A member of Students for Justice in Palestine is going viral in a bad way after she berated a Holocaust survivor speaking at Benedictine University in Illinois.
The speaker, Harold Kasimow — a professor emeritus of religious studies at Grinnell University in Iowa — was a child when the Germans took over Lithuania, according to the Quad-City Times. He spent 19 months hiding from the Nazis in a pit that was dug by his father.
“My memories of the Holocaust never really go away,” Kasimow said at an event in May to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“I live with it every day of my life, with the painful knowledge that nearly 1 million Jewish children died. I am one of about 5,000 who survived.”
“We shared the underground hideout with mice, frogs, and worms,” he added. “The entire time we were in the dark, and we did not wash. We were all infested with lice. We lived there for one year, seven months, and five days. We were buried underneath the earth.”
Campus activist Ayah Ali compared that to the fact the Israelis want to have their own state during an event on Oct. 23 where Kasimow also shared his experience.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, Ali says she received a “personal invitation” to the event since it was “relevant to the aims of SJP.” Relevant to her aims, yes. Relevant to the Holocaust, no — as she made clear by making no substantive parallel to the existence of Palestine or Israel in the invective she directed toward Kasimow.
She began by giving praise and expressing sympathy toward the professor before she launched into contumely.
“I wanted to draw a parallel between a very similar occurrence that’s happening in present-day and history that’s been happening for around 71 years now,” Ali said.
“I’m sure you know about what’s happening in Palestine, and my question to you is, do you support or do you condemn the establishment of the Zionist Israeli state, and whether it’s OK to exile and complete ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people the way that the Jewish people were exiled and ethnically cleansed?”
Kasimow pointed out that the issue of Israel and Palestine “is not an area of my experience.” However, he went on to say that while the issue is “very complicated,” he thinks that “Israel should exist.”
“I’m not happy with the government in Israel,” he said, adding that he was involved in interfaith dialogue and that he thought “both sides need to open to each other and talk to each other.”
That wasn’t good enough for Ali. “Do you support or condemn the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people?” she asked. “Because the establishment of the Israeli state and the idea of Zionism ties back to the right of the Israeli state at any cost, and that cost is the Palestinian people.”
There were a few jaw-dropping moments in the clip. “I am a result of experiences that you have been through,” she said at one point, expressing pain that he wouldn’t disavow that the state of Israel should exist.
“It’s disappointing to know that a Holocaust survivor would remain neutral in a situation of injustice,” she told Kasimow. “I’m honestly so sorry to hear what happened to you, but I’m honestly very hurt by the fact that I cannot gain your support.”
The Benedictine University SJP — winner of the “2019 Campus Champions for Palestine” award from the Chicago chapter of the American Muslims for Palestine, according to the Free Beacon — decided, inexplicably, that this kind of behavior at an event called “Bearing Witness: Memories of a Child Holocaust Survivor” somehow reflected well upon the organization.
Thus, it posted footage of the confrontation over Israel on its Twitter account:
Earlier this week, Holocaust survivor, Harold Kasimow spoke at Benedictine University. He described to us what it felt like to undergo horrific circumstances such as the Holocaust at a very young age. pic.twitter.com/njgmerzf8J
— Benedictine SJP (@BenUSjp2) October 27, 2019
“Earlier this week, Holocaust survivor, Harold Kasimow spoke at Benedictine University. He described to us what it felt like to undergo horrific circumstances such as the Holocaust at a very young age,” the thread read.
“Inspired by his words and beliefs, an SJP Benedictine member mentioned a current situation that is ongoing: the genocide, ethnic cleansing, and exile of Palestinians living in under occupation,” it continued.
“Palestinian children have suffered from the lack of basic human rights and are targeted because of their identity. However, to our surprise, Mr. Kasimow was in full support of the Israeli state that is built upon the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”
Palestinian children have suffered from the lack of basic human rights and are targeted because of their identity. However, to our surprise, Mr. Kasimow was in full support of the Israeli state that is built upon the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.
— Benedictine SJP (@BenUSjp2) October 27, 2019
This didn’t play out as they had planned on social media:
You have no right to place any “expectation” on Kasimow.
— Daniel Schwarz (@dschwarz) October 28, 2019
Really poor in taste to bring this up and ask a Holocaust survivor. Please actually educate yourself on the holocaust and personally visit a concentration camp. You still won’t be able to put yourself in their shoes. You have absolutely no right to conduct the behavior that you
— Who (@_shesaysss) October 28, 2019
What is wrong with you, it’s just an old Jewish man that’s his only connection and that would not have been brought up if he was a genocide survivor of any other background, you are doing your cause a disfavor and frankly I don’t know how you didn’t feel stupid doing this
— هشومي (@baghdaddy7) October 28, 2019
condemning a holocaust survivor supporting a jewish state is disgraceful. this man saw people get murdered as part of the generations long scourge of antisemitism; he should be able to freely justify the existence of a jewish state. this isn’t pro-palestine; this is antisemitic.
— (((josh elkin))) (@joshelkin_) October 28, 2019
“I received an email from [Benedictine] earlier this week with a personal invitation to this event saying that it was ‘relevant to the aims of SJP,’ and so I made it relevant to the aims of SJP,” Ali tweeted before her account was deleted, according to The Washington Free Beacon.
“If you stand neutral in a situation of injustice, you’re taking the side of the oppressor.”
Yes, exactly. This was about turning a Holocaust survivor’s experience into a tool for her and her cause. This had nothing to do with Kasimow’s words or his message. If it fits into what Ali has to say, great. If not, it has to go. There’s no coexistence, nothing like that. You’re either for Ali or you’re the enemy. Nothing is sacred enough for this rule not to apply. No, not even a child’s memories of the Holocaust.
Ali is currently a student activist. That means she has time to grow and mature past displays like this. One only hopes this serves as a teaching experience.
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