On Tuesday, December 2, a handful of Georgetown students in Copley Formal Lounge were treated to an evening of half-truths and inflammatory rhetoric by Richard Falk. Falk, brought to campus by Students for Justice in Palestine and the Lecture Fund, was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967” from 2008 to 2013.
Falk was not a universally respected figure. During his tenure, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon and the United States government, among others, publicly criticized Falk’s biased and radical statements. These remarks were not unwarranted as he was constantly releasing biased and racial statements. Perhaps most notably, during the summer of 2011, Falk posted an anti-Semitic cartoon depicting a Jew as a dog devouring human bones and urinating on a symbol of liberty.
Naturally, Georgetown Israel Alliance (GIA) opposed Falk’s controversial presence on campus, but opted not to protest the event out of respect for free speech and encouraging dialogue. However, Falk’s speech Tuesday night advocated for the end of constructive dialogue and legitimized acts of terrorism against innocent civilians all in the name of Palestinian self-determination, and as such GIA feels compelled to respond.’
During his speech, Falk condemned the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, vilifying the 1993 Oslo Accords, a landmark negotiation that brought Israeli and Palestinian leaders together as future peace partners and resulted in two Nobel Peace Prizes. According to Falk, “Oslo is a lost cause” because continuing negotiations would cause Palestinian leaders to lose legitimacy among their own people.
If diplomacy is not the answer, then what is? Violence? Falk’s only “constructive” suggestion was a boycott of Israel. Such a boycott, however, has only caused the shutdown of an Israeli factory, which put many Israelis and 900 Palestinians out of work in an environment where a quarter of the population is unemployed.
Not only did Falk advocate closing the peaceful route to conflict resolution, he also demonized Israel in order to legitimize violence against it. Throughout his speech, Falk employed toxic rhetoric that unilaterally and unfoundedly painted Israel as a racist state that wants to eliminate the Palestinian people.
For example, Falk addressed the events of this past summer as “the 51-day massacre.” By referring to the war as a ‘massacre,’ he misrepresented it as a one-sided attack on the Palestinian people. In reality, it was a two-sided conflict between Israel and supporters of the Hamas —a Palestine Islamic terrorist group. Hamas put the Palestinian people in harm’s way, using them as ‘human shields,’ and tragically, innocent lives were lost.
Ironically, the only massacre of last summer that meets Falk’s description was when Hamas attempted to send militants into Israeli farming communities using their vast network of underground tunnels to attack civilians.
In addition to using manipulative rhetoric, Falk also espoused egregious lies about this past summer when he suggest “there was in Israel widespread incitement to genocide,” and that Israeli politicians believe they “have to secure the ethnic cleansing of the people of Gaza.” The claims that depict Israel as a racist, genocidal regime are absurd. Israel’s efforts to spare civilian lives in Gaza over the summer were exemplary and falsely portraying its actions as genocidal delegitimizes Israel’s right to defend its citizens. Furthermore, it makes the State of Israel appear as a justifiable target, and when cushioned with calls for the end of diplomacy, it paves the way for increased acts of violent terrorism.
When asked by friends why Georgetown Israel Alliance hosts speakers, panel discussions, and cultural events rather than engaging in more polarizing political activism, I carefully explain to them that GIA is a pluralistic and proactive organization with a membership that spans the political spectrum. We are here to ensure the conversation on campus remains two-sided, and that no one is excluded from dialogue.
The members of GIA are firmly united in their support for the long-term safety and existence of the State of Israel. When someone like Richard Falk speaks on campus, we are forced to take an opposing position for the sake of dialogue. Georgetown Israel Alliance hereby stands up and raises its voice to defend the State of Israel against those who seek to systematically delegitimize it. What happened this summer in Israel and Gaza was a tragedy with lives lost on both sides, but it would be an even greater tragedy to ensure the loss of future lives by putting an end to the diplomatic peace process. To Richard Falk, Students for Justice in Palestine, and all those who have avoided constructive dialogue, Georgetown Israel Alliance is here and waiting to engage in dialogue. Help us help you create a future in which Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace.
Daniel Silbert is a freshman in the College and a board member of the Georgetown Israel Alliance.