Heard At The UCLA Divestment Debate

ucla debateI spent 5 hours last night attempting to watch the BDS debate at UCLA, an activity made more difficult because organizers had arranged that the camera be turned away from the presenters, as several pro-Palestinian speakers were “worried” about being on video. We then listened to them without seeing them. At some point, a pro-Palestinian asked someone who was filming to stop. I found that strange because it’s my personal belief that if you believe in something strongly enough to speak about it, then you should have the courage of your convictions and associate your face with your words.

The time was wasted, unfortunately, as the majority of the “arguments” on the pro-divestment side were histrionic, fallacious, and facetious. I listened in disbelief as one speaker brought up forced sterilization of black women, another spoke of genocide, and yet another said that Israel doesn’t allow Arabs to vote. Many of the pro-BDS speakers were swearing and screaming, and it was obvious that they were trying to make emotional appeals.

I listened as people spread ridiculous assertions, and flat out lies. Immediately following a letter that was read from Israeli Arab Mohammed Zoabi, someone said, “There are no Israeli Arabs, there are only Palestinians.” He then went on to talk about Israeli apartheid, a recurring theme. One even trotted out that old canard that “the Zionists came and stole the land.” My personal favorite, though, was the speaker who insisted that Israeli Arabs cannot attend university, ignoring that the founder of BDS went to university in Tel Aviv, and the fact that the University of Haifa has a huge Arab student population. The ignorance was truly appalling.

I listened in mounting frustration as several speakers granted the Palestinians indigenous status, while denying Jews theirs. Thankfully, other speakers, including an Iranian woman, spoke vociferously against the BDS movement.

There were more than a few who let their obvious anti-Semitism flag fly, almost proudly. The one speaker who said that IDF soldiers who were there to speak were “intimidating;” another who quite intentionally referred to the IDF as “IOF” (“Israel Occupation Force”), a typical insult to those who protect Israel. The self-described “queer” who accused Israel of pinkwashing was actually rather humorous, with his lecture about not using words like “gay” or “homosexual” to describe his people, followed by his assertion that gays are treated well in the Middle East (not Israel, where being gay is not illegal nor punishable by death, but in the rest of the Middle East). While listening to him and the Jewish youth who were speaking for JVP, I couldn’t help but wonder how their speeches would play in Gaza or Ramallah and would happily organise a mission for them to get there. (For those who may be unfamiliar with the group, Jewish Voice for Peace’s mission statement tells us that they “oppose anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab bigotry and oppression. JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East.”)

As is usual at such events, several pro-BDS speakers relied far more on bombast and histrionics, appealing to emotion rather than to anything resembling factual argument. One presenter attempted a spoken word performance, which left me feeling embarrassed for him; another sounded like a pep rally cheerleader, until she started screaming about the evils of the Jewish state. The irony of invoking human rights violations as justification for attacking the human rights of Jewish students on campus was lost on some of these people. Do students not have any right to study in an environment that is not deliberately hostile to them and that is conducive to their success?

Many of the anti-divestment speakers seemed ill-prepared, though equally passionate to their opponents. I was disappointed in them for not being as prepared as they should have been for such an important event, but glad they had the guts to stand up.

That said, there were some awesome pro-Israeli speakers. Key among them were Ben Shapiro, who gave a rousing speech, and Philippe Assouline, a friend, who not only brought up some very salient points, but also set the bar high by destroying some of the most used talking points.

A group of students called Bruins against BDS were particularly effective: they sounded very prepared, and they did a great job reading letters, and making important points. Their leader, a student named Miriam Eshagian, should be proud of the work she has done, as it is clear that they made a real difference.

I thought about writing and debunking the talking points embraced by BDS supporters; then I thought I might write about why these arguments are damaging. Instead, I am just telling you what I saw, and what I saw was a large group of people making excuses for anti-Semitism. I saw people making “reasonable” arguments as to why Jewish people should be isolated and excoriated – apparently this is ok, because Jewish people do not have the same rights as everyone else, and so it is acceptable to segregate them. It is acceptable – if you support BDS – to demonise the only true democracy in the Middle East, and the only Jewish state.

One speaker said it best when she quoted the BDS founder Omar Barghouti (a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel who, in a somewhat ironic turn, was educated at Tel Aviv University):

BDS will not end with the end of the occupation. No rational Palestinian will ever accept the Zionist state.

In other words, this isn’t about oppression, this IS about destroying Israel. I am stunned that anybody could support the BDS movement after hearing such an assertion. Those who established this movement are not well-intentioned, nor are they truly “anti-oppression” (given the number of Israeli Arabs who tell us that they are not, in fact, oppressed, it would be difficult to support any “anti-oppression” movement). Anyone who supports the BDS movement after this is simply anti-Semitic. If we don’t believe that the Jews have the right to defend themselves, we are nothing more than anti-Semites ourselves.

Other highlights:

  • 0:40:10: Jewish kid lays the smackdown
  • 0:42:50: Complete idiot
  • 0:46:25: Worth listening to
  • 1:38:10: Crying whining ensues
  • 1:40:00: Jewish girl tears a new one
  • 2:05:40: Excellent speaker
  • 2:33:00: Worst speaker so far
  • 2:36:00: Gay black guy talking about open air prisons and Israel attacking black people
  • 3:15:18: Smart guy who gets it
  • 4:11:45: Another Jewish kid lays a smackdown
  • 4:43:00: Ridiculous wannabe Hitler kid
  • 5:07:30: One of those “intimidating” IDF soldiers..and awesome speaker
  • 5:49:07: Spoken word epic fail
  • 6:00:00: Guy who smokes too much weed

About Ryan Bellerose

A member of the indigenous Metis people, Ryan grew up in the far north of Alberta, Canada with no power nor running water. Ryan was unsure if his real name was "Go get water!" or "Go get wood!" In his free time, Ryan plays Canadian Rules Football , reads books, does advocacy work for indigenous people and does not live in an Igloo.

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