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May 24, 2016 6:41 am

Blatant Antisemitism at the Columbia Missouri Public Library

avatar by Daniel Swindell

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Daniel Swindell asking if Israel has the right to exist at Columbia Missouri Public Library. Photo: Daniel Brenner/Tribune, used by permission.

Daniel Swindell asking if Israel has the right to exist at Columbia Missouri Public Library. Photo: Daniel Brenner/Tribune, used by permission.

On May 17th, a group called “Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation” hosted an event titled, “The North American Nakba Tour: The Exiled Palestinians,” at the Columbia Missouri Public Library.

The event, according to the Columbia Tribune, was to feature “Palestinian refugees Amena Ashkar and Mariam Fathallah [describing] what they say is the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Jewish occupiers.” Before the event, I found an interview on YouTube in which Ashkar explained that earlier on the tour she had been scheduled to speak at Stanford University, but her hosts warned her not to say that Israel has no right to exist. Ashkar responded firmly, “I came here to say that Israel has no right to exist.” Ultimately, she cancelled the presentation, rather than capitulate. When I became aware of this information, I organized a group to urge the public library to cancel the room reservation. I made sure the library was fully informed that Ashkar’s stated goal was to call for the destruction of Israel, and that given her past stops on the tour, her message was likely to be delivered in a particularly offensive manner.

I wrote a letter in the Tribune, explaining that “the US State Department defines antisemitism as: ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.’” I also consulted a lawyer, who sent a letter to the director of the library, Melissa Carr, as well as to its board of trustees. The letter stated, “This is hate speech that implicitly calls for the genocide of the Jews… hate speech has no place in a tax-funded institution.” In addition, we started a letter-writing campaign calling for the room reservation to be cancelled.

To no avail. Though fully informed, Director Carr allowed the event to proceed.

The event had a very large crowd. Fathallah, 86, told her story about fleeing her Arab village, and how she eventually ended up in Lebanon. Ashkar told her story about growing up in a refugee camp in Lebanon. I grant them their historical narrative; what matters is whether the event called for the destruction of Israel, and thereby constituted a public institution hosting an event consisting of hate speech.

First, Ashkar apparently realized that she might generate trouble if she openly denied Israel’s right to exist. In fact, the Tribune asked her beforehand whether she would retract her earlier statement. “Reached by phone Thursday, Ashkar seemed unwilling to court further controversy,” it wrote. “She said she would share her thoughts during the event. ‘Anyone who has any concern can go to the event,’ she said. ‘I would be happy to answer any questions.’”

I took her up on this offer. During the Q&A, I approached the microphone and asked, “Does Israel have the right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people?” Well, it turns out, Ashkar was not “happy to answer any question.” She refused. Instead, she repeatedly tried to change the subject, and to ask me questions. The Tribune reported our exchange:

Daniel Swindell, a self-described Zionist who attended the event, asked Ashkar if Israel has a right to exist. “Do I have the right to go back to Palestine?” Ashkar asked Swindell. Swindell again requested an answer to his initial question. “You answer my question so I can answer your question,” Ashkar said. “I have the right to exist. Palestine has the right to exist.” She emphasized that she didn’t say “no” to Swindell’s question.

Immediately after my question, however, one of the hosts took the microphone, and the Tribune reported what he said: “Jalal El-Jayyousi, a Palestinian-American, said it was immoral to ask such a question of a refugee. ‘You don’t ask a rape victim if she recognizes the rights of her rapist,’ he said.”

So, technically, the answer did not come out of Askar’s mouth. But the host answered for her, suggesting that simply recognizing the Jewish right to a nation is like asking “a rape victim if she recognizes the rights of her rapist.” Which means, that not only did one of the hosts deny Israel’s right to exist, he even claimed it was immoral to ask if Israel has a right to exist.

Second, one of the primary messages of the presentation was that the sole solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is to implement the “right of return.” The right of return is the belief that all Palestinian “refugees,” now numbering more than five million, have the right to “return” to Israel, even though most have never lived there. Ashkar referred to Israel as the property of Palestinian refugees, and the hosts distributed a flier that claimed that the right of return was binding international law. The right of return would of course mean that millions of Palestinians would flood into Israel, and overwhelm the Jewish population. What this means was expressed by President Obama, when he stated, “The right of return as they have understood it historically, would extinguish Israel as a Jewish state.”

Third, the hosts were aware that we planned a protest. In response, on the Facebook page of the Palestinian Nakba Tour, they shared this comment, “We’re in Columbia, MO tonight at 7pm. There’s a Zionist protest scheduled at 6:30 pm in front of the library.” They shared the following hashtags: #fromtherivertothesea, and #freepalestine. Generally, the full statement is, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” This statement means that the borders of Palestine will extend from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. This expression has been used for many years to deny the Jewish right to sovereignty in any part of the region. It, too, is a call for the destruction of Israel.

And thus, by the State Department’s own definition, it was indeed a night filled with the public expression of antisemitism. But the Columbia Missouri Public Library, fully aware in advance of what was coming, still felt it appropriate to use taxpayer dollars to host the event.

For shame.

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  • lois goldschmidt

    AOL Please resume printing

  • Harvey

    Here’s the deal.
    This is anti-semitism, no more no less. A group spiting similar vile hatred -and blatant lies- about any other group except Jews would never be granted permission to rent or use such a room/location.
    Israel is the only country in the world that has to prove it’s “right to exist”. Are you kidding me? That’s the problem with the Israel camp – we think we need to continuously prove our right to exist. We need to leave it alone, ignore it. It’s nonsensical.
    And you know why? Good old fashioned jealousy. That the Jews have become so successful in Israel and out of Israel just really irks people. It keeps them from sleeping at night. Israel – literally a desert turned into a thriving democratic flower. We just can’t stand that, can we?

  • Elisabeth S

    It saddens me greatly to read how so many people side with the hate that the modern day Palestinians espouse. Especially the Jews above who are taking the Palestinian side. Israel is the only Jewish state amongst 22 Arab states. Israel was the place holocaust survivors could make a home. Israel was the place Jewish refugees, hundreds of thousands of them, could go when expelled from Arab lands. Who is speaking about the right of return of Jews to Arab countries? People love to bash Israel, especially self-hating Jews. Jews need to realize that Israel might be the only place Jews can live in relative safety. It isn’t Europe anyone. And it might not be the US if the self hating Jews get their way. Wake up!

  • Hilly C.

    1) there has never been a “Palestine” as a country. THE word was invented by Rome in order to not use JUDEA. Kept by HRC as intentional antisemitism. It is a variant of Philistine an extinct (over 2000 years ago) Greek colony in the area. 2)Arabs can go back to Arabia, Jews to Judea, Israelites to Israel. 3) so simple, but the UN & Europe still hate all Jews so much that they invent & finance these ethnic frauds. Notice all these retarded backers, do NOT care about KURDS, Sikhs, Ainus etc, they ONLY support people who want to (& do) kill Jews. No moral or rational person backs the “palestinians”.

  • Shalom-Hillel

    The more Muslims in the US the more events like this will take place. Academia has already been severely impacted by intolerance, hate speech, and worse. It’s happened in Europe. It starts with intimidation and disruptions and eventually escalates into physical attacks and murders. Yet major Jewish-American organizations ignore this reality, actually often taking up the cause of Muslim immigration.

    • Asher B. Garber


      First, I suggest you change your moniker to something that makes sense. Like Donald Drumpf or David DuKKKe which is much more up your alley. Second, the point should be the University of Missouri fired its freaking DEAN based on his response to on-campus racism, and in the same school year, no less, they host a talk that glorifies violence against Israelis.

      Thanks for leading this article off with a racist rant, though. That’s gonna help!

  • George P. Smith

    Israel doesn’t have any more right to exist as a Jewish ethno-religious state than Iran has a right to exist as an Islamic ethno-religious state. Swindell, like political Zionists in general, is making up a “right” out of whole cloth. But there is a fundamental right at stake: the right of people to live at peace in their homeland. That’s the right Amena Ashkar was asserting. It’s too bad Swindell wouldn’t answer her question in the affirmative. Then we would have learned whether or not Amena affirms the right of Israeli Jews to live as equal citizens with with the Palestinian Arabs they or their forebears expelled, along with their descendants. The establishment of a modern democracy in Israel/Palestine would mean the end of political Zionism, but it would also mean a renascence of the cultural Zionism advocated by visionary Zionists such as Martin Buber and Judah Magnes.

    • Do the 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries that came to Israel also have a right to exist? Did they recieve compensation for all of their property and possesions that were confiscated by the Arab Countries? Is there still a Jewish Refugee Problem? You are a cad.

    • mbrj

      Let’s dialog, shall we? But first…have you ever been to Israel?

    • Elisabeth S

      Oh. So by your reasoning Jews should be allowed to live in peace in all their homelands including all the Arab countries hundreds of thousands of Jews had to flee. So do you support that to? If so, maybe we can have a logical discussion.

    • Asher B. Garber

      George, you have as much right to be considered intelligent as my dog’s poo might. You know, if you want to play these games we can. You aren’t really an authority on anything. When people speak in public justifying a sense of violence and ignorance while on a public university campus, articles like this will be written.

  • enufizenuf

    Mr. Swindell and others involved must realize that it is their primary obligation to stop such presentations. Resourcefulness in doing so must extend beyond writing letters and protesting.

  • nat cheiman

    This is precisely the reason Trump wants to ban Muslims. They flee their countries only to cause havoc in their host nations

  • Michael David Collins-Frias

    Missouri the state which held my great grandfathers life upon escaping from Europe, he who gave everything of his property to this nation all to this nation and to this state of Missouri. Philip E Yehle was in fact Philip Edward Jehle Romanov last high king of Judea his majesty owned banks many many banks which became federal reserve, his accounts became my accounts. Accounts became reserve funds which secure our economic security of this state and nation. Money stays put in reserve funds never to see light of day but used to secure all your debts so you can protest the right of Israel to exist, but by rights of sovereignty Israel has right to exist. Israel my Israel has my sovereignty, my hope, my love, I give my sovereignty to Israel it was never wanted. Next time money spent and paid for pays your events know it was because my great grandfather pays your debts by giving you the loans to pay for your homes, your credit cards, your cars, yet he receives no thank you not even mention in history. He was worth 53 billion in 1927, but his money now mine stays reserve funds until end of time. Philip was High King Edward of Judea. I hope to serve his memory well until my death but no high king comes next, I am simply principle of heritage trust to preserve democracy economic security.

    • mbrj

      Lets dialogue, shall we? But first…have you ever been to Israel?

  • Joshua Laskin

    Firstly, the very concept, of any nation’s ‘right to exist’, is bizarre. There’s no central authority, that charters nations, and revokes their charter if they violate its terms. Nations don’t exist by ‘right’. They exist, because a bunch of people say, “We’re a nation”, and then beat anyone who argues. Secondly, those who say, the Jewish state has no right to exist, aren’t saying they want to kill all Jewish Israelis. They’re not calling for genocide. They’re saying, Jews have no right to come to a place where Gentiles are living, and say, “This is now the Jewish state.” But, it wasn’t accomplished by ‘right’; it was done with guns; as well as with the complicity of Western powers, who didn’t want any European Jewish refugees, so they stuck the Arabs with them. In this sense, it does seem reasonable, for a Palestinian Arab to say, that the creation of the Jewish state, at their expense, was a wrong done to them. They’ve never received compensation for their property, lost to the Jewish state, so naturally they consider it, illegitimate. To call this, ‘antisemitism’, is nonsense. Also, the argument, that the Arab refugees’ descendants never lived in Palestine, therefor have no right to return, is pretty weird, considering that Jews claim the right-of-return after thousands of years. If an Indigenous(Native)-American were to say that the the USA had no right to exist, I wouldn’t consider that to be an unreasonable viewpoint; and, I wouldn’t call them an anti-paleface racist. I would think, yeah, from their point of view, that makes sense. Israel’s supporters shouldn’t be drawn into this, ‘right-to-exist’ debate. Most Zionists wanted a Jewish state; they created it; and now, Israelis have no other choice, but to make the best of it. Anyway, very few people care about, what was ‘right’ to exist; we care more about, whether what exists, is sustainable. Israel’s critics could make an argument that the Jewish state isn’t sustainable–but that’s an wholly other debate.

    • mbrj

      Let’s dialogue, shall we? But first…have you ever been to Israel?

    • Elisabeth S

      So where is the recompense for Jews expelled forcibly from Arab lands? Israel gives citizenship to their Arabs. unlike the Arab countries.

    • Diana

      The facts you state here are incorrect. Most of the land currently under Israel proper was actually purchased. The refugee problem occurred when nearby Arab states declared the independence war and urged all of the Palestinians to leave. Israel made it clear that those who stayed would be citizens. The lands we are raking about were for the most past swamp and clay. No other nation has been kept in refugee camps this long. Why do you think that is? It’s not because the neighboring Arab states care so much for the Palestinians. And why no one ever talks about the hundreds of thousands of Jews that were actually forced to leave those counties is beyond me. You don’t see Bangladeshi people demanding right of return to India why? Because they care more about the lives of their own people than the destruction of Jewish way of life.

  • Janus Avivson

    And, as you realize, the fault is not of poor bitter refugees who life their life in hatred and who try to profit from their status financially – but the organizations who allow them to use pubic forums, in this case THE LIBRARY, for a meeting which may result in antisemitic sentiments to arise. And they use public money for it. I think the effort should be concentrated on legal matters, how this is possible and how to prevent it from happening again!

  • Lia

    Columbia Missouri Public Library has a case to answer. Will the citizens who support this library force the library to respond?

  • walt kovacs

    im watching their presentation on youtube.

    forget the blatant anti-semitism. the entire presentation is revisionist history and blatant lies.

  • They will never have Israel or Jerusalem..Does not matter what they teach, or say. Only hate filled people would back them. I wait for the day when they meet the biggest Jewish Rabbi ever to walk the earth.

  • They are not refugees-they were not born in Israel-their false narrative is given far too much attention for the tripe and hype they are spreading. How awful to answer as if Israel has committed the atrocity-the rapists and plunderers are the arrogant, useless countries that surround her and try daily to destroy her. These are the madmen that invaded Israel in 1948 and called to their cousins “Leave for 3 days, Quickly you will return when we kill these Jews”. Now they want the world to mourn that those of us who had not burned in the ovens were not thrown into the sea. They promote the ageless lies and hatred calling the Jewish people as the bringers of all evil when it is really their rhetoric and actions that cause this senseless hatred in the Middle East. Israel has a right to exist in peace-recognize it-stop trying to kill us.

  • Harry Katz

    It was clear that Askar had no intention and the Zionist was clearly baiting her. This was plain stupid of him and inflammatory. It’s people like him who make me ashamed that I am a Jew.

    • Harry Katz

      I meant that it was clear that Askar had no intention of saying outright that Israel had no right to exist and the Zionist was plainly baiting her.

      • mbrj

        Curious, Harry…what’s your point? What is REALLY bothering you? Ashamed that you’re a Jew? What kind of Jew are you, any way, Harry? Have YOU ever been to Israel?

    • Elisabeth S

      The ‘Zionist’. Really? If you are so ashamed to be a Jew asking for a state then maybe you should move to Iran or Jordan and see how welcome you would be there. You would be killed. I think you owe thanks to the great USA and Israel for providing safety for Jews.

    • Liz Wagner

      Yes, he was baiting her. He did so in an attempt to expose the hateful, anti-peace message she’d delivered elsewhere on the tour. I don’t see why Swindell’s attempt to unmask this bigot would cause you to feel ashamed of being a Jew. Perhaps you feel shame about being a Jew, and that is why you defend an anti-Israel bigot, but denounce Swindell?

  • Gary Katz

    She talked about “fleeing” her village. She was 18 years old at the time, so she should have a good memory of what transpired. Thus, I would’ve loved to ask her if her family was forced out at gunpoint, or if they simply fled, of their own accord. It seems like the “Palestinian” narrative is they were ethnically cleansed, but I have yet to hear one account of Jews actually forcing anyone to leave.

    • Elisabeth S