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Thursday, November 06, 2003

Masterful Propagandist gives Peace a bad name

Palestinian negotiator Dr Hanan Ashrawi smiles
after receiving the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize at
State Parliament in Sydney, Australia November 6,
2003. Dr Ashrawi was chosen by the Sydney Peace
Foundation to receive the Sydney Peace Prize for her
commitment to human rights, her commitment to the
peace process in the Middle East and for her courage
in speaking against oppression, corruption and for
justice, said foundation director Professor Stuart Rees.
REUTERS/Mick Tsikas/AAP/Pool

In honor of this event, and because I'm still in a mood nostalgic for just one year ago, I'm posting a letter I sent to the Boulder Weekly, but was never published. It was written just before Ashrawi's visit to Boulder in 2002.
Regarding “PLO’s former flack comes to Boulder” by Ron Bain (8/29/02 2002), let me add my comments to the “howls of protest from the local Jewish community.”

The imminent speaking engagement of Hanan Ashwari, former spokesperson for Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, not only falls between 9/11 and Yom Kippur, a solemn time to be sure, but is scheduled during the hours of the Jewish Sabbath. Okay, so the organizers are insensitive, observant Jews cannot attend, and the timing is an affront to the Jewish people. On a scale of 1 to 10 this is far less offensive than, say, a Palestinian suicide-bomb, or a crowd of thousands in Gaza streets celebrating the deaths of Jews or Americans.

We live in a democracy, after all, where we tolerate disparate points of view. Whoever invited Ashwari is allowed to do so, and those who choose to listen to her may decide for themselves if what she says is the truth, and what it means. So what if some of the $8000 speaker’s fee came from mandatory student activity fees paid by Jewish students? Chalk it up to the price one pays for living in a democratic society.

It’s just lucky for us we don’t live in the Palestinian territories, where disparate views can cost people their lives. Only last week, a 39-year-old Palestinian mother of seven and her 18-year-old niece, were “executed” in the West Bank town of Tulkarem for allegedly collaborating with Israel. Members of Arafat’s Al Aqsa Brigade, part of his Fatah movement,” claimed responsibility for the killings. (Where are those UN investigators when you need them?)

Back in Boulder, those who organized the visit of Arafat’s spokesperson to our fair town are saying that they worry for her safety, and expect a hostile reaction from local Jews. Not to worry; chances are very slim that she will meet a fate like that of her Palestinian sisters in the West Bank. Boulder will allow and protect Ashwari’s presence.

Many will hear her speak, and no doubt will shed tears over the suffering of the Palestinian people under “occupation.” The emotional pitch will be high, and the logic muddied, when Ms. Ashwari describes how “the Israeli occupation continues unabated, with a multitude of expressions of direct oppression and authority ranging from military assaults and incursions, to a stifling siege and apartheid-like separation, to home demolitions and assassinations, to abductions and curfews."

Ashwari is an academic, from a wealthy aristocratic Christian family. Rather like Arafat’s wife who lives quite well in Paris, she does not share in the actual hardships that fuel her cause, and fill her purse.

The Flatirons Theatre engagement [The theatre cancelled; she spoke instead to a standing-room-only crowd at the Grand Ballroom, UC-Boulder] will no doubt feature Ashwari’s typical barrage of quasi-Marxist rhetoric, distorted international laws and legalities, as well as a totally mangled version of Middle East history. She will reel off UN Resolution numbers and Articles of the Geneva Conventions until your head spins. She will identify the victims: “The Palestinians, like many victims, became doubly victimized because they were blamed for their victimization.” You get the point?

In case you miss it, she will delineate “the multiple dimensions and compound aspects” of the essential human tragedy, that of the Palestinians, tragically vulnerable, exposed, helpless, captive and defenseless. She will then juxtapose the State of Israel as a rogue state, a powerful oppressor, committing systematic negation, dispossession, dispersion and expulsion of the Palestinians through fear, humiliation and intimidation. Worse still, she will allude to apartheid, ethnic cleansing and “many unknown massacres.”

She will most assuredly speak of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a war criminal, if not a butcher, who has transformed Israeli policy into “officially sanctioned state terrorism.” She will tell you of the Israeli soldier “who aims at Palestinian children’s heads and etches a notch on his gun barrel with every kill.”

She is a masterful propagandist.

I happen to abhor the terrorist regime Ashwari represented, as well as the lack of democracy from whence she comes. It is significant for those who will hear her, and illustrative for us all, that the Palestinian journalists’ union last week declared that news photographers are “absolutely forbidden” from taking pictures of Palestinian children carrying weapons or taking part in militant activities, saying that such pictures harm the Palestinian cause (AP). Note that the concern is for the image, not the children. Hanan Ashwari’s propaganda is of this same ilk.

I assume that in Boulder as elsewhere, she will lie, seek to confuse and deceive, and will endeavor to incite public sentiment against Israel. Not only do I protest this, but I have the following to say to those of you who would listen to her:

· When Ashwari starts spewing “apartheid,” remember that 20% of Israelis are Arabs, with citizenship in the State of Israel. Muslim Arab representatives sit in the Knesset, and the government provides a mosque there for their use.

· When she accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” I want you to ask yourself, who is it that calls for the abolishment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza so that those territories might be free of Jews?

· If she speaks of “the bulldozer of death and destruction,” consider the restraint exercised by Israel in choosing bulldozers, of all things, from among an awesome and variegated military arsenal. Imagine what any other nation might do in like circumstance.

· When Ashwari tosses off references to the Geneva Conventions, know that the Fourth Convention expressly forbids armed militants to pose as civilians and to hide among civilians for protection from attack.

· When she touts UN Resolution 194 as the basis for Palestinian refugees’ right of return (to Israel), you should know that all the Arab states voted against this Resolution.

· Lastly, when she cries “Victim,” put yourself in the booties of an Israeli baby, out for a stroll, for an afternoon of ice cream or pizza.

You who attend her presentation will have to tell me, but there is one thing I can almost guarantee that Ashwari will not say, that she would likely deny, but nevertheless is posted on her website. After noting that “the current tactics have not yielded encouraging results,” it says, and I quote,
“. . . the struggle must be conducted in a noble manner that can be supported by all Palestinians, we must steal the higher moral ground.”
Pay attention. This means that 1) Ashwari doesn’t believe that the Palestinians occupy the moral high ground; 2) Israel does occupy the moral high ground (from whom else would they steal it?); 3) the moral high ground is something that can be achieved by stealing; and 4) despite her extensive political vocabulary in English, Ashwari does not understand the oxymoronic nature of her strategy.

In other words, Hanan Ashwari wouldn’t know the moral high ground if she tripped over it.
Don’t let her fool you.

Postscript: She came, she fooled many, the courtyard of the Ballroom was a sea of angry and aggressive college students in kefiyahs, and she went away. In her wake, the National Alliance (a neo-Nazi, white supremacy organization) blanketed the campus with antisemitic flyers, swastikas were scrawled on the sukkah at CU and antisemitic grafitti was painted on the predominantly Jewish fraternity house. She certainly made an impression; Boulder has never been the same since.

I wonder . . . if CU and other reputable American institutions hadn't sought out this woman, hadn't welcomed her with red carpets and green dollars, hadn't lent their legitimacy to enhance her stature, would she have received this prize in Sydney? Perhaps if Boulder had listened more attentively, and been kinder, to its Jewish community a year ago . . . the world would have become "a different place."

File it under Lost Opportunity.