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BDS conference - Keynote with Ali Abunimah Credit: Akiff Premjee , Akiff Premjee

Ali Abunimah spoke to a full lecture hall in Meyerson Hall on Saturday night as the keynote speaker of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference. Abunimah is a Palestinian-American activist and the creator of The Electronic Intifada, an online publication focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I reiterate the spirit in which we came together: we stand against all forms of bigotry,” Abunimah said.

Before beginning his talk, he spoke about the heightened rhetoric around the conference.

“Does Israel have the right exist as a Jewish state? That’s a good question,” he said. “What does it mean for Israel to be a Jewish state? Let’s ask that question.”

According to Abunimah, Israel was working to maintain its majority Jewish population. “Too many babies for the wrong type threaten Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” he said. He claimed that Israel has laws forbidding Palestinian citizens of Israel from living in Israel with a Palestinian spouse of Gaza or West Bank origins.

Abunimah was met with standing ovations and praise from the audience.

“He did a great job targeting the tactics that Israel uses to legitimize their actions,” said Bayan Founas, a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Founas, who just helped found a BDS group on his campus, came to the conference to learn tactics to help her group move forward.

Israel is also demolishing Palestinian houses, Abunimah said. He likened Jewish settlements to Jim Crow settlements and compared the BDS struggle to that of the African-American struggle for civil rights in the United States. Audiences applauded him for making these connections.

“I like when he likened the Palestinians with other struggles,” said Adam Akkad, a participant who traveled from Washington. “Struggles for equality benefit from each other.”

Abunimah talked not only about Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but also about Palestinians living in the state of Israel.

“People who are supposedly citizens … have effectively no rights because they are not Jews,” he said of the Palestinians in Israel.

At the end of his speech, Abunimah returned to speaking about the community’s reactions to the conference being held at Penn.

“The insane hysteria [around the] conference tells you something,” he said. “If our ideas are tested against each other in an equal forum, there is no defense for what Israel is doing.”

Some in the crowd found the speech an edifying experience.

“I was under the impression I knew a lot, but as I kept listening … I learned a lot,” said Aman Muqeet, who came to the conference from Miami.

For Founas, the address “was an inspiration to those who are trying to stay in solidarity with these people.”

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