Jerusalem Panel Discussion

On December 13th, 2017, I attended a panel discussion entitled “Jerusalem: Solution or Problem?, hosted by The Global Policy Institute (a division of BAU International University in Washington, DC) in their office at 1510 H St NW. Every single person on the panel condemned the president’s declaration that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, and every single member of the panel was exceedingly politically correct and sympathetic to the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.

I attempted to broaden the range of dialogue by asking a question at the very end, and I will link to a short clip of this interaction on youtube at the bottom of this article. I will also include a transcript, as the audio is less than perfect. If anyone would like to help me add subtitles, feel free to contact me at Also, the entire livestream of the event is available on the Global Policy Institute’s facebook page, and runs for about 2 hours. Quotes I give in this article are based on my personal paper notes, taken during the event, and may vary very slightly in wording from the transcript of the video.

Anyway, the session opened with a woman who provided the official position of BAU International University, which was a “two state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma. “We don’t want to make winners and losers out of the major religions” she said. Then, another man came up and spoke in what I believe to be Hebrew, although I can’t be certain. Anyone who watches the livestream can feel free to inform me if I am mistaken.

A man named Paulo took the mic, and began speaking in English. “This is a strange development, to use a charitable word,” he began, referring to the president’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. He then made a reference to Berlin as an analogy for what is happening currently in Jerusalem.

“Berlin was the original capital,” he said, “and reunification was done peacefully.” He went on: “No other country in the world has ever recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” I am assuming that he is referring to the history of modern Israel, specifically.

A female member of the panel, named Ros, took the microphone and proceeded to inform us of the modern history of Israel. “My heritage is British Empire,” she explained, and then gave a brief overview of British and French colonialism in the middle east in the early 20th century. She mentioned the 1916 Anglo-Arab Alliance, and the 1917 Balfour Declaration (the declaration by England that the Jews could have a national home in British “Mandate” Palestine).

She also mentioned a seemingly bizarre episode which occurred in 1903, where noted British politician and colonial administrator Joseph Chamberlain suggested that the Jews could all go to Kenya. In this “Uganda Proposal,” as it was termed, Chamberlain expressed sympathy to the Zionist cause and offered them land in Kenya. The Jews didn’t want to go to Kenya and the British settlers in Kenya didn’t want the Jews, so that never happened.

Ros went on to mention World War II and the holocaust. She explained that the Jews fled to the Levant after WWII in search of “peace and security” (I guess we see how that turned out). She then mentioned UN Resolution 181, which was a plan to have independent Jewish and Arab states with Jerusalem ruled by a special, international council.

The next speaker was a man named Nihad Awad, the Executive Director and cofounder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a self-described Muslim advocacy group which has been accused of having ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The chief rhetorical tactic employed by CAIR seems to be to liken the situation in Palestine to a civil rights struggle. Aware that Americans care about civil rights, they deliberately push this angle; this was apparent in the dialogue that followed.

Mr Awad described CAIR as a “civil rights organization” for Palestinians. “In 1948, the Palestinians were driven out by force,” he began. He is referring to the end of the 1st Arab-Israeli war, which occurred after decades of conflict in the region in the wake of the Balfour declaration. This was the year that modern Israel officially became a state.

“I grew up in a refugee camp, no running water or paved roads,” he explained. “I traveled to Europe when I was 18, I wanted to be a US citizen; the American people, they do not know very much about foreign policy.” He then went on to blame “Zionist propaganda” for the prevalence of American sympathy for the state of Israel. He accused the United States of “never being an honest broker in negotiations.” In reality, the United States throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s was actually fairly lenient towards the Arabs, and often conflicted with even moderate views within the Israeli government.

“Why is the US siding with the occupier?” he asked. He implored Americans to “protect minorities.” Mr. Awad then went on to name “ the two reasons” why the United States supported Israel:

  1. “Christian Zionism” (the fringe belief that the Jews must retake Jerusalem in order to bring about the second coming of Christ)
  2. Zionism has managed to “brainwash Americans”

“Palestinians do not have advocates in the US,” he complained. Recent pro-Palestine protests and the Palestine-friendly politics of the American left (not to mention the entire panel at this very event) would suggest otherwise. “You resist occupation and forced evacuation, and you are called a terrorist.” Mr. Awad was clearly making an attempt to depict Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a one-sided affair, with Israel as the eternal aggressor, and the Palestinian people as persecuted minorities. He then once again mentioned the importance of “dogmatic Christian Zionism” as a guiding motive behind US foreign policy in the Middle East.

He specifically mentions Mike Pence, whom he then accuses of pushing a fundamentalist Christian-Zionist narrative in foreign policy. He mentioned “Trump scandals,” “the Russian probe,” and said that Trump might be impeached. He then cited the fact that 57 Muslim nations (as well as Turkey) denounced the Trump decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

He continued: “Trump does not understand world geography,” and that he has “ruled out peace” in the region due to this declaration. One of the other panel members then steps in to condemn what he describes as an “Unholy Alliance between American conservatives and Israel.”

Panel member Martin Sieff then takes the mic. He explains: “We clearly have here on the panel a consensus on this issue… this is a reckless dangerous decision” (on the part of the US president). “I’m Irish, I’m from Belfast, another divided city.” He gave a little background about conflict and terrorism in Ireland, and then said that “divided cities need to be treated carefully.”

He then went on to talk about the Crimean War, and claimed that things had been fine when the place was run by the Ottoman Empire (what this has to do with the modern day, I’m not so sure). “I predict that this event will resonate for years and decades,” he lamented.

“The British occupied Jerusalem 100 years ago,” he went on, “and they imagined that Zionism had great influence in Washington, but it didn’t” he explained, and I assume he is referring to American attitudes towards Zionism 100 years ago. “There were riots and rebellions constantly,” he explained, and he is not wrong. For example, in 1929, Palestinians rioted and massacred Jews due to a dispute over the holy site at the Western Wall.

Mr. Awad explained that the “caution precedent” had been broken due to the actions of president Trump. “The United States has been pro-Israel for half a century,” he explained, conveniently omitting the many times throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s that the Arab states actually sought out US mediation in disputes with Israel due to the fact that US was known discourage Israeli expansion. Conversely, Israel has also been known to prefer avoiding US mediation for this very same reason.

Seemingly acknowledging his omission, he then goes on to say that “the American-Israeli connection is neither written in stone, nor eternal.” He also referred to president Trump as “irrational yet consistent.” “He really does try to keep his campaign promises,” he said, perhaps making a cryptic reference to the proposed “Muslim ban” from the 2016 campaign.

“They want to see a terrible war where Israel would be destroyed; this is a view held by as many as 60 million Americans,” he said, referring to the millions of people who voted for Trump. I think he meant this as a veiled threat, as in “keep this up, and there will be a war that destroys Israel.” This is the only way that I can conceive of this statement making sense, because Trump clearly is not calling for the destruction of Israel. The only people I can think of who want Israel to be destroyed are Nazis and Muslims, both of whom share a hatred for the Jewish people.

Mr. Awad then complained about Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu, and likened the scandals surrounding him and his conservative Likud party in Israel to the scandals surrounding Donald Trump. I’m not sure what Netanyahu’s version of the Access Hollywood Bus is, but it sounds entertaining.

Another panel member interjected to complain that “there would be no 2-state solution” and that “settlements would continue.” Ros then said “this administration (Trump) doesn’t look too optimistic; the US has a history of siding with Israel, which doesn’t look good” on the world stage. Well, excuse us for siding with the liberal, democratic descendants of holocaust refugees rather than yet another group of people who want to exterminate them.

Mr. Awad took over again, this time saying that “Trump underestimated the Palestinian people,” and that he also underestimated “what Jerusalem means to Muslims around the world.” “Trump has forced the Arab states to take strong action,” he went on, apparently implying that Trump’s mere words were justification for violence against Israelis (this is similar to how some Black Power extremists consider the Dallas Sniper to have been acting in “self-defense” against a “corrupt system”).

“America has no further role in the peace process,” Mr. Awad continued, and “Jared Kushner has no negotiation skills or political skills” (I might actually agree with him about Kushner). “He is seen as part of the settlement movement.” Mr. Awad also complained that the Palestinians were left out of negotiations, which instead included only the Arab states which were willing to recognize Israel (so… pretty much all of them).

Mr. Awad then mentioned the league of 57 Muslim nations plus Turkey (25% of the world’s population) which denounced the Trump declaration. “These policies will encourage terrorism on both sides,” he said, thinly veiling the general one-sidedness of terrorism in the region. “The US has lost its standing as a global peace negotiator,” he concluded. The fact that mere words are enough for people like Mr. Awad to consider terrorism inevitable is in and of itself disconcerting.

One of the other panel members (I believe it was Paulo) then asked Mr. Awad “is the peace process dead?” and “can this be undone?” Any group of people that considers a peace process dead because of a mere statement on the part of the US president is a group which does not value peace. In keeping with my expectations, he responded “this cannot be undone,” and “this is a catastrophe.”

The floor was then opened for questions. A young, Muslim man stood up and aid “I don’t believe that the peace process is dead; can we have more than one flag representing these people?”

“Thank you for being an optimist,” answered Mr. Awad. “Occupiers always lose,” he said, and “the indigenous Palestinians are the rightful owners of the land.” Again, Mr. Awad sought to portray this conflict in terms of oppressor versus oppressed, and made a deliberate attempt to frame it as a civil rights struggle. “As a refugee, and I still dream of going back,” he said (I’m not sure what is stopping him, considering the fact that he came to the West voluntarily). He then, once again, invoked the American civil rights movement in an attempt to pander to American sympathies.

An older man then asked “why is there no press coverage of this event in the US?” Martin Sieff then responded that the majority of Democrats in the US want to boycott Israel, commenting on “raising awareness and movement in the US in favor of Palestine.”

A man then stood up and introduced himself as Alan Makovsky. With the exception of me and my own question (which is coming up shortly), Mr. Macovsky was the closest thing to a dissenting opinion that was presented throughout the course of the entire event. After offering a perfunctory “Trump was wrong” type of statement, he asked “what exactly has changed?”

“The borders remain the same,” he went on, and “we’ve been going to Jerusalem (to deal with Israel) forever; what exactly has changed besides perception?” He was answered by Martin Shieff, who explained that “the atmosphere has changed; Trump took a lawyers stance” (as in no real decision was made). “He has outraged 1.5 billion people,” he concluded. Apparently, Trump hasn’t even done anything; and yet, there are millions of Muslims who believe that they are justified in responding violently.

I then rose to ask my question. A 5 minute video highlighting this interaction can be found here, and the full livestream of the entire 2 hour event can be found on the facebook event page for the event “Jerusalem: Solution or Problem?” hosted by the Global Policy Institute. Here is the transcript of the conversation:

I began by thanking Mr. Nihad Awad for speaking.

William Denison: I have two simple questions: Does Israel have a right to exist, and are attacks which deliberately target Israeli civilians ever justified?

Nihad Awad: I’ll ask you the question: do the Palestinian people have the right to exist? (spoiler alert: he never answered by question)

William Denison: Yes, absolutely.

Nihad Awad: Do they have the right to have their own state?

William Denison: You see, that’s a tough one, and the reason why is because sacrificing the strategic depth provided by the West Bank would expose Israel to increased attacks by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah; how do you reconcile that? I mean, if Israel has the right to exist, do they have the right to exist, do they have the right to exist in peace? Or will they constantly be dealing with a stream of terrorism coming in from a now more porous area in the West Bank?

Nihad Awad: So do you believe that Palestinians have the right to sit at the delegation and have their own seat?

William Denison: See, not if it’s at the expense of Israeli civilians, I mean, with me personally, from what I can see I feel that the Palestinians have, umm… the Israelis are not “innocent,” they’re not angels, but I think they’ve shown a remarkable amount of restraint considering all the missiles that have been fired at their country; and do believe they have a right to exist and I feel like if they gave up that strategic territory, as much of a political move as that may be, that a lot of people would die because of it… we’ve seen the way that Hamas and these type of people behave and, you know, I’m a pragmatist — I wanna save as many people as possible.

Nihad Awad: So, if you believe that, all people are equal, and we are dignified and we deserve peace and justice, than you should be an advocate for Palestinians to have their own state and their own land, and you do not have to qualify, because you don’t qualify when you talk about the Israelis, why do you have to qualify when it comes to the Palestinians, who are the indigenous people of the land?

William Denison: Well, I mean, it’s just that I know how, like, the PLO behaves, I know the groups that they network with, and I think things would have to calm down before they’re given more autonomy; because I personally, from what I’ve seen, uh, I actually just recently read “A Soldier in Search of Peace” by Avraham Tamir, it was written in 1988 so it’s a little old, but, like… they’ve been trying to get Israel for the longest time, “push them into the sea,” you know, I mean, Israel has a lot to deal with, and I don’t blame them for wanting that strategic depth.

Nihad Awad: So this is my final question to you: do you think Israel has ever committed terrorist attacks against the Palestinian population?

William Denison: Well, there is the Phalange Militia Massacre… I would say that was probably the biggest thing I could think of. That wasn’t the Israelis directly who did it (The Phalange militia were a Lebanese Christian militia which carried out a revenge massacre against Palestinians during the Operation Peace for Galilee). But yes, there have definitely been minor acts of barbarism, but I think it pales in comparison to the Muslim response to the existence of Jews in general.

It was at that point that Paulo asked me to wrap things up, and I obliged without complaint. For the record, I am aware that crimes have been committed by the Israelis. There is no such thing as a clean war. This is not to justify the occasional acts of barbarism committed by Israeli forces; however, the general attitude of Israel is not one of barbarism.

Israel, our friend and ally, is the only country in the Middle East where you can have a gay pride parade. Israel helped us check Soviet expansion in the Middle East during the Cold War, and has stood on the front lines of the struggle between communist dictatorship and liberal democracy. Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. It is the freest, most progressive society in the entire region. Forgive me for not wanting Palestinians to ruin it with yet another brutal Islamic theocracy.

On the way out of the event, a young man argued with me briefly, calling me “uneducated,” presumably because I did not consider the Palestinian people to be the eternal victims of tyrannical Jewish overlords. We argued for a little while, then shook hands and left. On my way out, a tall man with an accent said “I’m glad you stood up.”

“Thank you,” I responded, and I walked out the door.

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