Guest contribution by Bayan Founas
In preparation for the National BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) Conference that took place last weekend at the University of Pennsylvania, there was much controversy regarding the ethics of BDS and its implications of being hosted on the University’s campus. With frank judgment, I anticipated an anti-BDS or pro-Israel type demonstration on campus. Driving there I imagined all sorts of scenarios and confrontations and how I would respond yet only to be dumbfounded by their silence when I arrived to Penn. This shocked me considering how fast media coverage grew as the PennBDS conference approached. I was at least expecting to see a small gathering marked by Israeli flags, but no such activity commenced.
On the second day of the conference we were later informed of anti-BDS advocates present at the conference. Their presence was evident but their attendance was marked by silence. Martin Himel, a Zionist filmmaker, registered as a media attendant later to be discovered posing as a journalist from Canada’s CBC. Himel uses this mask in an effort to gain an insider’s perspective of the conference, attempting to justify the criticisms PennBDS has received. Another presence was marked by StandWithUs, an anti-Palestine group, at Ali Abunimah’s keynote address. When Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, asked the audience if there were any StandWithUs attendees, the crowd was marked by silence. Himel’s alias and StandWithUs’s silence depict such proponents as cowardly and simply pathetic for creating such negative buzz surrounding the conference to only result in no action. Ironically enough, StandWithUs is notorious for working with Israeli officials to muffle those of the Palestinian cause yet self-silenced themselves here.
For weeks, PennBDS has been the target of spewed denunciation by pro-Israeli activists and national organizations, including the University president herself. The organizers were seriously concerned of the predicted confrontations that would ensue on campus and the safety of the conference’s attendees resulting in the request of security guards at the conference. The heightened hatred towards the event therefore made the silence unforeseen. As bothersome as this escalation of controversy was, it turned out to be pointless and a waste of time for the stressed organizers and perturbed speakers that resulted in no gains or losses.
My take as to the rationale of the anti-BDS silence on campus is the witnessing of the nonviolent characterization of the conference. I presume that once one would ascertain the event’s schedule, one could only fathom the unprecedented nonviolent means of resistance by the BDS movement. The anti-BDS advocates could have nothing to hold against the movement and its supporters in regards to StandWithUs’s allegations of “incitement to violence against Israelis” and similar accusations.
Although the anti-BDS advocates were in a way silent, they were very outspoken outside the realm of the conference and I was shocked to find the faculty’s public display of bias at Penn. Excluding the fact that the University’s president took weeks to issue a statement in response to the controversy and a Penn professor’s letter of denunciation and hatred towards the conference in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the university’s Political Science department, who refused to co-sponsor the conference, co-hosted an event the night before the conference featuring Alan Dershowitz discussing the hindrances and negativity of the BDS movement. Regardless of Dershowitz’s past urgencies of Israel to incite violence against Palestine, the department’s decision to co-host one event over the other is a clear form of bias against students’ expression of opinion that the president so vehemently held the University against in her letter to the Daily Pennsylvanian, in which she stated the University’s openness for “exchange of ideas” and “expression of views.”
There is only a matter of time before such hasbara inscribed occurrences will come to an end. Although the faculty failed in maintaining a platform of equal opinions, the silence of the anti-BDS proponents was a step in the turnover of the voiceless to the voiced, the unjust to the just.