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Rutgers University Pro-Palestinian Forum Draws Political Fire

Jeff McKay | Correspondent | Monday, July 14, 2003

Rutgers University Pro-Palestinian Forum Draws Political Fire

(CNSNews.com) - A planned pro-Palestine student conference scheduled to be held at Rutgers University in October is drawing sharp criticism from pro-Israel groups and now has state political leaders, including New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey and the state's highest ranking Republican, entering the fray.

The National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement is expected to attract hundreds of student activists and nationwide supporters of an independent Palestinian state.

Among the events scheduled for October include workshops on how students can pressure their schools to stop investing in companies that do business with Israel, along with rallies to support the formation of an independent Palestinian state.

Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, has been flooded with hundreds of letters and phone calls urging the cancellation of the National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement.

The group's leader makes clear their position on whether Israel has the right to exist.

"The Pro-Palestinian Forum stands for justice, peace, and equality for all peoples. Israel is an apartheid, colonial settler state. We're opposed to the racism and apartheid in Israel, and we believe no state has the right to be a racist state," said Charlotte Kates, organizer of the Rutgers chapter of New Jersey Solidarity and a student at the Rutgers Law School based in Newark.

New Jersey Senate GOP leader John Bennett (R-Monmouth) sent a letter to Gov. McGreevey calling the National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement "abominable" and asking the governor to demand Rutgers not allow the event to proceed on campus.

"I am strongly opposed to our taxpayer dollars being used to help spread their message of hate and intolerance," Bennett wrote in his letter to McGreevey.

New Jersey Solidarity has about 25 active members on the Rutgers' campus and is one of a few hundred groups that is state university-funded by mandatory fees students pay along with their tuition.

On Wednesday, McGreevey's spokesman Micah Rasmussen announced the governor will meet with Rutgers President Richard McCormick to discuss the event and its pending ramifications.

"The governor is concerned whether this is going to be a balanced forum or a pre-scripted anti-Israeli rally," said Rasmussen.

"This has become an issue of free speech. Rutgers sees it as a free speech issue. It is completely inappropriate for [Bennett] to dictate what student organizations can and cannot do at this university. What they [politicians] are trying to do is attack a student political group that some see as controversial," said Kates.

According to the New Jersey Solidarity website, among the aims of the weekend-long conference is to "celebrate Palestinian resistance and work to build our own voices of resistance; we will strategize for divestment from Israeli apartheid."

The website adds that they will accept any organization "that stand for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and homeland, and full equality under law and the abolition of Israeli apartheid" to be a part of their October event.

At least one Jewish student group on campus plans to protest during the October event.

Kates said her group calls for the end of US aid and support for Israel, but takes no position on what the group calls "Palestinian resistance," including terrorism or the use of homicide bombers.

In January, the group launched their "Rutgers University Campaign for Divestment from Israeli Apartheid" which included a "die in" by the 50 people in attendance.

When contacted, a spokesman at Rutgers said the University had no comment at this time.

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