Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG), spoke to an audience of 85 students and three faculty members at Vassar on February 17. He was neither invited nor sponsored by any department, academic program or student group; instead, his appearance was made possible by the college administration and a student who is involved with CAMERA. One faculty member, from the film department, agreed to serve as moderator. Faculty members in the Jewish Studies program were notably uninvolved with the event and none attended.
Eid is well-known for his criticism of the Palestinian leadership. In his speech at Vassar, he stated that poor leadership and the divisions between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas were the chief causes of the Palestinians’ problems. He added that many Palestinians acknowledge they get better treatment in Israel-controlled areas than in Gaza and that the PA is corrupt.
According to a student who attended, several members of SJP were in the audience. Eid did not spare their feelings. “I don’t believe that the Students for Justice for Palestine will bring any kind of justice for the Palestinians,” he said, “because the only one who can bring justice for the Palestinians is the Palestinians themselves.”
In his writings and talks elsewhere, Eid has gone on record in opposition to BDS, and at Vassar he repeated his stance. He said, “I don’t believe that BDS is going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don’t even know one person in the PA or Gaza that knows what BDS is.” He added that BDS undermines Palestinian economic interests, citing the loss of 500 jobs for Palestinian workers because of the closure of the SodaStream factory, which was forced to leave the West Bank, in part due to by pressure from pro-BDS groups in the West.
Asked if Israel was an “apartheid state,” Eid said, “Using that word doesn’t help me. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Just come [to Israel] for one day, and you’ll throw out the word apartheid.” He added, “Palestinians need to start believing in co-existence. Palestinians can’t deny the existence of Israel and the right of Israel to exist.”
According to an FTI member who attended and provided information used in this article, the students were very receptive to Eid’s remarks and there was much applause. When it was over, many went over to thank him.
Vassar included an article on Eid in its on-line news site.