
Paul told me that the meeting about speaking to Americans had been extremely helpful and asked me to come hear the talks in person and perhaps afterwards give feedback. I felt both speakers would do a superb job – Amena’s English is excellent and both have powerful stories – but I said I’d be glad to come along if this might be of help, and rode with them to Stanford.
The Stanford Incident
When we arrived at the venue, the Tour videographer Samir Salem and I set up the materials table in the back. Suddenly, a few students confronted me, saying I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was entirely taken aback that they were focusing on me, rather than their distinguished guests.
(By the way, this was a huge change from when I spoke at Stanford several times a number of years ago. A 2004 lecture was covered in the campus newspaper (iakn.us/1SajfSh), and I was enormously touched when a student reporter told me, “That was the most powerful speech I’ve ever heard.”)
Paul tried to explain to today’s Stanford SJP students (none of whom have heard my talk (iakn.us/1Mu8ew6) or read my articles (iakn.us/1JV1KST) and book) that I wasn’t a speaker and that I had come at the Tour’s request to sit in the audience and hear the talks.
During the ensuing discussion, one or two of the students obliquely referred to the JVP-USCEIO unfounded accusations against me (iakn.us/1F7ax4u). They appeared not to know that these have been widely discredited and are opposed by most pro-Palestine activists, including some of the most respected and committed individuals both in the U.S. and in Palestine (see, for example,iakn.us/1S6IEdj.)
The students first objected to the books (which have been purchased by over 24,000 people and widely praised by reviewers, activists, and general readers, many saying they are “eye opening,” and “should be read by every American”), claiming they couldn’t sell things.
Next, they objected to the cards and booklets (eventually admitting it was because they contained the IAK website). Paul responded that these were the Tour’s materials and that he had never heard of speakers not being allowed to provide materials to audiences. I removed the offending books from the table and left the conversation, feeling the event shouldn’t be about me or IAK, but about Amena and Umm Akram.
At about this point, Amena entered the discussion, and students told her they objected to my views on “Israel’s right to exist” (one of our brochures contains John Whitbeck’s excellent article deconstructing this alleged “right.”iakn.us/1V0g6bj).
As I’m sure you’re aware, the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel’s alleged “right to exist” is one of Israel’s major talking points, and a demand that many Palestinians reject, since it would mean that Israel supposedly had the “right” to ethnically cleanse them, the “right” to discriminate against them, and the “right” to prevent people like Amena, Umm Akram and numerous others from returning to their homes. As Whitbeck writes:
“To demand that Palestinians recognize ‘Israel’s right to exist’ is to demand that a people who have been treated as subhumans unworthy of basic human rights publicly proclaim that they are subhumans. It would imply Palestinians’ acceptance that they deserve what has been done and continues to be done to them. Even 19th-century US governments did not require the surviving native Americans to publicly proclaim the ‘rightness’ of their ethnic cleansing by European colonists as a condition precedent to even discussing what sort of land reservation they might receive.”
Amena questioned the Stanford students, who told her she could not give her views on “Israel’s right to exist.” She then said she felt “unwelcome,” refused to give a censored speech, and the event did not go on. I was not involved in that conversation, which took place largely in Arabic, and I did not discourage her from speaking. (Hear Amena’s account of what transpired: iakn.us/1VV1GYL)
Nonfactual statement by anonymous individual from Stanford SJP
Someone has now posted on the Stanford SJP website and Facebook page a truly bizarre, highly inaccurate statement about the incident containing numerous false and absurd assertions. (iakn.us/1WrHzlF) Among these is the claim that they canceled the event because of me, that I “refused to leave” (no one ever asked me to do so), and that I have supposedly “made derogatory remarks about Arabs, endorsed speech by a former head of the KKK, denied the impact of South African Apartheid, and referred to communism as a Jewish conspiracy.” Whew!
When some individuals tried to post comments on the Facebook post objecting to the statement and giving real facts, their comments were quickly removed. At this point in time, however, perhaps a new moderator seems to have stopped removing such comments, and the thread contains a great many comments supporting me and opposing the Stanford students’ actions and statement, including the following by Paul Larudee:
“Whoever wrote this should be congratulated for cramming so many falsehoods into such a small space. If invited, I would be happy to elaborate, but why bother when the gatekeepers are removing all the evidence whenever it is posted? If they will allow this comment to remain, I suggestfreepalestinemovement.org/…/31/the-north-america-nakba-tour/. Long live free speech everywhere except Stanford.”
(By the way, it’s probably relevant to note that a committed Palestine activist has written to me that this Stanford behavior seems to be part of a problematic pattern with the current group, whose version of the divestment resolution takes a liberal Zionist position: ignores refugees, dates the injustice only from 1967, disavows BDS, and endorses Israeli self-determination at the expense of Palestinians.)
The Good News
Fortunately, to date the Stanford behavior has not been replicated by other groups on the Nakba Tour. In fact, Paul and others say that their reception has been overwhelmingly positive, and that individuals hosting the Tour in other locations are outraged at the Stanford group’s actions.
Meanwhile, at IAK we’re busy putting up more and more billboards (including our incredibly popular billboard supporting Flint, which has been shared by well over a thousand people on Facebook), sending out materials around the country, and preparing for my upcoming talks in Washington State, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
And I’ve just received word that a wonderful supporter, outraged by this malicious attack and extremely pleased with our work, has given us $10,000!
As we’ve mentioned previously, our IAK talks are going extremely well – to standing-room-only, receptive audiences, many of whom buy my book. (In fact, many supporters suggest that it is specifically because the talks are so effective and the book is doing so well that the attacks on us continue and escalate.)
I just gave two talks in Spokane, Washington. The first was in a large, hugely popular local bookstore with many people new to the issue in the audience. The event was full – all the seats were taken and people were standing in the back. The response was extremely positive and many people bought my book.
The second event was on Friday evening in Whitworth University. 135 students attended and again the response was electric and numerous people bought the book.
Of course, this is exactly what Zionists – with Ali Abunimah’s help – wish to prevent, but are failing to do.
Today I give talks in two Seattle libraries, tomorrow in a Portland, Oregon, church, and after that in Pennsylvania and Florida.
Thanks so much, everyone, for exposing and opposing the malicious actions and fraudulent claims by the JVP-USCEIO-Abunimah machine.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian