The “Against Israeli Apartheid!” event on March 10 was supposed to be no laughing matter. Yet the hundred or so audience members at the panel hosted by NYU’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter chuckled as Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal, two outrageous detractors of Israel, spoke. Abunimah and Blumenthal are dangerous. They are well-educated — Abunimah has degrees from Princeton University and the University of Chicago while Blumenthal has a degree from the University of Pennsylvania. They are fantastic orators and they are overflowing with charisma. These characteristics endow them with an aura of credibility. As a result, people are blind to their deceptions, distortions and slander.
Blumenthal began the night with the discriminatory precondition that anyone who felt uncomfortable with the facts that he and Abunimah were about to vocalize could feel free to “click their heels together five times” in order to be “instantly transported to a Hillel house on campus, with 24-hour G4S security.” What had been labeled as an anti-Israel panel had swiftly become explicitly anti-Semitic.
Both Abunimah and Blumenthal said that Israel oppresses the minority citizens of the country. How could this be when Arab-Israelis living in Israel have the same rights as Jewish-Israelis? In fact, there are 12 elected Arab members in the Israeli Parliament. Meanwhile, Palestinians elected many members of Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization whose charter calls to destroy Israel, to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006. A year later, in 2007, Hamas executed a military coup in Gaza. In Judea and Samaria — the West Bank — the Palestinian Authority has control of the predominantly Palestinian areas, as delineated in the Oslo Accords.
The double standard for the panel was clear. Abunimah scoffed at the claim that Palestinian rock throwing could hurt anyone. Then, he painted a harrowing picture of a Palestinian family whose life was forever destroyed when an Israeli Molotov cocktail hit its car. To be clear, the plight of this Palestinian family is heartbreaking. However, rock throwing by Palestinians has certainly destroyed many Israeli lives. The examples — from Adele Biton to Yosef Ishran and Koby Mandell — are numerous. Those who are truly interested in human rights do not differentiate between the nationalities of the perpetrators, nor the victims, of violence.
NYU students should not tolerate one-sided defamation on campus. There must be freedom of speech, but students should reject hate and intentional deception. If Abunimah and Blumenthal were truly interested in a better future for Palestinians, they would have recognized that the complexity of the situation can only be solved through honest, multifaceted dialogue. Once this notion reaches the forefront of the speakers’ minds, we can have a genuine panel on peace.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 25 print edition. Avital Kaplan and Josh Lavine are contributing columnists. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.