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DC Students Walk Out on Michael Oren

by Nour Joudah and Adrieh AbouShehade

On 30 April, 2012, Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren gave a speech at George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs. Michael Oren served in the IDF during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, served again as the IDF spokesman during Israel’s brutal assault on Lebanon in 2006, and was the media relations officer during the massacre of over 1,200 Palestinians in Gaza in 2008-2009. Now, as the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Oren continues to fill the role of whitewashing Israel’s war crimes and illegal occupation—be it in US news stations churches, or universities. 

But the close relationship between Israel and the American public (particularly the Christian community) that Oren speaks of in the video below was recently challenged by a CBS special. Oren was deliberate in mentioning his and his wife’s [alleged] Sunday ritual of going to churches to speak to congregations, most recently an African American church to which they were welcomed. However, as we saw in Bob Simon’s interview, Oren’s storytelling is only loose and free when he is in control of the conversation; attempts to present the Palestinian perspective are categorically denied and censored

On 8 February, 2010, students at the University of California-Irvine interrupted his speech, protesting his propaganda justifying Israeli atrocities. Though these students left the auditorium peacefully, they were arrested, tried, convicted of misdemeanors, and sentenced to community service and a three-year probation period for exercising their right to free speech. Since the actions by these students, now commonly referred to as the “Irvine 11,” activists across the country have made it a point to walk out, protest, or in some manner disrupt the visits of Michael Oren, IDF soldiers, and others to American university campuses—sending a clear message to their universities that war criminals are not welcome. 

Several months ago, George Washington University hosted a speaker from the IDF on campus. A university event publicist shared the news of the event on Twitter, declaring that it was open and that students were encouraged to attend. 

Yet, upon overhearing an Arabic-speaking student approaching the door, two Israeli security guards communicated to each other in Hebrew that this student should not be allowed to enter. No evidence that registration was required was shown to the student and her peers; instead, the door was shut in their faces and campus police were called to the scene to have them removed on the assumption that they may protest, although no evidence of this other than the ethnicity of a few members of the group was given. Despite reporting this incident to the relevant authorities, no apology or explanation was given to the students involved. University administrators at the scene admitted that, according to protocol and the lack of a registration or legitimate filtering mechanism, the students should have been allowed to attend. 

This incident caused increased trepidation in many of the organizers for this week’s walkout, who were unsure if they would even be allowed to enter, or, given the Irvine 11 case, if they could be prosecuted. Nevertheless, students continued with their plans with the strong conviction that Michael Oren and Israel’s narrative should not go unchallenged. 

The walkout and protest in the video below were organized and attended by students and activists from the DC area, with representatives from Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, American University and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Since the walkout, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post have both reported the action, as well as coverage of the walkout on C-SPAN’s online boradcast of the event.

Filed under News Washington DC Washington University United States Israel Gaza West Bank Georgetown University George Washington University Howard University American University Jewish Voice for Peace

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