- DURHAM, North Carolina --
A weekend conference urging divestment from Israel got underway at Duke
University on Friday and continued into Saturday with speakers equating
Zionism with South African apartheid and some calling for an end to an
exclusively Jewish state.
- The gathering, the fourth organized by the Palestine
Solidarity Movement, stirred up emotions in the Duke community, with many
Jews outraged by the PSM's refusal to condemn Palestinian violence. As
a result, some Jewish professors on campus refused to take part in the
- The Duke administration allowed the conference to take
place because it said it was committed to free speech.
- "We felt without a renunciation of violence, it's
hard to have a conversation," said Eric Meyers, director of Judaic
studies on campus.
- As of late Saturday, the heavily guarded events were
peaceful. Only a handful of local protesters gathered outside the main
venue of the PSM conference, a campus gym, to demonstrate. But at least
one busload of Jewish demonstrators was expected to arrive early Sunday
morning and some PSM representatives warned of possibly violent
- On Friday evening, Dianna Buttu, legal advisor in the
PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department, applauded the International Court
of Justice's ruling that determined the West Bank barrier is illegal and
ought to be torn down. She told an audience of a few hundred, many dressed
in "Free Palestine" tee-shirts and keffiyehs, that South African
apartheid was no different than Israeli occupation.
- "Israel is attempting to rid itself of the
as much as possible while taking as much land as they can," she
- She called Israel's barrier a "means of entrenching
a system of discrimination," and said the route of the fence was
to accommodate future settlement expansion.
- Rev. Mark Davidson, a Presbyterian pastor from Chapel
Hill, said the Church leadership's recent decision to explore ways of
its holdings from certain businesses that have operations in Israel, was
a way of "prodding Israel to live up to its highest
- When asked by one audience member whether she would
a divestment campaign that targeted far worse human rights offenders than
Israel, such as China or Sudan, Buttu said other divestment campaigns would
be legitimate but that Israel deserved to be singled out.
- "I think that right now the greatest abuser of human
rights is not, as you put it, China. The greatest abuser of human rights
and the greatest threat to international security is Israel," she
- When another questioner asked if divestment could gain
more popularity if the PSM agreed to condemn violence as a form of
Buttu said it was not her place to dictate policy of local activists.
think it's up to the organizers," she said.
- On Saturday, Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Yale University professor
and the co-founder of Al-Awda, the Palestine Right of Return Coalition,
referred to Zionism as a "disease" and said the media only
on "resistance to colonization" not on the violence of
and ethnic cleansing" by Israel. He also rejected a two-state
"We ought to stop talking about these vague concepts about a two-state
solution," he said.
- Nasser Aburfarha, a doctoral candidate at the University
of Wisconsin, also rejected a two-state solution and called for some
of Israel and Palestine in the future, but noted that Palestinians would
not abandon their right to return to their historic homes, inside Israel
proper. Palestinians remain "connected to historic Palestine,"
- Outside the conference, a small group of Jewish students
called on participants to condemn Palestinian violence. "Tell the
PSM to condemn terrorism. Put it in your guidelines," one
- Later in the afternoon, PSM attendees participated in
workshops. One featured representatives of the International Solidarity
Movement, which sends Americans to the West Bank and Gaza to protest
construction of its barrier and the demolition of Palestinian homes and
- The organizer of the workshop, Huwaida Arraf, said the
group only engages in non-violent tactics, but acknowledged, "We don't
refuse to work with anyone." The ISM has been accused of cooperation
with Hamas and other violent Palestinian groups.
- Across campus, at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life,
Jewish students gathered for an "Israel Teach-In," with lectures
on Zionism, US-Israel relations and how to confront anti-Semitism. Some
expressed concern about the PSM conference.
- "Many Jews suspect they are trying to take advantage
of naive college students who want to right injustices," said David
Breau, a Duke University law student who helped bring the bombed-out shell
of Egged Bus No. 19 to display on campus last week. They want to say,
these Palestinians are suffering. Let's paint Israel as the bad
- Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, at an afternoon
panel on America's role in the Middle East, gave a blistering assessment
of the Bush administration's policies in the region, charging that the
war in Iraq had made Israel less, not more secure, and challenging the
notion that President George W. Bush's support for Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon had benefited Israel.
- "A parent who does everything that his kid asked
for is not necessarily a good parent," Burg said.
- He urged American Jewish voters not to vote solely based
on which president they believed was best for Israel.
- "If there is one thing that I pray to God won't
happen, is that American Jewry will become a single-issue community,"
- Burg also questioned the effectiveness of Israel's
tactics vis-a-vis the Palestinians.