As some of you might know, the student senate at UC Riverside voted on March 6 to divest from companies doing business in Israel. You'd think that the UCR students had risen up in outrage at supposed Israeli "apartheid". That is, after all, what "Students for Justice in Palestine" (SJP) --sponsors of the divestment motion -- want you to think.
But don't be fooled. The UCR senate did not pass the divestment bill because UCR students agree with the SJP. The senate passed the divestment bill, quite simply, because it was swindled. Because the SJP orchestrated it so that opponents of the bill did not get their say.
I know because I was there.
While the SJP boasted that it started to lobby the UCR senators -- one of whom is also an SJP "board member" -- a "month and half" before the motion came to a vote, opponents of divestment were kept entirely in the dark until a mere 20 hours prior. The SJP were given a week to prepare a PowerPoint presentation. Students opposed to the motion were not.
On the night of the vote, SJP officer Shadi Matar opened with a 14-minute presentation. As if being kept in the dark for weeks were not enough, opponents of the motion were given no right of rebuttal whatsoever. In fact, opposition was rigidly confined to 50 percent of the time allotted for public interventions -- that is, to whoever in attendance wanted to get up and speak. The rest went, again, to the SJP and its allies.
In the words of dissenting Senator Megan Crail, "there was not enough time or opportunity among Senators to discuss the resolution due to public forum, and there was not a presentation of the issue from both perspectives."
What's worse, the SJP reportedly admitted that it deliberately kept opponents of the motion in the dark until the last minute in order to pass the motion without any real opposition:
Amal Ali, the president of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Riverside, said keeping the resolution under wraps was the only way to "level the playing field," noting that similar resolutions on other campuses had been quashed by well-funded major Jewish or pro-Israel organizations. "We are aware that the Jewish lobby is very powerful and know BDS is something they fight against," said Ali.
I'll note that Ali's "powerful" Jewish lobby was able to muster only 4 or 5 surprised UCR students to speak disjointedly against the motion, while the SJP arrived with dozens of supporters delivering a well-oiled series of tested sound bytes. Meanwhile, the SJP -- a trans-national organization with branches on scores of campuses across the country -- is supported by powerful groups like American Muslims for Palestine (AMP). (In fact, AMP's chairman, Hatem Bazian, was a co-founder of SJP.)
But the worst, sadly, was what the SJP and its supporters said. It was their lies. After discussing the wholly unrelated histories of Apartheid South Africa and Jim Crow for the bulk of his 14-minute presentation, SJP officer Shadi Matar (ASUCR Director of Academic Affairs, no less) drew a flimsy and untenable parallel between those injustices and Israel by showing Palestinians lining up to come to Israel for work, using Israeli IDs (which every single Israeli citizen including the prime minister must also have) and boarding bus lines (falsely claimed to be segregated). Any real evidence of the supposed racial segregation alleged repeatedly by Shadi was left entirely to the audience's imagination -- an imagination that had just been molested by Shadi's images of past, unrelated racism. It was as fair as showing reels of Nazi cattle cars to a jury for 8 minutes then immediately showing them a picture of a toy train in order to convict Mattel of racism.
Other SJP speakers and allies then piled on more juvenile accusations -- colonialism, genocide, theft, racism, eugenics (!) and, of course, "Apartheid" -- as the meeting devolved into a veritable Alice in Wonderland of outrageous libel.
Let's now consider actual facts, which the UCR senators were deprived of.
Israel -- declared, by Freedom House, the only free state in the Middle East -- is the only country in the Middle East to give full democratic rights to Arabs. Arabic is one of Israel's official languages. Arabs serve Israel proudly as ambassadors, Supreme Court judges, ministers, and even military officers. Three Israeli Arab women have just been elected to the Israeli parliament, joining many other sitting Arab Israeli deputies. The "genocide" that the SJP speakers irresponsibly accused Israel of has resulted in a higher growth rate and a population explosion for Israeli Arabs. Even Palestinian homosexuals find real refuge from persecution in Israel. And Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza elect their own leaders, as per their express wishes. Israel is by no means perfect, but it is the opposite of apartheid.
This is what one Israeli Arab woman had to say about the SJP's "apartheid" libel:
And she is not alone. Victims of actual apartheid concur that the comparison is nothing but a malicious lie:
As if that weren't enough, in a feeble attempt to pretend this was not a resolution aimed at Jews, the SJP shamelessly accused Israel of institutional racism against its staunchly Zionist Ethiopian minority (who, often living in immigrant towns, suffer disproportionately from Hamas' rocket attacks which the SJP tellingly refers to as "resistance".) Israel has just elected the first Ethiopian woman to parliament. The Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia is also an Ethiopian-Israeli woman. And the new Miss Israel who met President Obama on his recent visit to Jerusalem is an Ethiopian immigrant and former officer in Israel's military.
The reality is that Israel, though it suffers from some racism and needs to improve like any other democracy, is among the most diverse and tolerant countries on the planet. This is what the SJP maliciously calls "apartheid":
The SJP doesn't care about facts. Their ultimate goal is not to combat "human rights violations" as they claim; if it were, they would oppose Hamas' horrific abuse of its own Palestinian population:
So much for "Justice in Palestine". No, the SJP's goal is to dehumanize Israel by repeating wild, manipulative accusations so that, one day, the map which erases the already tiny state of Israel on so many of the SJP's logos will become a reality. Don't take my word for it. Here is what leading Israel critic Norman Finkelstein had to say about the BDS campaign:
Without fairness, honesty and good intentions, there can be no peace. And therefore, when I very briefly spoke on the night of the vote, I stated repeatedly that I support both the Palestinian and Jewish right to a state in their ancestral homeland. I challenge the SJP to do the same.
* Full disclosure: I recently moved to Southern California and, alarmed by the amount of anti-Israel demonization I saw, decided to temporarily leave private legal practice and its comforts in order to combat anti-Israel propaganda on college campuses in collaboration with StandWithUs and others. As long as one party is being demonized, there will be no peace. This blog post is entirely mine and reflects only my opinions, however.