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Pro-palestinian Conference is Mix of Agendas, United Against Israel by Rachel Pomerance

“We are all Palestinians,” read the eco-green shirt for sale.

“Palestine will be free from the River to the Sea,” one T-shirt said on the front, and “Palestinians for life, refugees until return” on the back.

Another table at the Second National Student Conference on the Palestine Solidarity Movement, held Oct. 12-14 at the University of Michigan, sold Palestinian paraphernalia such as flags and keffiyehs.

Material was available from Jews Against the Occupation and the Women in Black peace group.

Several groups protested U.S. policy on Iraq and a few political campaigners were on hand, even one pushing the presidential candidacy of Lyndon LaRouche.

Above the collection was a disclaimer: Not all views represented are those of the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, the pro-Palestinian student group that sponsored the conference.

Indeed, the conference was a sort of ideological grab bag whose common theme was opposition to Israel.

“If they are mad about the Holocaust,” then Berlin would be the “right place” for Jews to take over, said Sami Al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor under federal investigation for alleged ties to terrorist groups.

In his speech at the conference, Al-Arian engaged the audience in an evangelical-style call-and-response where “Israel” was the only answer to a litany of accusations.

For example, he asked, Which country in the Middle East has been protected from more than 30 U.N. resolutions by a U.S. veto?

A U.S. official later dismissed Arian’s assertion as “just rhetoric.”

The conference’s opening speaker, Washington talk-show host Mahdi Bray, called Israel “an oppressive, racist, apartheid state,” and drew parallels between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and America’s treatment of blacks.

It’s the “same soup, just a different bowl,” whether it’s Nablus or Soweto, Bray said.

Israel wants the Palestinians to be the “new niggers of the Middle East,” Bray said, providing cheap labor while receiving few rights.

Bray’s speech received a standing ovation.

Far-left Israeli professor Ilan Pappe, director of the International Relations Division of Haifa University, called Israel’s policy the most “callous and brutal occupation” since World War II.

Ethnic cleansing is at the “center of Israeli politics,” Pappe said, urging activists at the conference to bypass the “evil American administration and its evil policies in the Middle East.”

American Jewish activist Adam Shapiro — who gained headlines when he took shelter in Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s besieged Ramallah compound last spring said he may go to Iraq to make sure Israel doesn’t take advantage of a U.S. war to deport Palestinians there.

Conference attendees agreed on one thing: their mission statement, adopted at the University of California at Berkeley last year during the first such Palestine solidarity conference, and reconfirmed at this year’s parley.

The statement calls for “the full decolonization of all Palestinian land, including settlements, which are illegal under international law; the end of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem and all Arab lands; the recognition and implementation of the right of return and repatriation for all Palestinian refugees to their original homes and properties; and an end to the Israeli system of apartheid and discrimination against the indigenous Palestinian population.”

It also “condemns the racism and discrimination inherent in Zionism.”

Nowhere does it mention peace with Israel.

In fact, conference backers stressed that the Palestinians were right to reject the 2000 Camp David peace package, in which Israel offered to withdraw from virtually the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip and divide Jerusalem if the Palestinians declared an end to the conflict.

“Had they accepted that, then we would be stuck,” said Jesse Bacon, 25, representing the Palestine Solidarity Committee in Seattle. “We wouldn’t be able to keep resisting. Everyone would say they have their three or four chunks of state.”

Speakers insisted that the anti-Israel movement was gaining steam, largely because of publicity surrounding accusations that the movement is anti-Semitic.

A Palestinian professor of Islamic studies at U.C. Berkeley, Hatem Bazian, thanked pro-Israel forces, whose opposition had given the anti-Israel movement such publicity.

The movement is “only going to grow and grow and grow because the Palestinian cause is the one for people to join,” Bazian said.

Andrea Fischer Newman, a university regent, seemed concerned by that possibility.

“Because of the coverage of the conference, we’ve given worldwide credibility to this issue,” she said.

While organizers “cloak it in rational discussion,” the real purpose of the conference is “the end of the State of Israel,” she said.

Fischer is up for re-election Nov. 5. Her opponent, Ismael Ahmed, is the executive director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, which endorsed the conference.

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