FIU hosts panel on building inter-community bridges featuring controversial activists

(From left to Right): Jon Warech, Morton A. Klein, and Dumisani Washington. Via Zionist Organization of America.

Diego Diaz | Asst. News Director 

With the backdrop of FIU’s Holocaust & Genocide memorial week, FIU hosted a panel advertised as centering around antisemitism, racism, and building bridges between the Jewish and Black communities on Thursday, Jan 19.

In actuality, the event would feature panelists arguing that the roots of modern antisemitism can be traced to Palestine, also contending that left-wing politics and support for Palestine are an inherently corrupting force within the Black civil rights movement. 

The political messages began with the sign-in process, where audience members were encouraged to pick up supplementary text published by the Zionist Organization of America, the largest and oldest conservative pro-Israel non-governmental organization. 

Notably, it is also the largest pro-Israeli organization in favor of a one-state solution, viewing the creation of a Palestinian state as an existential threat to Israel.

“By the way, I never use the term West Bank, I only say Judea and Samaria,” said panelist and ZOA National President Morton A. Klein referencing the Palestinian-controlled region officially known as the West Bank.  

Supporting Klein was fellow panelist Dumisani Washington, founder and CEO of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, alongside moderator Jon Warech, director of FIU Hillel.  

 Local cosponsors included FIU’s Jewish Museum of Florida, FIU’s Holocaust & Genocide program and FIU Hillel. 

Throughout the discussion, the tone and approach taken by both panelists were indicative of their work outside of the panel.

Washington, whose work centered around religious outreach, would take a diplomatic tone, framing the conversation as a result of misinformation propagated by social media.

 “Of the many changes, let’s assume, in the last 60 years would be the advent and evolution of social media,” said Washington. “I don’t think it can be understated, there is a reality and there is a virtual reality.” 

Citing the support he has received from various religious and community leaders internationally, Washington argued that there exists a stark divide between online rhetoric and actual instances of hate crimes. 

Yet, hinting at social media support for Palestine, he contended that US college campuses were especially fertile grounds for antisemitism.

Speaking of the Anti-Defamation League and National Basketball Association condemnation of Kyrie Irving, Washington viewed this as a distraction from the true evil of the university system.

“Don’t act like you don’t see what’s going on in these campuses, Kyrie Irving is not somebody’s professor having thousands of students every week indoctrinated by them, but you say nothing about that,” Washington.  

This would be best highlighted in his retelling of a column written by Arab Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh discussing his own 2009 US lecture series.

“He said we should not be surprised if the next jihadist comes not from the mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan or the Gaza Strip, but from US college campuses,” said Washington.

Toameh had previously been hosted by FIU Hillel during the 2021 Gaza Strip conflict, where he waived off criticism of Israel’s heavy-handed approach as the country simply “trying to prevent another misinterpretation” of their own military strength.

Echoing this focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Klein argued that a key driver within the current rise of antisemitism can be traced to alleged disinformation surrounding Israel.

“I think one of the big reasons there has been an increase in antisemitism in the world and maybe among the Black community is because of the lies that have been perpetuated against the Jewish state of Israel,” said Klein.

Included in this list of “lies” is the claim that Israel exists as an apartheid state, a conclusion supported by human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli-based B’Tselem.

Klein and Washington also contended that antisemitism with the Black community can be traced to the relationship between Arab leaders and the Black historical figures who arose following Martin Luther King’s assassination.

“Yasser Arafat takes chairmanship of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and what’s the first thing Arafat begins to do in terms of his outreach? He goes to what was already called the militant wing of the young civil rights leaders, the Angela Davis’s, the leaders of the Black Panther, the Stokely Carmichaels,” said Washington.

He posited that Arafat tricked these figures into believing the Palestinian and the African American political struggle were one and the same, both attempting to combat white power and imperialism.

“What it begins to do is artificially pit Africans against Israelis…that became the default position of many in academia,” said Washington.

Klein would chide figures ranging from Jesse Jackson to Louis Farrakhan, contending that they actively forgot or ignored the place of US Jews in the civil rights movement, as well as insulting the intellect of modern Black artists.

“Jesse Jackson is also one of the greatest orators and this has had a great influence on people,” said Klein. “Especially on black entertainers, especially rap artists, who are not as sophisticated as the former black entertainers like Nat King Cole.”

He would relate this to the Jews’ treatment by the Egyptians.

“The Bible teaches us they forgot that Jews were there helping each other, and I think that some of these leaders, many of these leaders and others, have forgotten, don’t know or ignore the fact that Jews are such an important force.”

Following the presentation was a tense question and answer period, marked by Klein’s antagonistic responses to questions asked by FIU Religious Studies Undergraduate Program Director & Instructor Daniel Alvarez and PantherNOW.

Alvarez, referencing a New York Times column written by Thomas Friedman, asked for Klein’s appraisal of Friedman’s analysis of Israel’s recently elected far-right coalition,  specifically referencing Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

 He expressed his own worry that this new regime may stoke the flame of antisemitism due to these figures’ hardline stances.

“Tell us one policy of Smotrich or Ben-Gvir that you find appalling,” retorted Klein.

Alvarez would attempt to explain that his question is geared as a dialogue between Friedman representing a different view within the Jewish community, but to no avail.

“Listening to Thomas Friedman is like hiring a lawyer who has never won a case. So I’m asking you, what policies by these two people you just attacked you find indefensible,” continued Klein.

Klein and Alvarez would continue back and forth, Alvarez attempting to find a means of asking the question without directly implicating himself in the conversation, while Klein would continue to harangue Alvarez as an ignorant opposing voice.

“You’ve not named a single policy; you have no right to criticize,” said Klein.

PantherNOW would ask Klein if a peaceful dialogue is possible considering Klein’s response, while also citing Ben-Gvir’s support for reducing the Israeli Supreme courts judicial power, banning of the Palestinian flag within Israeli territory, and his previous support for Yitzah Rabin’s assassination.

Klein would argue this focus exemplifies the silence geared toward the crimes committed by Palestinian forces.

“All I hear from people like you is criticism of the Jews and never criticism of Arafat, ” said Klein.

PantherNOW would respond by citing the antisemitic documents found within the Palestinian Sunni militant organization Hamas’s official documents, and reemphasizing how can dialogue be reached with this level of animosity being raised.

Washington would step in, taking a conciliatory tone, stating that individuals should not be taken as the voice of a majority, and how this occurrence is widespread within minority groups.

“Dr. King said don’t compute some with all: if you have an issue with that person, but don’t start with the Mexican, the Chinese, the Blacks, that’s when we see your real heart,” said Washington.

Though Klein would appear to agree, he would subsequently refute this perspective in regard to minorities.

“When you’re a minority, I think that it is a problem that we have to live with and I don’t see how human nature will ever be changed.”

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