From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)
A weekend conference urging divestment from Israel got underway at Duke University on Friday and continued into Saturday with speakers equating Zionism with South African apartheid and some calling for an end to an exclusively Jewish state.
The gathering, the fourth organized by the Palestine Solidarity Movement, stirred up emotions in the Duke community, with many Jews outraged by the PSM's refusal to condemn Palestinian violence. As a result, some Jewish professors on campus refused to take part in the PSM's panels.
The Duke administration allowed the conference to take place because it said it was committed to free speech.
"We felt without a renunciation of violence, it's hard to have a conversation," said Eric Meyers, director of Judaic studies on campus.
As of late Saturday, the heavily guarded events were peaceful. Only a handful of local protesters gathered outside the main venue of the PSM conference, a campus gym, to demonstrate. But at least one busload of Jewish demonstrators was expected to arrive early Sunday morning and some PSM representatives warned of possibly violent confrontations.
On Friday evening, Dianna Buttu, legal advisor in the PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department, applauded the International Court of Justice's ruling that determined the West Bank barrier is illegal and ought to be torn down. She told an audience of a few hundred, many dressed in "Free Palestine" tee-shirts and keffiyehs, that South African apartheid was no different than Israeli occupation.
"Israel is attempting to rid itself of the Palestinians as much as possible while taking as much land as they can," she said.
She called Israel's barrier a "means of entrenching a system of discrimination," and said the route of the fence was designed to accommodate future settlement expansion.
Rev. Mark Davidson, a Presbyterian pastor from Chapel Hill, said the Church leadership's recent decision to explore ways of divesting its holdings from certain businesses that have operations in Israel, was a way of "prodding Israel to live up to its highest ideals."
When asked by one audience member whether she would support a divestment campaign that targeted far worse human rights offenders than Israel, such as China or Sudan, Buttu said other divestment campaigns would be legitimate but that Israel deserved to be singled out.
"I think that right now the greatest abuser of human rights is not, as you put it, China. The greatest abuser of human rights and the greatest threat to international security is Israel," she said.
When another questioner asked if divestment could gain more popularity if the PSM agreed to condemn violence as a form of resistance, Buttu said it was not her place to dictate policy of local activists. "I think it's up to the organizers," she said.
On Saturday, Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Yale University professor and the co-founder of Al-Awda, the Palestine Right of Return Coalition, referred to Zionism as a "disease" and said the media only reported on "resistance to colonization" not on the violence of "repression and ethnic cleansing" by Israel. He also rejected a two-state solution. "We ought to stop talking about these vague concepts about a two-state solution," he said.
Nasser Aburfarha, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin, also rejected a two-state solution and called for some federation of Israel and Palestine in the future, but noted that Palestinians would not abandon their right to return to their historic homes, inside Israel proper. Palestinians remain "connected to historic Palestine," he said.
Outside the conference, a small group of Jewish students called on participants to condemn Palestinian violence. "Tell the PSM to condemn terrorism. Put it in your guidelines," one yelled.
Later in the afternoon, PSM attendees participated in workshops. One featured representatives of the International Solidarity Movement, which sends Americans to the West Bank and Gaza to protest Israel's construction of its barrier and the demolition of Palestinian homes and olive trees.
The organizer of the workshop, Huwaida Arraf, said the group only engages in non-violent tactics, but acknowledged, "We don't refuse to work with anyone." The ISM has been accused of cooperation with Hamas and other violent Palestinian groups.
Across campus, at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life, Jewish students gathered for an "Israel Teach-In," with lectures on Zionism, US-Israel relations and how to confront anti-Semitism. Some expressed concern about the PSM conference.
"Many Jews suspect they are trying to take advantage of naive college students who want to right injustices," said David Breau, a Duke University law student who helped bring the bombed-out shell of Egged Bus No. 19 to display on campus last week. They want to say, "hey, these Palestinians are suffering. Let's paint Israel as the bad guy."
Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, at an afternoon panel on America's role in the Middle East, gave a blistering assessment of the Bush administration's policies in the region, charging that the war in Iraq had made Israel less, not more secure, and challenging the notion that President George W. Bush's support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had benefited Israel.
"A parent who does everything that his kid asked for is not necessarily a good parent," Burg said.
He urged American Jewish voters not to vote solely based on which president they believed was best for Israel.
"If there is one thing that I pray to God won't happen, is that American Jewry will become a single-issue community," he said.
Burg also questioned the effectiveness of Israel's military tactics vis-a-vis the Palestinians.