About 30 students gathered in the Trotter Multicultural Center on Sunday to hear from Hussein Aboubakr Mansour, an Arab Zionist who discussed his experience living in Egypt during the Arab Spring.
Mansour, now an assistant professor of Hebrew Studies at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., delivered a talk titled “Surviving Tahrir Square: An Egyptian’s Story of the Revolution.” Though Mansour’s remarks touched on his imprisonment during the Arab Spring, a large portion of his speech was also dedicated to advocating for Zionism — broadly defined as a movement supporting the existence of a Jewish state — and condemning radical Muslim movements.
Mansour was born into an Arab Muslim family. He said, as a Zionist, he has very different political views from the majority of those who identify as Muslims. He said he felt constantly threatened while living in Egypt, due to the conflicting nature of his Arab Muslim and Zionist identities. During the Egyptian Revolution, Mansour said he was imprisoned for his pro-Israel views. He sought asylum in the United States in 2012, where he now resides.
“I started to learn Hebrew and learn about the Jewish people and their history,” he said. “For the first time, I started to expose myself to resources and historical sources way different than the sources I had been exposed to as a child. And these stories made much more sense than the ones I had heard about Jews being a ‘super-villain.’ The first time I heard the definition of anti-Semitism, I immediately recognized it because it was everywhere around me. I read for the first time about Jews not as Zionist soldier pigs, but as mothers and fathers. These stories made much more sense and explained reality better.”
Mansour repeatedly emphasized the importance of discussion and education about Israeli causes on college campuses. He specifically called out the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement as anti-Semitic.
“I wish that things like BDS can be called out for what they are, which is bigotry,” Mansour said. “And American campuses, because of their diversity, should be the places where this dialogue starts.”
The divestment movement, set in motion on the University’s campus by the organization Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, has gained widespread attention in the last two years, particularly as resolutions — which would have called on the University to divest from companies that some say facilitate human rights violations in Israel — were proposed in Central Student Government.
Mansour said though many American Muslims as moderate, he wants to see American Muslims take more responsibility for those who subscribe to more radical interpretations of Islam, particularly in light of the recent shooting in San Bernardino — the Dec. 2 attack in which two shooters who were potentially inspired by ISIS killed 14 people during an employee holiday party.
“Muslims in the United States are very different,” he said. “A lot of them are really moderate and they are well integrated in the American environment, but I also want to see them as taking more responsibility. If there’s anyone who has the ability to develop a new moderate understanding of Islam, it’s American Muslims.”
LSA senior Daniel Gordon, a member of the campus pro-Israel student organization StandWithUs, helped organize the event. He denounced the polarization of student groups he believes has been caused by divestment movements.
“We as a campus community have an obligation to ensure we foster a safe learning climate where students of all perspectives feel safe to voice their opinions without retribution or marginalization,” he said.
LSA freshman Rina Steinberg said she found the speaker’s words to be interesting.
“I think we learn that it’s not just a Muslim and Jewish, Zionist and non-Zionist cause,” she said. “It’s a microcosm for a lot of issues going on in the world. And it really inspired me to work towards more communication.”