A Letter to a Student Who Encounters the Israeli Apartheid Week

This year’s Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) carnival is now almost over. Nowadays, the IAW programs have been taking place at universities in more than fifty cities around the world.

The IAW events are an essential tool for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement which seeks to eliminate the Jewish state in favor of the so-called one state solution. This goal is not surprising considering the BDS movement is coordinated by several terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Despite that, many professors and scholars in the Middle East studies have gotten involved in the BDS activity.

I am not trying to convince anyone about anything. I am just speaking my mind with no apologies. I shall exposure perspectives which I would not be allowed to express at BDS events without aggressive interruptions or accusations of not being “neutral.”

While there are trigger warning attributions and safe spaces at universities, there is one particular issue to which these noble rules do not apply: Israel. We are meticulous that our language does not imply any microaggressions against minorities. However, you already might have seen that campus BDS activists do not bother to cover their hatred towards Jews or the Jewish state.

Last year, for example, even the co-founder of the BDS affiliated Students for Justice in Palestine organization, Dr. Hatem Bazian, a longtime lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, got caught in retweeting flagrantly anti-Semitic images. After a seven-decade period of relative calm, Jews have started to censor themselves because of these hate-speakers. The self-censorship is not caused by the far-right, but the far-left.

I am worried about human rights as much as anyone. I wish prosperity, health and a good life for every Palestinian. The problem is, the BDS activism is not about improving the life of the Palestinians.

Were I to illustrate the starting point of activists’ vision of the Middle East peace in one picture, I would choose to portray then 45-year-old PLO leader Yasser Arafat delivering his speech at the United Nations 29th General Assembly on Wednesday the 13th of November, 1974.

Arafat was subtle in keeping his finger on the pulse. Since the student revolution in the 1960’s, the Cuban revolutionary figure Che Guevara was perceived as a messianic icon of revolution. Some people believe any revolution is a good revolution, and thus, revolutionary imago became an even commercially valuable brand. We romanticize villains and pirates. No wonder, Yasser Arafat was successful in branding himself as he dressed up in a yellow jacket and his trademark, famous keffiyeh, with Ray-Ban Wayfarer look-a-like sunglasses on his nose. The minute he walked onto the lectern at the United Nations HQ’s, he looked like a rock star.

Arafat and social-democrat activists were a perfect match. In previous decades, many academics, Christian missionary workers, and students had become painfully aware of the history of imperialism, and so, anxious about their forefathers’ sins, they were willing to align themselves against the Western world order. Thus, in their worldview, if one wished to stand up against slavery, oppression, and poverty, they surely wanted to stand with the poorest of the poor – the Palestinians.

The legacy of Arafat as an archetypical freedom-fighter was that he set up a new framework within which one ought to deal with the Israel–Arab conflict. Based on a homemade myth about racially motivated Jewish invasion into the genuinely Palestinian land, Arafat, who was an Egyptian by birth, said in his General Assembly speech, “Our resolve to build a new world is fortified—a world free of colonialism, imperialism, neo-colonialism and racism in each of its instances, including Zionism.” Towards his final words, he concluded, “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

What happened on that day was that a 157-centimeter-tall man was standing there at the United Nations headquarters in New York threatening the world with terrorism. The world reacted to the threat by doing everything to keep the olive branch from touching the ground. Arafat’s strategy of shaping public opinion proved to be very successful. Many non-governmental organizations, churches, and human rights activists swallowed the narrative hook, line and sinker.

Now, let us look at the other side of the coin.

What is significant here is that there was no language of religion in Arafat’s message. There were no signs of doomsday Jihad in Arafat’s outfit. Moreover, whenever Arafat spoke of religions, he was careful to mention Islam and Christianity, and in some cases even Judaism, as equal bodies of religions against Zionism.

But in reality, however, Yasser Arafat was not secular. Quite the opposite, he was a stealth cold Islamist. As it was pointed out already in the 1990’s, Arafat’s output in Arabic was completely different from the story he reiterated in front of the Western TV cameras.

Twenty years ago, in April 1998, Arafat gave a widely recognized interview on the Egyptian Orbit satellite TV channel. Asked about the peace process which earned him a Nobel Peace prize in 1994, he compared the Oslo Accords to a truce prophet Mohammed signed in 628 CE. Known as the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Mohammad agreed to make a ten-year peace with the Meccan tribe of Quraysh. The agreement was opposed by one of Mohammad’s chief aides, Omar Bin Khatib, who called it an “inferior peace agreement.”

Arafat said, “I do not compare myself to the prophet, but I do say that we must learn from his steps and those of Saladin… The peace agreement which we signed is an ‘inferior peace.’”

In Mohammed’s case, the peace agreement with the Quraysh tribe lasted less than two years.

There might be dispute over the reasons Muhammad broke the deal. But there is one thing beyond disputing. Yasser Arafat never meant the peace between Israel and the Palestinians to be permanent. In the Orbit channel interview, Arafat praised Palestinian suicide martyrs openly. He hoped he could join them one day. There was no word for olive branch in Arafat’s Jihadist glossary. Arafat’s brutality became explicit in that he accepted recruitment of children to carry out Jihadist suicide attacks. This is violence of which the theological foundation is shared by any Sunni Jihadist grouping, including those of al-Qaida and Isis.

Even today, if someone in the younger generation affirms the call for Jihad to carry out a suicide attack, the Palestinian Authority’s officers come to visit the family. They decorate the house, celebrate the martyr, and pay generously to the family. Last year, the Palestinian Authority paid nearly $350 millions to terrorists and their families.

Yet it is wrong to assume that all parents would be proud of their child’s crime. What about parents who fear the officers so much they cannot tell them, you are not welcome? The sad fact is, the campus BDS activists do not care about the predicament of these peaceful Palestinians. They do not serve the needs of the people, but of the Islamist authority.

Since the death of Arafat, a similar game of double-talk has been sported by President Mahmoud Abbas. In mid-September 2015, Abbas spoke like an al-Qaida preacher on Palestinian TV as he stated, “Every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every shahid [martyr] will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God.”

About two weeks later, Abbas showed up with a different face as he spoke at the UN General Assembly in New York. He said that the Palestinians will no longer continue to be bound by the Oslo Accords unless they receive “international protection” from Israel.

No one is saying, you would not be allowed to criticize Israel. No society is perfect, and therefore, it is necessary to seek better solutions for the sake of the common good. What bothers me, is that I never hear BDS activists criticizing the Palestinian National Authority.

What surprises me is that instead of pointing out the Islamist double-talk, some academic scholars of the Middle East studies choose to get involved in the BDS activism. On what basis should this be regarded as a neutral and independent stand? We live in a world of fake news and so-called alternative facts. The Israeli Apartheid Week’s BDS activism spreads one-sided narrative of which the quality and purpose meet all the marks of populist fake news.

About the Author
Juhani Huttunen is a Finnish journalist who has focused on the Middle East issues. He is of a Lutheran Christian background. Views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect any official position of any agency or media company.
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