Pro-Israel students host racist Islamophobe to speak for Israel

Joseph Cohen, an Orthodox Jew, moved from the United States to Israel in 1998. Three years later, Cohen converted to Islam and changed his name to Yosef Mohammed Khatib. Today, Cohen maintains a thick New York accent but alleges his support for Hamas and Osama bin Laden. Accordingly, he believes that no Jewish life should be spared in the Holy Land and thanks God that he is no longer Jewish.

Now imagine if a campus Palestine group invited Cohen, a certified kook and racist, to speak on the ills of Israel and purity of the Palestinian cause. How would the GW student body react? I would imagine with nothing short of outrage.

Enter Walid Shoebat. Shoebat was born a Muslim in the Palestinian village of Beit Sahour. In 1978 he moved to the United States and has since married three times, finally settling with a Christian woman in 1993 and converting to a sect of Christianity that adheres to the fanatic interpretation of the “prophetic truths of the scriptures” rejected by almost every church.

Shoebat now tours synagogues around the country professing the evilness of Islam. On his Web site, unbridled with blatantly racist declarations against Islam, you will find such profound assertions as “Our fight is against the spiritual forces of Islam” and “After all, they were unable to comprehend the enemy, Islam.” Shoebat continues to explain why most denominations, ranging from Catholicism to Jehova’s Witnesses, are “false Christians.”

Now imagine if a campus Israel group invited Shoebat, also a certified kook and racist, to speak on the savagery of the Palestinian people and the righteousness of Israel. How would the student body react?

Well, fortunately, we need not conjecture this scenario, as we are lucky enough to have Student Alliance for Israel, a group so apparently indifferent to racism that it has decided to host Shoebat as part of its “Orange you glad you stand with Israel” advocacy campaign. According to SAFI’s Web site, the theme of this year’s Israel Awareness Month, during which Shoebat will be speaking, is “Shake it up for Israel.”

Illuminating the crass hypocrisy of SAFI was a response to an e-mail I incidentally sent to them the day they launched their campaign last October, in which I challenged them to an open, public debate on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Co-chairs Rebecca Horowitz and Lauren Marks turned down the offer, responding that they “strongly believe that the GW campus will benefit from a celebration of diversity rather than a debate.”

I guess hosting Islamophobes and obstinate fanatics with absolutely no credentials to enlighten audiences by attacking Islam as a religion is what SAFI considers a “celebration of diversity.” In the same vein, I am left only with the conclusion that “shaking it up for Israel” consists primarily of promoting racism. Conceivably, there is some truth to that, as Israel’s policies since its inception in 1948 have been pockmarked with racist exclusion of native Christians and Muslims.

Surely the campus community would in fact benefit more from a moderated debate examining the claims of each of the respective sides of the conflict, rather than a tirade by Walid Shoebat. So why would SAFI choose the latter?

Looking at “The Hasbara Handbook,” published by Israel’s Jewish Agency and distributed widely to Israel’s campus exponents, might shed some light. The handbook prescribes fascinating instructions on manipulating audiences “in ways that engage the emotions, and downplay rationality, in an attempt to promote” Israel.

One section describes the tactic of “transfer,” which is done by “taking some of the prestige and authority of one concept and applying it to another … Some of the symbols that might be used in discussing Israel might include … Islamic symbols.” So Shoebat, a former Muslim, seems to be the perfect fit for SAFI’s attempts to manipulate us. Maybe SAFI believes the student body is dense enough to overlook Shoebat’s overt racism and take his commentary on the Palestinian people to be truthful and credible on account of his formerly Muslim background. I, for one, have more faith in GW’s student body, and believe this to be a tactical error by the group.

At this point, SAFI has two options. They could un-invite Shoebat, in recognition of the student body’s intelligence and out of respect for GW’s Muslims and followers of most Christian denominations. Perhaps they could replace him with an open debate, an offer which still stands. Or, they can keep Shoebat on their schedule of events, thus affirming their support of racism.

The writer is a first-year law student at George Washington University. This article was first published on 15 April 2004 in the GW Hatchet. It is reprinted by permission of the writer.