Wayne State walk-out challenges pro-Zionist “whitewashing” of children's rights issue
DETROIT — Impassioned chants of “Free, Free Palestine!” and “Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation” were heard echoing through the center of Wayne State University's campus yet again on Wednesday, April 4. The chants followed another silent walk-out of a speaking event deemed by a coalition of groups to present a distorted, pro-Zionist-only version of an important issue.
|Students protest at WSU after a walk-out on speaker Brooke Goldstein who was brought to campus by the Jewish Law Students Association. |
PHOTO: Nick Meyer/TAAN
About 70 people conducted the walk-out with the support of the Arab Student Union and Students for Justice in Palestine on campus along with Jewish Voice for Peace in Detroit, speaker Brooke Goldstein, who was brought to campus by the Jewish Law Students Association. Goldstein is the founder and director of the Children's Rights Institute, which says it was created to protect the rights of children throughout the globe.
The groups took issue with the speaker in large part because the organization makes no mention the vastly disproportional deaths of Palestinian children and those in the Arab world compared to Israelis, and seems to focus on isolated, dramatized stories of alleged child suicide bombers.
“They fail to mention that Israel has a regimented child soldier program of their own and that they also have teenagers manning checkpoints with assault rifles, for instance,” said attendee Jimmy Johnson.
A Jewish American student named Matthew said that the decision to walk out was the right one. He said that fellow Jews against the Zionist occupation have faced difficulties finding jobs and wanted to withhold his last name.
“It was the correct decision because the speaker at the event was trying to frame the issue as defending Palestinian children, but the Israeli moral stance is empty because they have caused tenfold the destruction,” he said, “they only want dialogue within the narrow term of child suicide bombers yet they haven't hit Israel in years and those are not fair terms to debate on,” he said.
Statistics from the website, IfAmericansKnew.org show that only two Israeli children have been killed since 2009 in the conflict compared with 320 Palestinians, suggesting a much broader problem. The number going back to 2000 is 1,471 Palestinian kids killed compared with 125 Israelis.
Walk-out participants found out on short notice but still managed to hold a decisive majority at the event and their absence removed about 75% of the room's attendance. The location of the event was moved from the Damon J. Keith Center for Human Rights to another small building the morning of the event in what may have been an attempt to throw off the protesters.
Prior to the event, Goldstein approached the students waiting outside and tried to dissuade them from continuing their walk-out plans, but was unsuccessful. She later asked the audience, many of them with tape over their mouths signifying the silencing of Palestinian children killed, if they believed that “Muslim women and children in Palestine deserved justice,” but was not met with a response from the walk-out participants. Students said they felt she was trying to put them in a corner by asking the vague question during the silent walk-out. Goldstein said that the decision by the students to not engage in dialogue was counterproductive.
ASU President Ali F. Baydoun said that dialogue was not deserved in this case, however, much like with other speaking tours featuring soldiers from the Israeli army in orchestrated PR campaigns.
“I continue to hear calls for an open-dialogue with the Zionist supporters and the creation of a mutual understanding. While I am a big fan of dialogue and mutual understanding, I cannot bring myself to be fooled into thinking that dialogue after 60 years of trying with them is going to magically change things,” he said, calling that approach “the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again, despite continued illegal Israeli land grabs and deferred peace plans)” and pledging that the ASU, SJP, JVP and others would continue with the walk-outs.
Barbara Harvey of the Jewish Voice for Peace wasn't able to attend the event but strongly questioned the invitation of the speaker in the first place.
“This is a speaker who casts one of the world's most respected human rights judges, Richard Goldstone, into the same category as Al Qaeda, because his United Nations committee wrote a report that suggested the possibility that Israel committed war crimes in its attack on Gaza in 2008-09, called Operation Cast Lead,” she said, assertions that many human rights groups have made.
“So it's very interesting that she feels that she has to present herself as a speaker about the trauma to Middle Eastern children who become suicide bombers (a practice that ended years ago), in order to gain access to campus audiences. If she presented herself as a speaker on why Richard Goldstone is a terrorist, in the same league as Al Qaeda, no one would bother to attend.”