Daniel Swindell

Will the real Amena Ashkar please stand up?

Last year, I wrote a blog post for the Algemeiner about an event called, “The North American Nakba Tour: The Exiled Palestinians.”  The tour featured Amena Ashkar, described as a, “23-year-old Palestinian refugee, journalist and translator… She and her parents were born as stateless refugees in Lebanon and have never lived in their own country (Palestine).”  Ashkar is currently traveling around the United States speaking at churches, campuses, and community centers.  She is young, attractive, and sometimes she cries during her talks.  Her favorite words are – human rights, civil rights, and legal rights, which she uses non-stop.  However, there appear to be literally two different Amena Ashkars, or at the least, she gives two entirely different presentations depending on her audience.  One presentation is all about human rights for the Palestinians, while the other presentation is about her insatiable desire to destroy Israel.  In essence, Ashkar embodies the entire dichotomy of Palestinian propaganda; to a western audience the conflict is disguised as a struggle for Palestinian equality, while the real goal is to annihilate Israel.  I know Ashkar, because last year I organized a group to try to cancel her event at the Columbia, Missouri Public Library.

Here is a section of my post:

“Before the event, I found an interview on YouTube in which Ashkar explained that earlier on the tour she had been scheduled to speak at Stanford University, but her hosts warned her not to say that Israel has no right to exist.  Ashkar responded firmly, ‘I came here to say that Israel has no right to exist.’ Ultimately, she cancelled the presentation, rather than capitulate. When I became aware of this information, I organized a group to urge the public library to cancel the room reservation.”

“Ashkar apparently realized that she might generate trouble if she openly denied Israel’s right to exist. In fact, the Tribune asked her beforehand whether she would retract her earlier statement. ‘Reached by phone Thursday, Ashkar seemed unwilling to court further controversy,’ it wrote. ‘She said she would share her thoughts during the event.’”

The Tribune reported our exchange at the event:

“‘Daniel Swindell, a self-described Zionist who attended the event, asked Ashkar if Israel has a right to exist.  ‘Do I have the right to go back to Palestine?’ Ashkar asked Swindell. Swindell again requested an answer to his initial question. ‘You answer my question so I can answer your question,’ Ashkar said. ‘I have the right to exist. Palestine has the right to exist.’ She emphasized that she didn’t say ‘no’ to Swindell’s question.’”

So, during the Columbia Library event, it was a big mystery whether Askar believed that Israel had the right to exist or not, but she did say that Palestine had the right to exist.  However, about a week after the event at the library, another video was published featuring a radio interview with Ashkar and host Steve Johnson on, “The People Speak Radio Show.”  Johnson published the interview with the title, “Israel Has No Right to Exist,” on his YouTube channel called, “Stop Funding Israel.”  Johnson wrote the following description, “Palestinian refugee touring America explaining to Americans about the Nakba and the stolen lands theived (sic) by the terrorist illegal non state of israhell.”  Johnson started the interview by stating, “We are talking to a very special guest right here, Amena Elashkar… She is currently touring the United States talking about her experiences as a Palestinian living in the refugee camps, and more importantly why Israel has no real right to exist.”

Here are some selections from the interview regarding the question of whether Israel has the right to exist.

Johnson: “I have heard you say, before, in a previous interview that Israel has no right to exist.  Can you elaborate on that a little bit more?  Can you explain that to the people listening?  Why it is that Israel is an illegal state?”

Ashkar: “When you just come and establish your uhm (pause), let’s say you a build a new house on the place of someone else’s house, or just take over someone else’s house, or steal someone else’s house, that makes you illegal, is that true?”

Johnson: “Absolutely, yeah, you can’t just steal somebody’s home, and kick out the people living there.”

Ashkar:“Exactly, well, in the same sense, Israel did the same thing, they just kicked people out of their houses, their homes, and their land, and they established their state, which makes it pretty much illegal…. When you are talking about Israel, you are talking about an occupier, that actually took over someone else’s land, and homeland, and in that sense you are talking about the existence of Israel, and if it has the right to exist or not.”

Johnson: “As far as I am concerned there is no such thing as Israel, there is only occupied Palestine, would you agree with that?

Ashkar: “Oh yeah, actually, we don’t use ‘Israel,’ we only use, ‘Occupied Palestine,’ or ‘Occupied Territory.’”

Ashkar also made the somewhat odd claim that there are even laws against the mere existence of Israel, or that Israel does not legally have the the right to exist.

Johnson: “But, it’s true though, Israel doesn’t have any right to exist.  It is just an occupying force that is brutalizing and terrorizing the people.”

Ashkar: “Yeah, legally it does not have the right to exist, but it seems like some people are just too afraid to talk about this.”

Johnson and Ashkar also described the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as being gripped by madness.

Johnson: “Why do you think it is that the IDF are so inhumane and so brutal? Why do you think it is?  Do you think it is a part of their culture?  Or, is it just a madness that has gripped them?

Ashkar: “…I think it is some kind of ideology that they have. Or, it is like just the way they work.”

Johnson and Ashkar also discussed the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, and Johnson thanked God for the (supposed) victory of Hezbollah over Israel.

Johnson: “It is worthwhile pointing out that Israel got their butts kicked by Hezbollah. Is that not true?”

Ashkar: “Well, yeah, that’s true.”

Johnson: “haha, I like to hear that… Al-ḥamdu lillāh (Praise be to God).”

Johnson also asked whether Zionists should be considered as human beings, or rather a separate subspecies, and Ashkar responded that Zionists should not be considered as human beings.

Johnson, “Do you think, that maybe, the Zionists, this is Zionists now, not Israelis, not Jews, are a completely different species?”

Ashkar: Amena giggles, “This is a funny question… laughter… I don’t know…. Maybe yes, maybe they are different species.”

At one point during the interview Ashkar even mentions me and the protest I organized at the library, which means that she was fully cognizant that during the Columbia Library event she had presented a completely different message than the message she presented during the radio interview.  This demonstrates that after she had spent some time in America she realized that she needed to change her message based on her audience.

Here is a summary of how she changed her message: When Ashkar first arrived in America she refused to speak at Stanford University, if it meant that she could not call for the destruction of Israel.  A few weeks later into the tour, by the time she spoke at the Columbia Library, she had realized that her views were not as socially acceptable in America, but rather than change her views, she just temporarily hid her goal to destroy Israel in order to manipulate her audience.  About a week after the Columbia Library event, when she spoke on a radio interview, along with a host who praised Hezbollah, she repeated ad nauseum that her real goal was the destruction of Israel.  In other words, Ashkar has two presentations depending on her audience, in one presentation she is even willing to say that Zionists are not human beings, in the other presentation she is an innocent young women who just cares about helping human beings.  Will the real Amena Ashkar please stand up?

About the Author
Daniel Swindell is a Zionist. He has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Missouri, and has studied in Yeshiva.