Hanin Zoabi, seen above, is a Palestinian female member of the Israeli Knesset. Yesterday, she spoke at the University of Chicago to the public and I attended.
Having been on the Gaza Flotilla that was attacked by Israeli forces, she is reviled in the Knesset and, not surprisingly, has received death threats. Speaking of her membership in the Israeli parliament, she said it was difficult to appear before a group of people that hate her. They refuse to refer to her as either a Palestinian or an Arab, only as a "non-Jew". She says the Knesset should be a deliberative body, with any member free to bring up an issue for discussion, but there is no debate when she brings up an issue, only condemnation and verbal abuse.
A member of the audience asked if she is optimistic. She responded that she is neither optimistic or pessimistic. She keeps at her work because it is necessary work and she reminded listeners of the Arabic word samud (steadfastness). She feels that the chances for a two-state solution are now negligible but that the Palestinian people must continue to assert the facts - that they are indigenous people and that Zionism has, from the start, worked to take their land from them.
Asked if there might be any support from the Israeli left, she was dismissive, commenting that the representation of the leftist Meretz party had fallen to only three seats in the Knesset.
A feminist, she has no time for the views of Hamas and wishes to see a full democracy where all have equal rights regardless of ethnicity, religion or sex. One would think this stand would appeal to Americans more than the views of the Israeli government that is boarding on fascism in its denial of the rights of half of the people living in Palestine, but you can be sure there will be no mention of her appearance or what she said in either the Chicago news media, or national news sources in the U.S.
The audience appeared to me to be mostly favorable to her views, though there were a couple of questions challenging her position. One questioner asked how she could defend the violent attacks by the passengers on the Gaza Flotilla. Zoabi was almost incredulous that such a view could be held, seeing the Israeli forces as unjustifiably attacking a peaceful group in international waters. She is proud of the fact that she was aboard and believes her presence was necessary because of her position as a representative of the Palestinian people, her constituency. For this participation on the flotilla, the Knesset has acted against her. Another member of the Knesset, Anastasia Michaeli, had to be physically restrained from attacking Zoabi as she addressed the assembly. Former Knesset member Uri Avnery writes...
Passionately devoted to the cause of justice, she could have spoken for more time than was allowed. She had what appeared to me to be a couphttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifle of bodyguards, who looked Palestinian. I doubt the Knesset would provide her with any protection.
One could not imagine a greater contrast than that between the two MKs. While Haneen Zoabi belongs to a family whose roots in the Nazareth area go back centuries, perhaps to the time of Jesus, Anastasia Michaeli was born in (then) Leningrad. She was elected “Miss St. Petersburg” and then became a fashion model, married an Israeli, converted to Judaism, immigrated to Israel at age 24 but sticks to her very Russian first name. She has given birth to eight children. She may be a candidate for the Israeli Sarahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifh Palin, who, after all, was also once a beauty queen..
As far as I could make out, not a single Jewish member raised a finger to defend Zoabi during the tumult. Nothing but some half-hearted protest from the Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, and a Meretz member, Chaim Oron.
In all the 61 years of its existence, the Knesset had not seen such a sight. Within a minute the sovereign assembly turned into a parliamentary lynch mob.
You may find this interview with Hanin Zoabi interesting, conducted right before I heard her speak.
Americans: how much longer will you remain indifferent to the contrast between the reality of Israel and the presentation of Israel carefully crafted for you of a "democracy just like the United States"?