Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Discussion of Palestinian Human Rights Taboo at Atlanta School Fair

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Discussion of Palestinian Human Rights Taboo at Atlanta School Fair

Article excerpt

Discussion of Palestinian Human Rights Taboo at Atlanta School Fair

The day of the 1992 Atlanta International School's Fall Fair started out bright and balmy. Booths were set up, food concessions laid out and families trickled in. Before long, however, a small, angry knot of parents formed and went en masse to the school offices. A young administrator who went out to investigate the problem ran back shouting, "The PLO are here! Terrorists are here!"

His reaction was a tribute to media stereotyping. Two women in their sixties, both wives of medical doctors who had worked in the Middle East, had set up a card table displaying a handful of T-shirts and small piles of pamphlets, buttons and postcards showing the intifada. A handmade "Palestinian Human Rights Campaign" sign was on the table, and the same words were on a bright banner over two Palestinian women making falafel.

The fair's organizer, a sensitive German woman, was in tears. The besieged principal, describing himself as a "political animal," decreed that all the signs of the human rights organization would have to be taken down. The women could remain, without the signs, if they so chose.

The group of parents, still not satisfied and now augmented by a rabbi, stood 10 feet across from the card table and glared at the two women. Rita, who is English, confided that she had put up with far worse than that. She had received death threats for making similar appearances representing the Atlanta branch of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign.

Having personally witnessed the situation in the Middle East, however, she and her American-born colleague, Jean Rogers, felt committed to continuing their work on behalf of human rights for Palestinians. After about an hour of no apparent student interest in the political materials, the two doctors' wives departed. The falafel stand, now without its banner, remained open and was mobbed until the end of the day.

At the time, they and I, with a child in the school, accepted the principal's verdict without question. No one wanted to cause school officials embarrassment. What had begun as a fun day already had turned ugly enough. Later, however, came the second thoughts: Would anyone have had the nerve to demand that a Jewish human rights group remove its sign in a free country?

In the unlikely event that someone did, would a Jewish human rights group have responded with such docility? Or would it have gone to the media and confronted the school with a scandal, and perhaps a lawsuit, for riding roughshod over the Jewish group's First Amendment rights?

Every reader of this publication knows the answers. Our society has been highly sensitized to slights against Jews--far more so than to infringements, real or perceived, against the rights of any other minority.

The facts of the Israeli occupation remain unacknowledged.

What is more complex, however, is the reaction of the Jewish parents in this situation. Why were they angry? Did they really believe the Palestinians have no human rights complaints? Or did they feel the Palestinians had no right to publicize their situation in the United States, where criticism of Israeli actions or policies so offends some American Jews?

Why was the implicit accusation of Israeli wrongdoing so threatening? Must such abuse charges be treated as anti-Semitic even though they are confirmed annually in the U. …

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