Quick notes from Penn BDS conference

The conference was an outstanding success! Everyone involved in organizing it– and most of us who spoke at it– have all been extremely busy; so I’m really sorry that we don’t have much more, and richer, reporting on the events out already. But expect more great reporting of the conference to come out over the coming days.
You can see the video of Ali Abunimah’s fabulous keynote address, Saturday night, here. That and Susan Abulhawa’s extremely moving and scrupulously well-documented introductory address were really the two high points of the conference. And just getting together with so many dedicated activists from around the country– many of whom I was able to meet for the first time, after hearing about and admiring their work for years– was the other amazing facet of the gathering.
I had the huge honor to participate in two great panel discussions: one on Saturday on on South Africa and Palestine with David Wildman and Bill Fletcher, Jr.; and one yesterday afternoon, on the media, with Phil Weiss and Max Blumenthal. I also got to sit in on a few of the other sessions– all of them fabulous!– including a great discussion/analysis of the anti-Ahava and anti-Sabra/Tribe campaigns given by key organizers of those campaigns.
One of my main goals in being there was to sell and get more visibility for my company’s books; and that definitely happened to a gratifying extent. It was great to be able to establish those kind of connections for the Just World Books and to tell people both about our existing titles and our upcoming ones!
My sense was that the conference marked an important turning-point for the Palestinian-rights movement here in the United States. As I said at the beginning of yesterday’s panel discussion, I think this was the kind of event that will be remembered 15-20 years into the future, when people will still be saying, “Hey, do you remember the Penn conference back in 2012… ?” Or, too many other people will be forced to reply, “Yes, I was so bummed, I couldn’t get in: They were sold out already!” (And that happened to large numbers of people, I heard.)
Which is why the organizers now need to go the extra mile and get their record of the many amazing discussions at the conference up onto the web and widely available as a resource for everyone around the world, asap.
Hey, and my big thanks to the people from the ADL and the other discourse-suppression organizations for drawing such broad attention to our little conference and helping to make it into such a fabulous, rock-star event!
There was at least one little team from the discourse-suppressors and discourse-twisters that was present at portions of the conference itself in an organized way. That was, as noted by Alex Kane on Mondoweiss, here, an extremely ideological, apparently Canadian-Israeli discourse-twister Martin Himel, who turned up with a camera crew of two younger women claiming to “represent” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Honestly, I am not sure that anyone from the all-volunteer, all-student conference staff did enough to check the “credentials” presented by the two young women… (Working with the CBC? Really?) Mr. Himel himself apparently did not present any media credentials at all when he registered. But on the Saturday, he tried to trap Ali Abunimah into a sleazy ‘gotcha’ kind of interview, which Ali wrote about here.
After that, the conference organizers told Himel he could participate only like a regular participant but not as media, since he was not credentialed as such; and he could not perform any media functions while there.
But yesterday, first of all his two crew members were trying to haul their camera into one of the closed organizing sessions in the morning… And then there was Himel himself, in the after-lunch session with Sarah Schulman and Max Blumenthal, which was an open session; but there was Himel, working hard to direct the work of his two crew members. At which point he and they were, quite appropriately, told to leave.
As Kane wrote at Mondoweiss, Himel has a substantial history of using and twisting footage of pro-Palestinian-rights events to make it look as if all the participants are anti-Semites, “self-hating Jews”, crazy hate-filled extremists, etc etc.
For my part, I believe the rights movement can only benefit from full and fair disclosure of the truth both about what’s going on in Palestine and about the nature of the movement here in the United States (and also, about the nature of its opponents– some of whom, tragically enough, really are hate-filled crazies.)
On the other hand, I donated the intellectual property embodied in my presentations at the conference, to the conference organizers themselves; and I certainly did not donate it to be used and abused by a discourse twister like Martin Himel. So honestly, I was glad that he and his crew members had been banned from the conference before the panel discussion we held yesterday afternoon.
If Himel or Alan Dershowitz or Daniel Pipes or any of those other discourse twisters would like to sit down with me and debate the substance of the Palestinian-Israeli issue in a fair forum, I would be happy to do that. (Just as Susan Abul-Hawa did a great and calm job interacting with the Dersh at the Boston Book Festival in October 2010.)
So I am certainly not arguing for curtailing anyone’s free-speech rights. But speech has to be honest, grounded in facts, and should aspire always to be truthful. Mr. Himel– just like the sleazy rightwing ‘gotcha’ film-maker James O’Keefe here in the United States– is not interested in honest reporting, an examination of the facts, or a search for truth. That’s why having him lurking around the conference directing his two female subordinates in their filming made that portion of the conference feel so unsafe.
…Anyway, the Himel saga was all a minor, but distasteful, main things that were happening at the conference. I am sure that we’ll get a lot more great reporting of and from the conference available very soon. probably the best places to look for that will be on Mondoweiss, on Electronic Intifada, and via the #pennbds hashtag at Twitter.

One thought on “Quick notes from Penn BDS conference”

  1. what a fantastic conference! i was blown away, just fabulous. the organizers out did themselves. every single panel and main event i attended was top notch and the energy of being around so many people from the movement was so uplifted i am still on cloud nine thinking about it.
    you’re right helena,it was historic..so glad i made the effort to get there. thank you for being you.

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