I’m responding to Ms. Miller’s guest opinion not as a member of a “choreographed” group of students, but rather as an individual participant in Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor’s lecture.
From what I witnessed, I would say her interpretation of the events as reducing “the intellectual integrity of the classroom…to symbols of hate and hopelessness” as being patently false and in fact a reduction of the larger discussion to a false dichotomy of “right speech” and “wrong speech.” To say that acts of protest are not “engaging in conversation” is a gross under-simplification. Further, it was the remaining attendants of the lecture who rolled down the window shades so as to prevent a view of the students partaking in protest, lined up silently and peacefully along a wall behind the appellate court where the lecture was held, as being those most guilty of not engaging in conversation.
This dichotomy of “right” and “wrong” speech was clearly on display when I was asked to leave the lecture hall after attempting to engage Consul General Tor in a conversation regarding his claim that Israel “refuses to meddle in the internal affairs of its neighbors,” followed by an inquiry as to whether the police presence (two squad cars, two uniformed UC Davis Police Department officers, at least one other plainclothes UCDPD officer, and his personal bodyguard) at the event was normal for a lecture on our campus or at events he attends on other campuses, and whether he knew who paid for this heightened security.
I was publicly booed, shunned by the larger group and forcefully asked to leave by one of the event organizers. I agreed to leave if she would accompany me to answer the latter question about the police presence. However, after attempting to lure me outside with promises to ‘talk after’, and my refusing, she attempted to get a police officer to escort me out. However, seeing how I had not disrupted the event and had only engaged in the public Q&A portion, he did not oblige her request, and I was allowed to stay. After the event, I waited patiently outside but was never again approached by this event organizer.
What became abundantly clear to me though, is the disingenuous nature of Ms. Miller’s invitation to “have a discussion” in the article. Ms. Miller seems guilty of the “anti-intellectual,” “knee-jerk reactions” which she bemoans the student protesters of fostering.
For instance, to begrudge the student protesters from engaging in a discussion coined “Israel Today: Challenges and Opportunities” just because it didn’t explicitly mention Palestine is intellectually counterfeit. It is abundantly evident that the very existence of the Palestinian Peoples poses a fundamental challenge to the existence of Israel with its current policies, and improved relations would seem to be one of the biggest opportunities for “fostering coexistence.”
It is also a severe lack of self-critique that would prevent Ms. Miller from acknowledging the “blind subscription” to ideology present in General Consul Tor’s claim that “Israel only attacks in self-defense”. But when I sought to discourage and draw into doubt this narrow interpretation of the situation, I was encountered with the attendants’ “knee-jerk reactions” and the organizer’s request for my departure.
Further, by merely casting aside such terms as apartheid, colonial, imperial and military occupation as being nothing more than “buzzwords from ideologues” accepted by “liberal sheep”, it is again in fact you, Ms. Miller, who are ignoring our collective responsibility as students to “explore the nuances of important political issues.” By banishing these terms to the historic relics bin, you are, conscientiously or not, attempting to prevent the linkage of Israel’s current policies with those of oppressive states past and present.
Lastly, the claim that “Akiva Tor’s nation of affiliation was enough to spark protest and hate” is again a gross misrepresentation of the student action that I witnessed. I did not see students begrudge General Consul Tor’s nationality, but rather his active role in justifying to the international community and our local community what they interpret as the illegal actions of his nation. This is vastly different from the picture your quote paints of an irrationally angry mob, bordering just this side of anti-Semitism.
The student protestors, in my interpretation, sought to not allow the organizers and attendants of the event to “passively legitimize illegitimate beliefs” by playing host to a man they see as a justifier of crimes against humanity.
I did not see any hate displayed by these students, but if Ms. Miller and others cannot recognize that it is in fact the actions of the State of Israel that elicits this response from individuals, then maybe hopelessness is in line.
However, I am heartened by the well-wishes I received after the event, not just from student activists but from other individual participants, that there still exists in number those who recognize the benefit of a real, unmediated dialogue which rejects notions of “right speech” and “wrong speech” in an attempt to come to a point of honest speech.
– Conrad Samaan