A group of anti-Israel students hijacked a lecture by Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat who had travelled to the University of Windsor to talk about his experience as a minority living in Israel because they “refused to allow a Zionist to lead the discussion on such a topic.”
Law student Trevor Sher, who serves as the Jewish Student Association president at the University of Windsor, said Ishmael Khaldi, who has been working for the Israeli Foreign Ministry since 2004, was invited to campus to talk to students on Oct. 21 about his experience as a Bedouin in Israel and about minority rights.
“We thought it would be a good opportunity to provide a forum for intellectual discussion about what is a very complex issue, that is the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Sher said.
“I thought he would be a perfect speaker, as someone who grew up as a minority in Israel can offer an insightful perspective about how minorities are treated and how things really are on the ground for them.”
Sher said he was tipped off that there was going to be a walkout protest of Khaldi’s talk, organized by a campus club called the Palestinian Solidarity Group.
“But we created this as a public event. The purpose of it was to bring in people who wanted to hear Khaldi’s perspective. We didn’t want to close off the event,” he said.
He explained that the JSA, which includes members from all programs at the university, is a law school-ratified club, because most of the Jewish students at the university are in law school. The JSA decided to give priority seating to law students, but once they were all seated, they allowed undergraduate students and the demonstrators to sit in as well.
Sher said Khaldi was about 10 minutes into his presentation when the protest began.
“He didn’t get into anything political. He started off by saying that protesting an event like his is a waste of time, saying, ‘I’m not a politician, I’m just here to share my experience and my story.’ He gave a few examples of the things he’s trying to do to foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Sher said.
In a video uploaded to the Palestinian Solidarity Group’s Facebook page, the protesters can be seen interrupting Khaldi by standing in their seats and taking turns shouting slogans at Khaldi before walking out as a group. One student can be heard saying, “Shame on you for supporting terrorism.”
The walkout tonight was in protest to a pro-Israeli Arab speaker by the name of Ishmael Khaldi. He came to our campus to speak about minority rights in Israel (as if those exist), and we as pro-Palestinians refused to allow a Zionist to lead the discussion on such a topic. After we left we held a talk outside the room to dicuss what is really happening in Israel, and opened the floor to intersolidarity. The pro-Palestinian voice is in charge of leading the discussions on Palestinian human rights on our campus, not Zionists.
Posted by University of Windsor Palestinian Solidarity Group on Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Sher said that once they walked out, those who remained were able to have a dialogue.
“One of the things Khaldi explained after the walkout was that people who take those kinds of actions are a barrier to peace. He made a really powerful statement… about there being only one pathway to peace, and that is through negotiation and dialogue,” Sher said.
He said that following the walkout, the lecture continued, but Khaldi seemed more reserved and less willing to go into depth about Israeli politics and the conflict.
“I think the protesters succeeded to some extent in preventing a dialogue. They made the environment such that it didn’t feel like a real, open and honest dialogue was possible.”
A CJN request for comment from the Palestinian Solidarity Group was declined, but a post on the group’s Facebook page said, “we as pro-Palestinians refused to allow a Zionist to lead the discussion on such a topic… The pro-Palestinian voice is in charge of leading the discussions on Palestinian human rights on our campus, not Zionists.
“A constructive dialogue about Palestine cannot exist with anyone who denies the fundamental facts about the Palestinian occupation – that there is an illegal occupation… and that Israel by all measures is responsible for the vast majority of violence in Israel and Palestine.”
Sher said the protesters followed up their demonstration with an appearance on a campus radio station show, The Shake Up, during which the protesters compared Zionists to neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan.
“They said, the same way you wouldn’t let a neo-Nazi or a member of the KKK talk about black rights, you shouldn’t let a Zionist talk about Palestinian human rights,” Sher said.
“Palestinians are suffering in Gaza and the West Bank, but to place the blame entirely on Israel is historically and factually incorrect.”
Sher said the JSA will not make a formal complaint to the university about the protesters’ conduct.
“While they may not respect our freedom of speech, we respect their freedom of speech. We respect that they are a group that considers themselves to be standing up for what they consider to be a just cause… It’s not our place to deny the Palestinian narrative… I believe in taking the high road and not being brought down to a low level.”