Photos © by Bud Korotzer Commentary by Chippy Dee
Last Friday evening, April 24th, Haneen Zoabi, Palestinian citizen of Israel and member of the Knesset, spoke to a packed crowd of about 300+ in an auditorium at New York University in NYC. The room was filled beyond capacity with people standing on the sides and sitting on the ground in the aisles. She was invited there by the NYU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. Before she arrived an unsigned leaflet was circulated accusing her of being a friend of Hamas and a supporter of terror. A very small group of Israel’s supporters stood in the rear of the auditorium waving 2 Israeli flags.
MK Zoabi entered from the rear, walking briskly, surrounded by 3 bodyguards. The crowd stood up applauding enthusiastically for many minutes. She appeared moved and a little surprised by the welcome saying that she does not receive such a greeting very often. The bodyguards, ever vigilant, remained close to her.
She then addressed the leaflet attacking her that had been handed out – she was holding a copy in her hand. She said she was elected to the Knesset in 2009, the 1st woman to win election as part of an Arab party. Since then there have been repeated attempts to silence her. She stated that Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East but compared to what, Arab dictatorships? There is certainly no comparison to the U.S. and other western democracies – it is very different in Israel. The democracy in Israel is only for the Jews. She added that she stands against all injustice, not only the injustices against Palestinians. She is a feminist, standing for full equality between men and women and will never agree to give others advantages over Palestinians in our homeland.
She is fighting against racist Zionism, not against Jews. 85% of the Palestinians have been expelled during the ongoing Nakba and have been made refugees. 574 cities, towns, and villages have been destroyed. The names of everything has been changed robbing Palestinians of geographic familiarity and now Palestinians are being driven out of the Negev. She then looked to the back of the room where Israeli flags were still being waved and asked, “What are you so proud of?”
Zoabi said that Israel is threatened by a real democracy because there is a conflict between being a Jewish state and a democracy. Palestinians are the indigenous people of their land and, as here in the U.S., indigenous people have to demand their rights in a democracy. Usually when immigrants arrive in a new land they have to fight for their rights but in Israel it is the other way around. Israel is demanding that she be loyal to the group that is oppressing her. There is a tyranny of the majority there. Over 50 laws discriminate against Palestinian citizens within Israel. Family unification is not allowed, Palestinians cannot bring a spouse into the country. The income of Jews is 3 times higher than that of Palestinians who are marginalized and not allowed to develop an economy. An oppressive legal system is directed against Palestinians.
Then Zoabi noted that she had been talking mostly about Israel and not Palestine. What do Palestinians want? “WE DON’T WANT TO THROW ANYONE INTO THE SEA.” We want to live in full equality with the right of return in 1 state or 2 and we want the occupation ended now. There was no talk about the occupation in the past 3 Israeli elections. Israelis believe nothing is wrong while 50 rabbis recently published a demand that housing should not be rented to Palestinians, 33% of Israeli Jews agreed to imprison Palestinians in concentration camps if a war broke out, and 53% say that Palestinians should not be represented equally with Jews when budgets are created even though they pay taxes. She believes that Palestinians should go to the international court, demand that Oslo be reconsidered, and reject negotiations that have proved pointless. Her conclusion was that, most of all, Palestinians must challenge Israeli racism and be very clear about respecting the rights of Israeli Jews.
Then there was a Q & A period where the audience was able to respectfully ask questions about subjects she did not address in her speech. One of the more interesting questions was, to paraphrase, Do you support BDS even if it means that Palestinians are hurt by it? Her response was an unequivocal, YES, even if it hurts us.
When she finished her presentation she received another standing ovation. People rushed forward to talk to her, pose for photos with her, and shake her hand. When she moved to leave a group of about 30 young men who had come to hear her joined her bodyguards to see that she exited safely. And she left through the front door.