Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
Bethlehem resident Ruth Singer, 68, explains to the library her passion for visiting the updated facility and how having Miko Peled speak is not what she thought the library was all about. She also asked for the library board to reverse their decision to allow Peled to speak. Looking on, listening to the arguments about why Peled should not be given a forum to speak, is Bethlehem Library Director Geoff Kirkpatrick, who has served in that post since July 2011.

It has long been said that words matter. Words can be used to be helpful or hurtful depending upon who uttered them and the audience receiving those messages. In the case of a pro-Palestinian Israeli, Miko Peled, words he spoke at a recent presentation he gave at a library meeting room in the town of Bethlehem, Albany County, incited attendees who are from Israel to shoot back with words that had a pro-Palestinian crowd jump to their feet and counter with other words, which were hurtful and helpful.

The incident happened two days before Chanukah in a meeting room at the Bethlehem Public Library on Tuesday, December 5. Many people were against the event to the point an emergency library board meeting was held the night before, Monday, December 4. Approximately 50 members of the Albany-area Jewish community spoke out against Peled’s appearance and requested the event be canceled or postponed until a new policy could be adopted by the library board. That request fell on deaf ears, although board members said we hear you. The library board sanctioned the event by unanimously voting on Monday, to allow the event to go on as planned the following evening but was not one of the sponsors. The event was sponsored by several pro-Palestinian groups including Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, taking the lead. The other groups included the Palestinian Rights Committee, Troy Area Labor Council, Women Against War and the Tom Paine Chapter of Veterans for Peace.


By voting to allow the speaker to appear, the library assumed liability in case the speaker’s appearance led to violence. Approximately seven Bethlehem police officers provided security inside and outside of the building to ensure the safety of the overflow crowd of more than 100 people.

The event was titled “What’s Next for Palestine?” As a concession towards having a peaceful meeting, David Banks, program director for global studies at the University at Albany, interviewed Peled. The first half of the two-hour session focused on Peled answering questions from Banks. During the second part, Banks acted like a Phil Donohue or Jerry Springer talk show host going around the room with a cordless microphone taking three questions at a time from members of the audience for Peled to answer. There were 12 questions asked by the audience.

It didn’t take more than the first ten minutes of the program for Peled to insult and offer derogatory remarks about Israel. Although Peled thought he was simply telling the truth. That’s where words count. Audience members, some from Israel, were furious and called for the program to be stopped.

“Zionists from the very beginning had a problem because they realized that their entire existence had no legitimacy. Their claims that members of the Jewish faith are somehow a nation like other nations, whereas Jews are united as a nation, according to some of the greatest rabbis who have ever lived, that Jews are a nation bound by their common faith, which we know is not true. Then they try to claim that the Bible, the Old Testament, which is a book of faith is a history book, which we know is not true. Finally, they said Palestine is our promised land, which again is not true,” Peled said. “They came out with this ideology, which is based on lies and they continued to develop these myths and lies. They had a problem because they needed legitimacy. Their counter was to delegitimize anyone who challenged their claim. If you’re Jewish and you challenged their claims, which most Jewish people did when Zionism just started, they were not real Jews. If they were non-Jews who rejected the concept of Zionism, they were antisemites. Everyone was flawed except for the Zionists who came up with it.”

Then Peled spoke “his truth,” no matter how convoluted it may have seemed to some of the audience who sat in amazement at this portion of his rambling speech.

“It’s a question of values. You can go on to support racism, apartheid, violence and supremacy, you can go ahead and support Israel but own it,” Peled said. “The Palestinian side talks about justice, talks about liberation, talks about freedom, talks about equal rights and talks about the possibility of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Do you believe in peace or do you believe in racism? Then own it. It’s a question of values.”

He said it is also about education. While many books in Palestine encourage the destruction of Jews, which many believe won’t bring peace, Peled continued with his version of truth.

Peled continued his antisemitic, anti-Israel campaign talking about stolen property, including money, beginning in 1948.

“In Palestine there were entire cities – Haifa, Acre, Jaffa, Nin, Jerusalem – major cities stolen, taken. Public property that was taken. Palestine was exporting citrus, olive oil, cotton, barley, all of it was stolen. The Zionists didn’t take a barren country and make it bloom, they stole a country that was in full bloom and made it their own and said it was theirs. Then they perpetuated this ridiculous myth that somehow, they made a desert bloom,” Peled claimed. “In the Negev, if you look at aerial photos taken by the British, when the British took Palestine, you will see tracts of cultivated land. They [The Zionists] stole stuff that were in full bloom. On May 15, 1948 the world was hit by amnesia because the world was doing commerce and business with Palestine. Maps say Palestine. Even this horrific plan called the Partition Plan by the United Nations was called the partition of Palestine. Suddenly everyone forgot and there was no Palestine. It’s all Israel. They brought out this name and let the apartheid regime use it as their name and from that moment on there was no Palestine, it was all Israel. Even today, people today say Israel – Palestine, Palestine – Israel. What do you mean Israel – Palestine? It’s Palestine. The fact that this group of settlers and colonizers entered a country and gave it a different name, doesn’t change the fact that it is Palestine.”

One native Israeli from the town of Bethlehem was one of the first audience members to ask a question.

“We’re talking about the Palestinian state or country? Until 1967, the Six-day War, you didn’t have to ask for a Palestinian state or identification for something from nobody because all this area was under the rule of the Jordanians. Before 1967 no one said to the Jordanians that we want our own state. Suddenly it became a problem after ‘67?” asked Haim Ben-Eliezar, who was born in Jaffa.

Peled replied: “I don’t accept the premise of the question that before 1967 there was no question of a Palestinian Liberation. The Palestinian issue of wanting liberation and wanting their freedom and wanting their country back began as soon as Palestine was taken by the Zionists in 1948. 1967 was just the second stand of the Zionists’ taking of Palestine and what they called finishing the job. Then a Zionist idea came up of the two-state solution as we know it today where the Palestinian area would be limited to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

Then the rhetoric got heated where Peled used a phrase that was not permitted and almost got the event shut down.

“Who created a single state from the river to the sea? Not the Palestinians, Israel did. Israel created a single state for Jews only with privilege and rights for Jews only from the river to the sea. When Palestinians say what about equality from the river to the sea? How about a democratic state with equal rights? The Israelis counter by saying those remarks are antisemitic. How dare they say equality. We want privilege. We want supremacy. That’s our idea. This notion that somehow before 1967 there were negotiations for Palestinian rights is an out and out lie. It’s either a lie or it comes out of ignorance, I’m not sure. It’s absolutely false,” Peled said, inflaming an already agitated audience.”

“You’re calling me ignorant and I am not. You cannot call me ignorant,” Ben-Eliezar shot back.

“Hamas is part of the Palestinian resistance. It’s a resistance organization. Resistance organizations don’t start wars, they resist,” Peled continued. “They resist and respond to oppression. They respond to violence. The war is not against Israel or this faction or that faction, and certainly not between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Israel declared war on the Palestinian people in 1948. It’s not a war because a war is something that happens between two armies, military forces. Here we have an army and small guerilla groups who try to defend their people. Hamas is a resistance organization that does what resistance organizations do.”

As for adopting a two-state solution, Peled doesn’t believe it will ever happen and a sustaining peace is not in the cards. He blames Israel for everything bad and credits the Palestinians with everything good.

Henry “Hank” Greenberg, 61, a resident of the town of Bethlehem and a prominent Albany attorney with the global law firm Greenberg and Traurig, is another speaker from the Jewish community seeking relief from the library to call off the speaking engagement of Miko Peled. Looking on, listening to the arguments about why Peled should not be given a forum to speak, is Bethlehem Library Director Geoff Kirkpatrick, who has served in that post since July 2011.

“Israel does not want to end the conflict. Israel made it clear that peace is not its strategic objective. They made it clear very early on when the state of Israel was established. Their objective is to be the toughest, meanest, craziest bully in the neighborhood so that nobody messes with them,” Peled said. “Throughout the decades, since Israel was established, whenever there was a politician who pushed for a more peaceful policy they were pushed out. Moshe Sharett being the most famous of them all. He was Israel’s second prime minister for about five minutes.” [Sharett actually served for two years from December 7, 1953, to November 3, 1955.]

“Israel made sure there would never be a Palestinian state on any part of historic Palestine. They did it by creating a single state albeit an apartheid state from the river to the sea. It’s never been a possibility. It’s always been a myth and it’s certainly not a possibility today.”

The back-and-forth continued.

Library Director Geoff Fitzpatrick: You’ve been asked not to say “from the river to the sea.”

Miko Peled: Why not? It’s the geographical description of the country. I’m saying it’s from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. Pull up a map. It’s very interesting that the people who are standing there unashamedly supporting violence and murder against civilians are trying to impose their rules on the majority of the people here by daring to make conditions to allow the majority of the people to have a conversation and there’s somebody over there standing with a shirt, with a symbol of one of the worst, most violent terrorist organizations that is probably the best trained and the best-armed terrorist organization in the world and she’s wearing their t-shirt [with the IDF logo]. She’s wearing a T-shirt of a terrorist organization. I’m just pointing it out. She’s wearing a shirt that is offensive. There are Palestinians here and Muslims here and that is offensive [to them.] It’s like someone standing here with a Confederate flag. It is not acceptable. Many people here find it offensive.

Local resident Dee Dee Levy: I am an Israeli and I am entitled and allowed to wear this.

Peled: No, you’re not.

Levy: Yes, I am.

Bethlehem resident Ruth Singer, 68, explains to the library her passion for visiting the updated facility and how having Miko Peled speak is not what she thought the library was all about. She also asked for the library board to reverse their decision to allow Peled to speak. Looking on, listening to the arguments about why Peled should not be given a forum to speak, is Bethlehem Library Director Geoff Kirkpatrick, who has served in that post since July 2011.

Then Peled picked up on the word “entitled” that Levy used: Of course, entitled. Israelis are always entitled.

Library Director to Peled: We’re done, we’re done.

The crowd then erupted into chants of “Let Him Speak.”

Audience member: It’s too late.

Board member Caroline Brancatella: We are not the arbiter of hate speech. There is no legal definition of it. We are a library board who can consider your thoughts and your opinions on that and how that fits into the community once that speech is spoken.

Audience member: He called the woman a terrorist. You were cutting it off. Now you’re bowing to them.

Board member Brancatella: If a specific phrase is repeated again, then Geoff will take action against that.

The program then continued for another 20 minutes.

“Religion is not the issue. The Zionists were atheists. They wanted nothing to do with religion,” Peled said. “They looked at the Orthodox Jews and you should see what [Theodor] Herzl, [considered to be the father of modern political Zionism] and [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky and some of these other founders of Zionism said about the religious Jews. You should read the kind of language they use to describe the Jews. They were atheists so religion is not the issue.”

Peled defended the Palestinian position by continuing his barrage that his version of the truth is correct and everyone else’s interpretation is wrong.

“I’m not a religious person but I think there are beautiful aspects in religion as well,” Peled said. “Palestine has a rich and beautiful history and a rich and beautiful culture. It has contributed greatly to the cultures of the world. Going back 4,000 years Palestine was used to describe this country going back to the days of the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks and the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Palestine has been marked for centuries by tolerance.”


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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].