Students Protest University Talk by Far-Right Israeli Ambassador Known For Inciting Against African Refugees


Students gathered in the streets of New York City on Monday night to protest a speech at Columbia University by an extreme, far-right Israeli politician.

Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, is notorious for his overtly racist remarks and support for hard-line policies that blatantly violate international law. In a 2012 hate rally against migrants, which inspired a riot and violent attacks, Danon demonized African refugees as "a national plague" and insisted "the State of Israel is engaged in a war against an enemy state composed of infiltrators."

The extreme Israeli politician was invited to speak at Columbia University on February 13 by the local chapter of the real estate tycoon-backed organization Students Supporting Israel. The event was met with backlash from progressive student groups, which described the Israeli ambassador as "Donald Trump on steroids."

Inside, activists disrupted the talk in protest. Students also held up signs and distributed flyers highlighting Danon's history of racism and fanatical views.

Danon is even further to the right of Israel's hyper-conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has called for a prominent Palestinian member of Israel's parliament to be jailed and proposed that Palestinian citizens of Israel be required to take a "loyalty" oath to the self-proclaimed Jewish state.

Characterized by an Israeli lawmaker as "a right-wing extremist with the diplomatic sensitivity of a pit bull," Danon has also publicly called for Israel to officially annex Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, in flagrant contravention of international law, and even spearheaded an initiative in the Knesset (Israel's parliament) to authorize just that.

"Danny Danon is Donald Trump on steroids, and no government has been more glowing than Israel's in its praise for Donald Trump," said Columbia University Apartheid Divest in a statement to AlterNet.

Columbia University Apartheid Divest, a coalition group that consists of the school's branches of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, organized the demonstration. The protest was also co-sponsored by other progressive student organizations.

"In dangerous times – with Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and white supremacy on the rise – we want to highlight Israel's role as a model for the global far-right," Columbia University Apartheid Divest continued. "From border walls to Muslim bans, Israel is a pioneer in state racism."

"It is crucial that we protest Danon just as we would protest Trump," the group added. "We have mobilized against the politics of hate in America, and that battle is an international one."

During his campaign, Trump cited Israel's separation wall as a model for what he wants on the U.S.-Mexico border. The barrier, which peace activists refer to as an apartheid wall, is illegal under international law.

The Trump administration has shown unflinching support for the Israeli government, despite its incessant violations of international law.

Rudy Rochman, the president of the Columbia chapter of Students Supporting Israel, told AlterNet, "Danny Danon is the Ambassador of Israel to the UN. As an Israeli cultural group at an Ivy league institution, we wanted to expose the student body to Israel's position, struggles and aspirations at the United Nations. Ambassador Danon came to speak about Israel's official position and not his personal politics."

Rochman, who notes on his public Facebook fanpage that he previously served in the Israeli military, disparagingly referred to pro-Palestinian organizations as "hate groups" and accused them of attempting "to prohibit freedom of speech and to yell intolerant abuses to a crowd who genuinely wanted to hear the ambassador."

He added, "What is even more shameful, is the fact that these groups are piggybacking off of the struggles of Native Americans, Mexicans, African Americans and Black South Africans. Latching onto slogans and attaching the word 'Palestine', reveals their goals of injecting hatred for Israel in minority rights movements" (the quotes around Palestine were his).

"Universities are meant to be a marketplace of ideas where thoughts and opinions can be exchanged freely," Rochman concluded. He did not answer AlterNet's questions about whether or not it is appropriate for an extreme right-wing politician who has made overtly racist remarks to be invited to speak at a university.

Students Supporting Israel calls itself a grassroots organization, but its activities are bankrolled by the Milstein Family Foundation. The foundation's president, Adam Milstein, is an Israeli real estate tycoon, and it funds a vast array of leading pro-Israel organizations in the U.S.

Students Supporting Israel chapters at Columbia and other campuses around the country devote themselves to opposing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, a global campaign to use peaceful economic mechanisms to pressure Israel to abide by international law and respect Palestinian human rights.

Jeffrey Jacobs, a PhD candidate in political science and long-time organizer with Student for Justice in Palestine, stressed to AlterNet that the protest highlighted "the linkages between the growth of racism and white supremacy in the wake of Trump and the concomitant growth in the confidence of Israel's settlement regime and demonization of Palestinians."

Yasmeen Abdel Majeed, a Palestinian American student at Columbia, remarked, "It was absolutely unacceptable for the university to allow Danon to speak on campus." She warned that inviting the extremist "to give a speech at the university normalizes racism," adding, "It is particularly important to disrupt 'respectable racism.'"

In his speech, Danon declared, in opposition to international law, that "Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel." His remarks were met with cheers from the audience. Abdel Majeed responded, "We all know very well that this is a euphemism for the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem that is currently taking place."

She noted that Danon "pathologized" Palestinians in a "racist way," and emphasized, "Protesting Danon was important because we need to call racists racists."

In 2010, the Israeli military attacked a civilian ship from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which was led by human rights activists hoping to bring humanitarian aid and construction materials to Gaza, which has for a decade been under an Israeli blockade United Nations experts said it illegal. Israel killed nine activists in the attack in international waters. In response to widespread international condemnation, Danon lamented that only nine activists had been killed, and wished the Israeli military had acted "with a much larger show of force" that fully destroyed the boat.

Organizers pointed out that Danon's speech at Columbia came just weeks after the UN Security Council voted to condemn illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Since November 1967, the UN has made it absolutely clear that those settlements violate international law, and even the U.S. government has reiterated this.

Israel's current government is the most right-wing in its 70-year history. When he completes his present term, hard-line right-wing Prime Minister Netanyahu will have been the longest serving head of state in the history of Israel.

Many leading Israeli officials, like Danon, refer to African refugees as "infiltrators." Some even go so far as to liken African asylum-seekers to cancer.

In fact, racism is so widespread in Israeli society, a 2012 study by the Israel Democracy Institute found that a staggering 52 percent of Jewish Israelis agreed with politician Miri Regev (now Israel's minister of culture) that African refugees and migrants are "a cancer in the body." More than one-third of Jewish Israelis condoned anti-African violence.

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