Chants, jeers and cheers filled the Michigan Union Ballroom during an Arab-Israeli public forum and debate featuring speakers Ali Abunimah, vice president of the Arab-American Action Network, and Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America.
The two men focused much of the discussion on debating the merits of establishing a Palestinian state.
“The best way to stop terrorism is to undermine the regimes that promote terror,” Klein said.
“There are 22 Arab countries and only one Jewish state. Let them have that,” Klein said. “It’s the Arabs that went to war against Israel. Do we need another Arab state?”
Klein added the best way to resolve conflict between the two sides is by first stopping terrorism.
Abunimah spoke in response to Klein’s statements, clarifying his position.
Klein “is basically advocating ethnic cleansing,” Abunimah said. “He is saying, ‘Why don’t Palestinians go to one of the 22 other Arab countries.'”
Abunimah said Klein used faulty reasoning, assigning total blame to one group and innocence to the other. He said that in Klein’s eyes, “there are people in the world who are good (Israelis) and there are people who are bad (Palestinians).
“You can use this explanation for anything. People make racist arguments to explain things away. Basically, until the bad people become good, we don’t have to treat them any better,” Abunimah added.
When the panelists were asked what their one message to the University community would be, both were clear about which point they wanted to emphasize.
“University of Michigan – don’t reward terrorism,” Klein said. “Terrorists should know that they won’t get land. They won’t get anything if they continue.”
Abunimah asked the University community to “understand that there are those in Israel as well as Jews all over who don’t support the extremist view of my opponent and their voices are not being heard. People need to hear a wide range of views and they did not get that in the pro-Israeli side tonight,” Abunimah said.
A number of Jews in attendance expressed their distaste for Klein’s opinions, saying Klein’s views were not indicative of all Jews. “Mr. Klein’s stance is not one that many progressive Jews share,” Rackham student Greg Epstein said. “The pro-Palestinian side made some good points. That’s not to say that I agree with everything he said, but he was right to say that this particular speaker doesn’t represent Jews, Israel or Judaism. … I don’t feel like this man speaks for me whatsoever.”
Few events on campus are sponsored jointly by pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups, and many people were unsure if the debate would ease campus tension and promote understanding. “I’m not sure it accomplished anything, but if it accomplishes something, let it be that both sides hear and actually listen to the other point of view,” Law student David Wolkinson said.
“No matter what kind of event is sponsored, you’re always going to have a skewed view of the truth,” said Bashar Al-Madani, a member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.
“People need to educate themselves. Too many people hide behind one cause or another. I hope people take these views and then take the initiative to educate themselves. This is a conflict that will be resolved through reason and logic – not passion and emotion.”