Jerusalem – For more than a generation, people who follow the Arab-Israeli War wonder if articulate Arab spokespeople will emerge to express genuine recognition of Israel, with a clear and unambiguous desire for peace.
Seven years ago, when Israel marked the 25th anniversary of the 1977 visit by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Israel – which led to the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab State – a young Egyptian native, now an American citizen, Nonie Darwish, whose late father fought against Israel, made a presentation for a large mixed audience of Arabs and Jews at the same place President Sadat had landed – at Jerusalem’s posh King David Hotel.
At the same hotel where Sadat first proclaimed his desire for peace with Israel, Nonie Darwish, announced that she had formed a new organization, calling it Arabs For Israel.
Ms. Darwish described her passion and pride for Arab nationalism and the need for every Arab nationalist to embrace the state and people of Israel as a neighbor in the Middle East
Skeptical reporters who felt that Nonie Darwish was, perhaps, too good to be true began to bombard her with questions after her erudite presentation.
After all, one reporter said, this has been a “cold peace” and very few Egyptians have come to visit Israel with any such proclamation.
Ms. Darwish responded in the affirmative, saying that, indeed, the same radical Muslims who murdered Sadat had intimidated Egyptians from all walks of life from visiting Israel and from expressing any kind of affinity for the Jewish state.
Three years later, Nonie Darwish addressed a memorial rally for victims of Arab terror in Berkeley, Calif., where the rally organizers had brought the remains of a bombed out bus in which 17 people had been murdered.
Ms. Darwish’s message had not changed. She remained a proud Arab who spoke with passion about the state and people of Israel and stated that she felt shamed by what the crimes that people do in the name of Islam.
Yet, by 2005, Ms. Darwish did not exude the same smile that she bore in her appearance in 2002 in Jerusalem. She described in private conversations how radical Muslims had stalked her all over the United States and have tried to prevent her from speaking.
Indeed, radical Muslims even succeeded in preventing Ms. Darwish from speaking at Princeton University Hillel Foundation’s “Center for Jewish Life.”
Last week, on November 18th, a student group Tigers for Israel, a Princeton undergraduate student organization that is also affiliated with the Center for Jewish Life, scheduled then, suddenly, cancelled a lecture by Nonie Darwish.
Jewish students had invited her to speak on campus because they felt it was important to hear her critique of radical Islam.
However, the Islamic leader on campus, Muslim Life Coordinator, Imam Sohaib Sultan threatened Tigers for Israel and demanded that they cancel Ms. Darwish’s appearance because, he contended, “she perpetuates stereotypes about Islam that implicate all Muslims, not just Muslim fundamentalists”.
In the spirit of academic freedom and dialogue, Tigers for Israel Vice President Rafael Grinberg offered Imam Sultan the opportunity to rebut and respond to Nonie Darwish after her presentation and to offer him equal time to express his point of view.
The Islamic leader would hear nothing of any such a suggestion for a dialogue in an academic setting and furthered his demand that Nonie Darwish’s lecture simply be cancelled.
According to Mr. Grinberg, Rabbi Julie Roth, the Executive Director of the Center for Jewish Life at Hillel in Princeton, supported the intimidation of the campus Imam and told the students, “An invitation to Nonie Darwish is like an invitation to a neo-Nazi.”
According to a statement by Rabbi Roth to The Bulletin, however, “ The students made an independent decision to cancel the lecture because it is not in accordance with their mission to perpetuate stereotypes or generalizations about any group.”
When The Bulletin asked as to why Rabbi Roth did not encourage a dialogue with Ms. Darwish that would befit the academic and democratic atmosphere of a University, Rabbi Roth acknowledged that, “It is true, in our university environment and in our country, free speech and open debate and exchange of ideas are primary values.” However, she added, “It is also true that our university environment and our country support the right of any group to disassociate themselves with views they deem do not represent their mission or goals or values.”
Asked as to whether Rabbi Roth had met with and spoken with Nonie Darwish to discern for herself whether Ms. Darwish would be an appropriate speaker, Rabbi Roth did not respond because she did not make any effort to meet with or speak with Ms. Dawrish before expressing her passionate support for the decision of Tigers for Israel to buckle under the demand of the radical Muslims on campus to cancel the appearance of Ms. Darwish in front of the campus Jewish community.
This leads one to wonder if Rabbi Roth, who describes herself as a leader in the promotion of “dialogue between the Muslim and Jewish communities on campus,” can ever muster the courage to present views that disturb radical Muslims at Princeton.
So much for the spirit of academic freedom and dialogue on an Ivy League campus.
David Bedein, correspondent, Philadelphia Bulletin