Maryland: BDS Occupies Takoma Park

The partisans to whom Takoma Park provided a platform tonight” want “to destroy the state of Israel and deny its people their rights to self-determination,” stated Jonathan Levy on July 23 at the Maryland Washington, DC, suburb’s community center. This audience member accurately assessed the predominant Israel-hatred of an overflow crowd and panel that attended a city-sponsored screening of the anti-Israel screed Occupation of the American Mind, a free online movie.

Well-known capital-area supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) economic warfare movement against Israel interspersed an audience that filled an auditorium as well as another room with an event livestream. Members from the local chapter of the radical fringe group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) such as Shelley Cohen-Fudge attended along with another current capital resident Miko Peled, a renegade self-hating Israeli Jew. Episcopalians from the local diocese, Steve France, Tom Getman, and James Cobey, also came; the latter chatted with Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, the CATO Institute’s “libertarian” sharia apologist. Zainab Chaudry from the Hamas-derived Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was also present, while Delinda Hanley reported on the evening for the anti-Israel rag Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Many of these individuals have previously cooperated to screen Occupation of the American Mind at places such as Washington, DC’s National Cathedral.

Groups including JVP had called upon their ilk to pack the event venue for a film whose antisemitism had provoked outrage that led to postponement of a previously planned June 13 community center screening. For example, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Takoma Park resident, had condemned the film’s “anti-Semitic garbage” in a Facebook post. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, DC, (JCRC) had likewise denounced the event and refused an invitation to participate in the post-screening panel.

Referencing this controversy, the panel began with a reading from a letter by the longtime American Middle East diplomat Dennis Ross, who denounced the film’s focus on promoting “conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the media.” The city’s hired moderator (hired for under $1,000, according to Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart), Theo Brown, also read excerpts from a letter opposing the event signed by eight of nine Montgomery County Council members. He also quoted a later published statement by the Jewish Maryland State Senator Benjamin Kramer, who decried that this “propaganda film” supporting BDS advocates would “connect them to their 12th-century roots” of “blood libel.” Meanwhile the Washington, DC-based Alliance for Israel led protests outside the community center.

The two panelists fulfilled the event’s worst expectations. A Jewish attendee later accurately wrote that Matthew Mayers from the Washington, DC, chapter of the leftist “pro-Israel, pro-peace” J Street was “timid” in his remarks on the film and in defense of Zionism. In contrast, Taher Herzallah from the odious Hamas-aligned American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) lived up to his previous anti-Israel extremism with “strident polemics of hate.”

Matthews limp comments included a whitewash of the film as “obviously an advocacy piece, you might call it a propaganda piece,” but “I do not think it is anti-Semitic. If it was I would not have been here.” He took a conciliatory tone towards Israel’s Palestinian foes with J Street’s advocacy of the increasingly repudiated Israeli/Palestinian two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. “There are two competing narratives that are both viable, that are both legitimate” and a “claim on this land for two peoples,” he stated, while “there is an occupation. It is real and it is brutal.”

To audience applause on several occasions, Herzallah brutally dismissed such reconciliation gestures and the “outrageous nature” of any “perceived equivalency between the Palestinian narrative and the Zionist-Israeli narrative.” “The narrative of the colonizer is not a viable narrative,” he stated in denial of any indigenous Jewish roots in Israel. He actually welcomed the refusal of various Israel advocates to oppose him on the panel, for the “this aura of objectivity by including an opposing voice” is “ludicrous and ridiculous.”

Herzallah was equally adamant towards Brown’s question whether “Israel has the right to exist as an independent Jewish democratic state.” Herzallah denounced that hereby a “Palestinian is asked whether or not the colonizer has a right to colonize his homeland” and that this question “is used as a litmus to characterize me in a certain way.” “Zionism manifests itself on the ground today” in a “genocide of the Palestinian people,” he ludicrously asserted, and therefore “either we stand with liberation or stand with slavery.”

Herzallah promoted the demographic destruction of Israel’s Jewish state with a “right of return” for millions of descendants of perhaps 600,000 Arab refugeeswho lost their homes in Israel during its 1948 independence war. This “main pillar of the Palestinian cause” means that the “Palestinians have a right of return to their native and indigenous homeland in whatever numbers we please and we like at any time and any juncture.” “This is not something to be negotiated; this is something that is enshrined in international law with UN resolutions that were passed decades ago,” he stated in distortion of international law on the issue.

Several audience statements reflected Herzallah’s vitriol, such as that of Peled, who argued that many Jews historically opposed Zionism as a “racist-settler colonial ideology that says that I as a Jew have a right to live in Palestine.” Ahmad quoted the article “War Guilt in the Middle East” by his friend, the late libertarian crank and Israel-hater Murray Rothbard. Leading the evening’s JVP contingent, Benjamin Douglas declared that Americans “are supporting the occupier.”

One person claimed that Israel is engaged in the “ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.” A young man who announced himself as a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) stated that Israel “is actually genociding the Palestinians every day.” “The IDF are the real terrorists,” he added.

By contrast, several Jewish audience members agreed with an older Jewish woman who became “very queasy” at the event. She recounted how she had worked for decades for a two-state solution and how for liberal-leaning people like her “most of us can’t stand” Israel’s conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet she rejected the diatribes of Herzallah and others, as “I am proud to be a Zionist. I don’t like the sullying of that word.” She emphasized the Jews’ roots in their ancestral homeland of Israel, for “as my Muslim brothers and sisters face east five times a day, we face east three times a day” in prayer towards Jerusalem.

A Jewish man meanwhile noted that his parents were Holocaust survivors. “Based on what is going on here tonight, the laughter, the snarky remarks, my parents would be rolling in their graves,” he stated. “Many of the views expressed here are really consonant with David Duke,” he added amidst audience groans.

Another Jewish man similarly stated that “I am frightened to my core by what I have seen in the movie and what I have now experienced as being part of this event.” “I am frightened for myself. I am frightened for the good people of Takoma Park. I am frightened for my children.” The kind of atmosphere at the event “leads to a future Kristallnacht.”

Mayers concluded the night by likewise criticizing several event comments as “very disturbing.” Like Levy and other Jewish attendees, Mayers, who has Israeli relatives, extolled Zionism as the “national liberation movement of the Jewish people” and was “proud that my daughter will be a Hebrew-speaking Zionist.” While he wanted to collaborate with others to achieve Arab-Israeli peace, he expressed opposition to anyone whose “goal is to end the state of Israel or to defeat Zionism.”

Mayers experience at this Takoma Park anti-Israel hatefest demonstrated the correctness of other Jewish leaders in boycotting the event (including special security and a candy desert reception), but the night was not without salutary lessons. Herzallah clearly validated the illusory nature of any hope in having insightful discussions with a zealot like him over a film like Occupation of the American Mind. However precisely this displayed fanaticism manifests in miniature why the visions of would-be peacemakers like J Street are futile and why hackneyed ideas like the traditional two-state solution will fail.

Herzallah indicates that Israel continues to face numerous dangers from a Palestinian population that is still largely committed to Israel’s erasure through any combination of violent or nonviolent means like BDS. Only a reprise of President Ronald Reagan’s strategy to win the Cold War in a policy like that of the Middle East Forum’s Israel Victory Project will break the historical Palestinian rejection of Israel voiced by Herzallah. Until then, détente-like initiatives anywhere in the world with Israel’s sworn enemies will remain just as pointless as this recent evening in Takoma Park.

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