Published in the Arab American News
October 30, 2011
On the Web at:
ANN ARBOR — Last year, the a coalition of University of Michigan student organizations set off a national college trend with their walk-out on a pair of Israeli soldiers at a speaking tour on campus that many deemed a PR campaign to "whitewash" UN war crimes accusations.
On Monday, October 24, many of the same students along with new supporters continued their trend as more than 60 students staged a silent, peaceful walkout of Israeli deputy consul Ishmael Khaldi.
"History has proven that there's no use having a dialogue with an occupying power," Students Allied for Freedom and Equality Education Chair Abbas Alawieh said about the decision to walk out on Khaldi, leaving only about 15 audience members in the Kalamazoo Room of the Michigan League building for his speech.
"Our position on this issue is, end the occupation and that will be the end of the problems (in the region)."
SAFE was joined by members of the Arab Students Association and the Muslim Students Association on campus in their efforts.
The group's co-chair Bilal Baydoun was pleased with how the protest turned out.
"The walkout exceeded our expectations," he said. "We succeeded in rattling the speaker and making him nervous; we sent the message that this campus doesn't welcome him.
"But ultimately, our goal is to prevent someone like this from even arriving on campus in the first place and we feel confident that we will be able to accomplish this as we continue to spread awareness.
Khaldi, who says he's a former Bedouin (wanderer), was invited to speak about what he says are better opportunities presented by Israel to achieve a better life as an Arab in the region.
As the dozens of students walked out on him, he told them that their actions were an example of why the region is struggling to achieve peace.
Alawieh, speaking in the University's Diag courtyard and campus center after the event, strongly disagreed with Khaldi's assertion.
"What Israel and its supporters see as dialogue, the majority of the world sees as a farce of a 'peace process,'" he said, "that has only resulted in the loss of more Palestinian land, the bulldozing of more houses, construction of more internationally illegal settlements, more deaths, and the continued dehumanization of the Palestinians."
He also took issue with Khaldi using his position in Israel as an example of equality, noting that demonstrators held signs noting that Arabs still do not have equal rights in Israel.
"It's almost like saying that racism is gone against African Americans because Barack Obama is president now," Alawieh said.
Alawieh said that the organization wanted to draw attention to the continued occupation of Palestinian land, the reality that Arabs still are far from equals in Israel, and also that Khaldi's boss, Avigdor Lieberman, is on record as having made racist remarks about Arabs.
SAFE member Mike McHenry said he grew up in a pro-Israeli household but changed his viewpoint after becoming a member and attending events like a speech from anti-Israeli apartheid Jewish author Norman Finkelstein last year.
"Learning about the Palestinian issue has changed my viewpoint of human rights issues in general around the world," he said. "What I feel about the speaker is that he seems to have sold out for a better position and benefits for himself within Israel at the expense of his own people."