Sarsour NYU Event Draws Small Protest, Much Applause as Activist Praises pro-BDS Students

Palestinian-U.S. activist tells audience that although she is American, ‘I don’t forget that this country has caused a lot of horror and trauma against many communities’

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York
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Pro-Israel demonstrators, including Vered (center, wearing glasses) and far-right JDL members protesting against Linda Sarsour appearing at New York University, March 25, 2019.
Pro-Israel demonstrators, including Vered (center, wearing glasses) and far-right JDL members protesting against Linda Sarsour appearing at New York University, March 25, 2019.Credit: Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York

NEW YORK — Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour said Monday she was “proud” of students who have passed resolutions calling for schools to boycott companies with Israel ties, specifically praising NYU students for voting last December for their university to divest from businesses trading with the Israeli army.

Her comment resulted in much applause and cheering from the audience at New York University as she delivered a talk called “Migration, Refugees and the Politics of Sanctuary.”

A small group of pro-Israel supporters held a demonstration against the event beforehand, verbally clashing with audience members as they entered the Skirball Center.

“Linda Sarsour is an anti-Semite,” one of the protesters — an Israeli woman named Vered — told Haaretz. “I feel that most colleges and universities have anti-Semitic professors and they are horrible.”

Vered, who did not give her surname, added that she wanted “the Jewish students here to be Zionist and to be safe. Old ladies like me have to fight for them.”

Linda Sarsour speaking at New York University, March 25, 2019.Credit: Gili Getz

Much of the audience seemed receptive to Sarsour’s message during a talk in which she mostly focused on her activism. As she sat down for questions with the moderator afterward, she spoke about her Palestinian heritage as the daughter of Palestinian immigrants from the West Bank who “came [to the United States] from living under the longest military occupation in modern history.

“Just because my family came here to this country, I don’t forget that this country has caused a lot of horror and trauma against many communities,” Sarsour said. “It is not anti-American to remind us that we live in a country that was founded on the extermination of indigenous people; it is not anti-American to remind us that we live in a country that was founded on the enslavement of black people.

“I’m not here to convince anybody to believe what I believe. I just want to live in a country that allows me to believe what I want to believe,” she added.

Sarsour’s appearance at NYU had sparked much controversy over the past month, with pro-Israel groups calling on the university to rescind its invitation. Sarsour is one of the leading U.S. supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel and has frequently drawn criticism from the U.S. Jewish community.

In a statement published last month, the Zionist Organization of America called Sarsour “a bigot, a Jew hater, an Israel hater and a divider,” and asked NYU to cancel her appearance.

NYU defended its decision to invite Sarsour by saying that “the role of the university is to be a forum for many points of view, even points of view with which the institution itself may disagree.”

Monday’s introduction did not mention any of the controversy surrounding Sarsour, but asked audience members to refrain from interrupting her if they disagreed with her statements.

While most of the talk proceeded without incident, things became more heated when the floor was opened to questions. Some in the audience, including the Israeli protester Vered, expressed their virulent opposition to Sarsour, calling her a liar.

“What about the Palestinians oppressed by Hamas in Gaza?” one man, a self-described Israeli advocate called Jonathan Elkhoury, shouted. Sarsour did not address the question.

Elkhoury told Haaretz afterward he had asked the question because he wanted to hear Sarsour address the issue of how Palestinians are being treated.

“She named all the communities who suffer a lack of human rights, and only two days ago Palestinians were shot by the Hamas terrorist organization because they were protesting them and she is silent about it,” he said. “In my opinion, it is pure hypocrisy when, suddenly, the fact Palestinians are lacking human rights under their own leadership doesn’t get her support.”

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