By Rachel Stern & Rosie Spinks
Co-Managing Editor, Campus Reporter
Last Thursday, thousands of miles away from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the tension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was manifested right in the heart of UC Santa Cruz.
“There’s an unjust and corrupt system known as Zionism,” Abdul Malik Ali spoke loudly and fervently to onlookers in Quarry Plaza who were cheering him on, silently protesting, or just walking by.
Ali, an African-American imam associated with the Masjid Al Islam mosque in Oakland, commanded attention with his strong rhetoric and bold statements about a variety of issues, mainly focusing on the “apartheid state of Israel.” He gave this title in reference to what he calls the segregation of Palestinians in the 60-year-old country.
The event was part of Palestine Awareness week, sponsored by the Committee for Justice in Palestine. It was an attempt to raise public knowledge about the situation of Palestinians in Israel and included various speakers, educational films, a Palestinian Culture Night at College Nine and simulated checkpoints in the Quarry Plaza.
A large part of Ali’s argument focused on “Zionist Jews,” or those he said feel that they have a historical right to inhabit Israel. Ali himself could not be reached for comment after his speech.
“They’ll present themselves as people that want peace,” said Ali, who was making his fourth appearance at UCSC since 2001. “That’s like a Nazi saying that they want peace.”
As he spoke, a coalition of students and Jewish cultural leaders stood in peaceful yet firm opposition to the speech, waving Israeli flags and donning the color blue. At the culmination of Malik’s nearly one-hour speech, they marched out of the Quarry Plaza to Chancellor George Blumenthal’s office to deliver a hate-bias petition, which had received 50 signatures during Ali’s appearance.
“He’s not speaking as an academic scholar,” said Maritu Kababa, Hillel’s Israel programs coordinator and a native Israeli, while walking with the crowd. “He doesn’t say facts. [His speech] is hurtful and not encouraging peace.”
Mara Burger, a second-year who leads the Israel Action Committee, felt that Ali’s presence on campus was not appropriate.
“I do support raising awareness for the Palestinian cause,” Burger said. “I don’t support a speaker that spreads hate instead of raising awareness.”
In addition to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ali’s speech included topics such as the war in Iraq, imperialism, racism, the corporatization of America, and the failings of President George W. Bush.
Eva Mata, a third-year student and co-chair of the Committee for Justice in Palestine, said there is an interconnectedness among all these topics.
“They all connect through the same point that people should and must speak out against their government,” Mata said.
Malik has in the past been accused of “hate speech” and presenting a one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Israel in general. A petition issued by the UC chapter of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) in September 2006 was spurred by Malik and other campus speakers and lecturers who, according to SPME, spoke with inaccuracy and bias against Israel and Zionism. The petition called for the safe expression of scholarly ideas, and received about 3,000 signatures from faculty members around the United States.
Malik is an outspoken supporter of Hamas, an Islamist militant group and the majority political party of the Palestinian Authority. He is frequently invited by Muslim and Palestinian student organizations to speak on college campuses, gaining notoriety on many occasions. He equated suicide bombings in Israel with martyrdom at a San Francisco State University appearance in 2002.
Mata still disagrees with negative assessments of Ali. “I don’t think it’s hate-speech, because he clarifies all his views,” Mata said. “People argue that [Malik] presents only one side of the issue, but my answer is if people turn on the news all they hear is the Israeli side.”
Because of the controversy surrounding the speaker in the past, his name was not advertised in the days preceding Thursday’s event. Mata explained that the decision was made with safety in mind and she also conceded that the opposition present at the rally was welcome.
“They have a right to be here and I can definitely see why they’re trying to show their presence,” she said. “We just wanted to keep things organized and safe, which is one of the main reasons we didn’t promote the speaker’s name.”
Concluding his speech, Malik continued to speak passionately into the microphone.
“This is not the day of the oppressor, y’all,” Ali said. “This is the day of the oppressed.”