A great teaching moment

Being heckled for speaking against BDS.

Boycott Israel sign (photo credit: REUTERS)
Boycott Israel sign
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“He is brainwashing you, don’t believe anything he tells you, it’s all lies.”
This was the parting diatribe of a pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activist, which he screamed at a group of students at Manhattanville College during my lecture on BDS.
On my spring semester speaking tour, I was invited to speak by Mellysa, an Emerson Fellow of StandWithUs at Manhattanville College, and their Hillel director. I was asked to give them a choice of topics that I usually speak about; Israel, the Middle East and regional conflicts, for a multicultural group of students on campus.
When it came time to choose a topic, I suggested that they consider a new lecture I had been asked to give to three northern New Jersey colleges just two weeks before, where the students wrote the title, “Attacks from the BDS Crowd: 10 of the Nastiest Things and Falsehoods Thrown at Israel, and What To Do about Them.” I asked Rachel Klein, the Hillel director of Westchester County New York, if I could present the same topic, and she reluctantly agreed. She hesitantly said, “we don’t have a BDS problem on this campus, so I hope it doesn’t create one.”
Well, either I caused a BDS problem or there was a problem hiding just beneath the surface of this beautiful, leafy campus.
Manhattanville College is a liberal arts university in Westchester County New York with 1,700 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students from 76 countries and 48 states. Manhattanville’s mission is to “educate students to become ethically and socially responsible leaders for the global community” The group that came to hear me that Thursday night in April was a multicultural group of students, who on the whole were similar to other students that come to hear me speak on other campuses, not particularly knowledgeable on the issues of the Middle East, Israel, or the BDS movement to delegitimize Israel.
Lack of information or interest is the greatest enemy of those of us who want to create a factual understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and explain the 1,400-year hatreds within the Sunni and Shi’ite world.
When I speak to any college or highschool group, I watch the eyes of the audience during my talk to see if I am losing anyone, and will then immediately re-adjust the talk. But this group remained attentive right up until the time that a fifty-something member of the audience, sitting front-row center, interrupted my presentation.
A few weeks ago I wrote about pro-Israel speakers being shouted down by “social justice” activists, as far-left Progressives, in the name of human rights, claim that they should deny Israel’s defenders the right to speak.
The language of human rights, i.e.
apartheid, ethnic cleansing, racism, is the bludgeon they use to delegitimize Israel. Part of the reason for this illiberalism is that today, education and academic discourse at many of universities has degenerated into narrow- minded political indoctrination by teachers with a one-sided mission.
So it is instructive to describe what I and the students experienced, what it is like to be heckled.
Rachel Klein, the Hillel director, said, “What students saw at Manhattanville College was all too real – even when ‘armed’ with the facts, discourse is not possible when the other party is engaging in harassment and bullying, and clearly not interested in facts. The real issue on campus is that colleges and universities are becoming places where harassment, intimidation and bullying silence civil discourse.”
So this became a teaching moment to help undergrads see the intolerance on today’s college campus firsthand, and begin to understand that this is a terrifying growing phenomenon.
(This was not the first time I have been heckled speaking on campus.) This gentleman who became my heckler at first began mouthing to himself that the information in my PowerPoint presentation wasn’t true.
Only I could see him becoming agitated; the students were unaware of what was about to happen.
Next came the hostile questions. He was particularly angry that I talked about the five times the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza could have had an independent state, and how each time either the greater Arab world, or the Palestinian leadership had rejected or didn’t respond to the Israeli offers.
He said that everything was about the settlements, that Israel stole the land, and that the 22 percent of the land the Palestinians were forced to accept was being taken away from them by settlement growth. These types of statements are usually followed with the claim that Tel Aviv is a settlement on stolen land.
When I asked him why no Palestinian state was created in the 19 years from 1949-1967 when there were zero settlements, while Egypt and Jordan occupied those territories, he said it wasn’t true, and then went on to attack me further. I decided to pursue the argument with him in front of the students.
I asked him, if this were about the settlements and is a purely territorial conflict, then why in 1967 when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in a defensive war, did the Arab League respond to Israel’s offer of returning all of the land with the response of “No Peace, No Negotiation, No recognition” of Israel. He said that was not true. I told him I could not debate with someone with his or her own set of facts, but he again simply said it wasn’t true, and I could see him seething with anger.
I told him about the Camp David and Taba peace talks in 2000 and 2001, where Israel offered control of the Temple Mount to the Arabs, east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and over 90% of the West Bank for an independent Palestinian state, I asked why the response to that offer was the suicidal violence of the Second Intifada.
He merely asserted that was a lie.
I asked him if he knew about the Olmert offer in 2008 where Israel offered 100% of the West Bank with land swaps, the Temple Mount and east Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had never bothered to respond to. He said that was a lie. I told him I had even spoken to the cartographer who had been in the room with Olmert and Abbas to confirm the offer, but my heckler was not impressed; these things had to be lies, as they did not conform to his view of reality.
What about 2014, I asked him, when Israel accepted US Secretary of State John Kerry’s offer of negotiations without preconditions, but the Palestinians rejected the proposal unless all their preconditions were met beforehand.
All lies, of course.
His “facts” neatly fit into a hostile political agenda the goal of which is to destroy Israel – within any border.
That is what BDS is about, not a twostate solution.
After he starting ranting about Israelis never ever prosecuting anyone who commits a crime against Palestinians, I asked him to wait until my lecture was over and I would answer some more of his questions.
He became more belligerent and the organizers of the event asked him to leave, at which time he started confronting the students by screaming, “you are all being brainwashed, and it’s all lies.”
I wish I were the only speaker who has been verbally attacked in what is suppose to be the marketplace of ideas on a college campus. In fact America as a whole is supposed to be a place where free speech flourishes.
Just ask Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, whom pro-BDS advocates recently shouted down in San Francisco.
So what did I tell students to do? If they want to support Israel I recommended a few options: • First, educate yourselves • Tell personal narratives, which are more powerful than a list of facts • Build partnerships on campus with different organizations • Help someone connect to Israel via common interest • Tell the great story of Israel’s humanitarian record • Don’t give up or give in to those who have their own set of facts Why tell this story about a confrontation typical of those we run into as public speakers favoring a strong Israel? The moral of the story is that we all need to know enough of the history, enough of the facts, to be ready to push back wherever we can against the tide of misinformation that otherwise gradually seeps into the general consensus. Look at Europe, where a large percentage of ordinary people think Israel is a bully that should be brought to its knees.
Could this happen here? The enemy is working hard at it.
The author is the director of MEPIN™.
MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org) is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.