It’s disconcerting and disorienting to be in a room with 300 people and know that almost all of them hate something you love, to the point that many have devoted their lives to its destruction.
That was my situation at the opening event of the 14th annual national conference of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation on Friday evening, Sept. 25. I was blissfully unaware of the first 13 national conferences and would have happily experienced decades of continued ignorance, but when a radically anti-Israel organization comes to my town, it’s my job to check it out — even if the event runs into Shabbat.
I came away from the three-hour experience not knowing what to make of the ethnically and religiously, if not politically, diverse crowd that seemed united by the belief that Zionism is the world’s ultimate evil.
If I had been among 300 Palestinians, I would have understood. If I were an Arab whose ancestors had lived for centuries in one place, only for my family to lose everything when the world decided to start calling that place Israel, I probably would hate Israel and pray for its destruction, just as Jews wept in Babylon 2,600 years ago and cursed Rome 1,900 years ago.
The Palestinians’ bitterness and blame, however misplaced, make sense. I hope I never find myself in the middle of 300 Hamas members, but I’d know where I stood and wouldn’t expect to walk out.
The Friday gathering at Iconium Baptist Church certainly included Palestinians, but they might have been a quarter of the crowd. (Although I wasn’t hiding who I was, I wasn’t advertising it either, and I wasn’t asking people about their ethnicity. Palestinians, particularly Palestinian-Americans, aren’t any easier to group by appearance than Jews.)
That means most of the people there, locals and out-of-towners, young and old, black and white and all shades in between, weren’t drawn by a personal stake in the Palestinian cause but by a certainty of the justice of that cause and the injustice of Israel’s existence.
Few of them were outwardly angry; none of them was unfriendly. They were welcoming, and they were giddy to be with their fellow travelers.
As the meeting went on — first with presentations from a panel of activists, then with a question-and-answer session that usually took the form of rambling statement and response — many of the people around me seemed overwhelmed by a mixture of euphoria and ecstasy.
I thought one keffiyeh-clad man from upstate New York would pass out, he seemed so overwhelmed as he snapped his fingers to show appreciation for everything he heard. He was so incoherent when he stepped up to a microphone for his question/statement that he might as well have been speaking in tongues.
Religious fervor applied to religion is natural; religious fervor applied anywhere else is terrifying.
The only thing more terrifying is the ability to remain cold and calculating and provide a direction to that blind passion. That’s what I saw in that church sanctuary: People blinded to reality by their ecstatic beliefs, guided by just enough people who maintained their calm and led the others down the poisonous “Palestine or bust” trail.
Thus, no one dissented during the preaching of the BDS gospel. No one doubted that Zionism is racism. No one needed an explanation of the “very obvious reasons” why the mainstream media suppress certain stories. No one had to clarify the role played by money or who benefited from it.
And because no one could sit through that meeting without absorbing its overt delegitimization and implied hatred of Israel, its people and its supporters, I walked away shaken.