On March 11th 2016, The Dalhousie Gazette published a piece by Mary Macdonald and Leah Aubrecht titled “Re: on the Neglect of the Palestinian Suffering.” The piece starts with an attack on Dr. Amal Ghazal’s lecture “The Origins of Zionism and the Age of Colonialism,” and transitions rather oddly to a general attack on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In this piece, we would like to put the authors’ cliché attacks on the BDS campaign aside (we have already addressed similar attacks in a previous article in The Gazette). We want to, instead, focus on the first aspect of the original article: the attacks on the lecture.
First of all, the authors describe the audience at the lecture as being “partisan.” This claim had us initially wondering how the two authors came to such a conclusion. Dr. Ghazal’s event, given its academic nature, drew an unprecedentedly diverse audience. This audience included members of the academic community, history students, and (in clear contrast to the authors’ claim) representatives of pro-Israel groups on campus. The authors’ mere presence in the lecture showcases the erroneous nature of their claim.
In reality, the authors likely based this false image on the way that the audience received their disruptive contributions in the event. One of the authors interrupted Dr. Ghazal on several instances, and completely ignored the etiquette of a speakers’ list. She yelled over the presenter and the moderator, thus disallowing more members of the audience from asking questions and ultimately forcing the event to an early end. These disruptors-turned-authors seem to have mistaken the audience’s justifiable frustration with the disrespect that they showed towards the lecturer for a political bias. If our audience was biased, it was biased towards its right to listen to the lecture without disrespectful interruptions.
The authors also state that Dr. Ghazal made a “misleading claim” that the Palestinians are the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine. Rather than focus on the arguments surrounding land claims, we would instead like to point out that Dr. Ghazal did not make any reference to land rights. Her lecture focused on the origins of Zionism as a political and nationalist movement, and the specific historic point in time when European immigration began to that part of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, upon receiving a belligerent comment from one of the authors of the article (in which she described the lecture as “bullshit”), Dr. Ghazal drew a clear distinction between Jewish cultural ties to historic Palestine, and Zionism as a modern political project aimed at creating an ethnically homogenous state.
The authors make claims that Dr. Ghazal labelled all European Jews as “white supremacists.” Throughout her lecture, Dr. Ghazal focused on the political atmosphere within Western Europe in the second half of the 19th century, and the rise of Zionism, nationalism, and colonialism. She made no reference to race, other than the historical fact that the Zionist elite was made up of educated white men of the European upper class. Beyond race, Dr. Ghazal was attempting instead to speak to the origins of colonialism as a Western European phenomenon, and that the Zionist movement was directly engaged with, and inspired by, the political discourse of the age and place in which they lived. As any reputable scholar would know, no one can live in isolation from their socio-political and historical context. Movements, such as Zionism, were very much influenced by, and involved in influencing, the political discourse of Western Europe. To argue otherwise does a great disservice to the founding fathers of this movement, who, as Dr. Ghazal pointed to in her lecture, used colonial language to articulate their project.
Perhaps the confusion over Dr. Ghazal’s responses came from the lack of focus of the authors: as they were busy yelling attacks of anti-Semitism over the speaker, the moderator, and members of the public in attendance, it must have been difficult for them to give their undivided attention to the well-researched and factual arguments which Dr. Ghazal presented.
We, Student Against Israeli Apartheid, have a long track record of hosting very open events. We welcome everyone, including those who disagree with our message. However, what happened at Dr. Ghazal’s lecture fell below the standards of civility and respect that are required in a healthy academic or university environment. The authors of the piece, “Re: on the Neglect of the Palestinian Suffering,” were deliberately disruptive and disrespectful. They came with the intent to embarrass the lecturer and the organizers, and in doing so hindered the ability of the rest of the audience to enjoy and learn. They are the last people who should be speaking to the credibility of Dr. Ghazal, a reputable and globally renowned scholar.