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March 28, 2016 7:45 am

Scuffle on North Carolina Campus Ensues When Pro-Israel Activist Distributes Flyers Disputing Palestinian Speaker’s Claims

avatar by Andrew Pessin

The Warren Wilson College Farm. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A scuffle erupted at a North Carolina college on Thursday when a pro-Israel activist was confronted by the sponsors of an event featuring a Palestinian “peace activist,” The Algemeiner has learned.

Naomi Friedman, who administers the Facebook group “Stop BDS on Campus,” told The Algemeiner she was distributing flyers contesting claims made by Iyad Burnat (featured in the controversial award-winning documentary film, “5 Broken Cameras”) — who had been invited to Swannanoa’s Warren Wilson College to discuss his new book — when event organizer and retired professor Ken Jones forcibly tried to confiscate them.

“He grabbed my arm,” Friedman told The Algemeiner, “and said, ‘Give me those!’ Fortunately I was able to wrench my arm away and hold on to the flyers.”

According to Friedman, Jones was not the only one who attempted to stop her from distributing the flyers. Rima Vesely-Flad, professor of Religious Studies at Warren Wilson and director of its Peace and Justice Studies program — which co-sponsored Burnat’s visit along with a group called “Just Peace for Israel/Palestine” — also “demanded” that Friedman stop handing them out.

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“I told her I was non-violently exercising my right to free speech,” Friedman told The Algemeiner. “She responded that as a private college, Warren Wilson wasn’t bound by the First Amendment. But when I asked her whether Warren Wilson has its own free speech code, she acknowledged that she didn’t know and backed off.”

Vesely-Flad, reached by The Algemeiner, offered a different version of events. “I engaged in a brief conversation with [the woman handing out flyers],” Vesely-Flad said. “She asked if it was against the rules for her to hand out flyers. I said that I much preferred she did so outside of the building … to give attendees more space to enter. She did not wish to relocate.”

Burnat, head of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall, is currently promoting a self-published book about his work running weekly self-described “non-violent” demonstrations against Israel, showcased in the film, in the Palestinian village of Bil’in.

Yet, said Friedman, Burnat’s presentation was “not at all” about peace and non-violence, but about demonizing Israel and denying its right to exist.

“He said that Israelis write the names of Palestinian children on the missiles they launch,” she explained. “Is this the language of someone who seeks peace? He claimed that he embarked on the path of non-violence 25 years ago, and was arrested for spending two years in jail for his non-violent protests. But this is just a lie. He was arrested for throwing stones, which is what often happens at the Bil’in protests. Throwing stones is not non-violent. Stones can, and do, kill people.”

The flyers she distributed were inspired by Hen Mazzig, she said, a veteran from the Israel Defense Force who published an article in 2013 about Burnat and the Bil’in protests. They featured a photo of masked Bil’in youths flinging stones, under the headline, “The VIOLENT Movement at Bil’in.” At the bottom they bore the slogan, “The ONLY way to achieve peace in the Middle East is if ‘peace activists’ truly embrace nonviolence.”

Friedman said her flyers apparently had an impact on the talk, because Burnat ended up having to explain the picture in her flyer to the audience, first saying the stone-throwers were only children, and weren’t throwing stones at soldiers; then that the photo was from a different village, and the children were 200 meters away from any soldiers. “Then he claimed that in Bil’in, they teach their children only to throw eggs and colored water at the soldiers.”

The weekly Bil’in protests, which began in 2005, target the security barrier constructed by Israel following the Second Intifada. Burnat’s brother, Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, co-directed and produced “5 Broken Cameras” — with Israel Guy Davidi — which is highly critical of Israel. It won a Sundance Film Festival award, a Golden Apricot, an international Emmy and was nominated for an Oscar.

Friedman’s Facebook Group, “Stop BDS On Campus,” has more than 5000 members and organizes various actions in response to anti-Israel campus activities.

Ken Jones did not respond to requests for comment.

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