Challenging Zionism at UT

By Zachary Lown | February 6, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas–Supporters of Palestinian rights organized a counter-protest to stand up to a misnamed “peace rally” called by Texans for Israel (TFI)–and the success of the show of solidarity for Palestine is spurring more activism.

The pro-Israel demonstration was called for the University of Texas’ West Mall in the aftermath of Israel’s 22-day onslaught against Gaza, which killed at least 1,300 Palestinians, including 438 children. The Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) organized a counter-demonstration.

TFI turned out about 50 demonstrators, including a speaker from the Israeli consulate in Houston. By comparison, the ranks of the counter-demonstration swelled to around 250, dwarfing the pro-Israel crowd with its miniature Israeli flags and paving the way for an eventual takeover of the stage.

Some experienced pro-Palestine activists paced the thin buffer zone between the two groups, helping to lead chants and urging the increasingly vocal crowd forward. From the back, other participants, many with homemade signs, shouted out refutations to the claims made by TFI speakers.

“The pro-Israel speakers rushed through their sets, while being for all practical purposes drowned out at the end of each sentence with chanting,” one PSC member, Isaac Kalish, wrote on his blog. “The playing of the Israeli national anthem was completely upstaged by the chant of ‘Free, Free, Palestine!’ At the end, the stage was claimed by our side.

Kalish added that the counter-protest marked an “escape from the marginal position the Palestine movement has been in on campus…There has been a sea change in student sentiment from only two months ago.”

Following the event, the PSC called a meeting where over 60 people crammed a small classroom and launched a campaign centered in part around pushing for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

Members of student groups that normally haven’t participated in this type of organizing, such as the College Democrats, attended and are involved in the campaign. Thus, at the rally, the president emeritus of the College Democrats spoke from the stage for TFI–while the current president of the College Democrats attended the pro-Gaza side.

The university is now “investigating” PSC for allegedly allowing off-campus groups to “officially” use university space. This is unfounded, and is no doubt the result of complaints from TFI.

There is no sense that anyone in the new committee can be intimidated for exercising their democratic rights.

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