A lecture given by a former adviser to Yasir Arafat last night at Southern Connecticut State University drew a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, as well as a handful of pro-Israeli counter-demonstrators.
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a women’s rights leader and founder of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, spoke of the possibility for a peaceful resolution in the Middle East. In her speech, Ashrawi said she envisions two separate states, a shared Jerusalem and — most importantly — respect of each side for the other.
“The humanity and legitimacy of one side rests on the recognition of the humanity and legitimacy of the other side,” Ashrawi said after her lecture.
The majority of Ashrawi’s talk, which received two standing ovations, focused on women’s role in the peace process throughout the history of the state of Israel. Ashrawi also said she hopes women will help with reconciliation in the Middle East.
Meredith Kalnan, a representative from the International Socialist Organization, said she was happy SCSU gave a balanced voice to the Palestinian side of the Middle Eastern debate. Last May, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak lectured as part of an annual distinguished speaker program.
“Last year, there was a huge campaign around the school to condemn the administrator for bringing in a racist,” Kalnan said.
Kalnan also said that SCSU President Michael Adanti shares Barak’s racist attitudes and that the university invited Ashrawi to balance the scales after students protested Barak’s appearance.
SCSU spokesman Patrick Dilger said the accusations of racism were ridiculous.
“First of all, the President didn’t even bring in Hanan Ashrawi,” Dilger said. “The Women’s Studies Department did. Barak was invited to speak at the annual distinguished lecturer series because he is a distinguished lecturer.”
Dilger also said that because of the University’s setting, students are encouraged to protest.
“It’s part of the exchange of ideas,” he said.
Other demonstrators, including members of the International Socialist Organization, the Yale Coalition for Peace and Yale Students for Justice in Palestine, appeared at the demonstration to protest current U.S. foreign policy.
Samuel Bernstein ’05, who represented ISO and other Yale groups present, expressed his vision for the Middle East.
“In the short term, as an American, America needs to pull out all of their dominations from the Middle East; we need to get out of Iraq and Palestine,” Bernstein said. “In a broader sense, I’d like to see the workers of the Middle East rise up against their oppressors, both against the American oppression and their own oppressive governments.”
But several anti-Ashrawi protesters handed out literature, claiming that Ashrawi wanted merely to promote the cause of anti-Israel Arabs.
“Her lies and deceit know no bounds,” area resident Robert Katz said. “She is not a woman of peace.”
Ashrawi did repeatedly stress the importance of mutual respect and negotiation in her lecture. She also talked about her role as an active Palestinian politician in the current intifada, or Palestinian uprising.
“We knew that if we started the intifada in September 2000, we would be adopting the methods of the Israeli military occupation,” Ashrawi said.
But she added that the brutality of Israeli crackdowns on peaceful Palestinian demonstrations such as the March of the Artists forced the intifada into a violent direction that she does not condone.