Marilyn Garson promotes BDS with lies of omission, writes Tony Kan after attending one of her recent presentations.
I was intrigued to attend an address by Marilyn Garson as a guest of the NZ Institute of International Affairs on Tuesday, 25 February 2020 at the University of Canterbury. A number of our members had contacted me and drawn my attention to the event.
The invitation included a resume and she looked like she had had quite an extensive and lengthy experience as a foreign aid worker, in Cambodia, Afghanistan and more latterly Gaza, promoting micro-enterprise schemes to foster employment and self-sufficiency.
Her stories of suffering, deprivation, and trauma, especially during open warfare we’re harrowing and deeply saddening. She talked about the unsustainable pressure of living in one of the most densely populated societies in the world.
Wikipedia says that there are over 5,000 people per square kilometre in Gaza. Yet I note that there are at least five other countries with less than 10 million people, that have higher population densities and have significantly higher per capital GDPs.
In case you’re wondering who they are: Macau (20,000+ persons per sq km), Monaco (~19,000), Singapore (~7,800), and Hong Kong (~6,800). All of them living and enjoying sustainably economic lives.
She talked about the fear and terror amongst families as they sheltered from bombardment during the 2014 Gaza War. Yet even in such terrible circumstances, glimmers of kindness, courage and selflessness shine through under fire, as the community reaches out to one another to provide shelter and support in time of conflict.
“Gaza is a political problem that has been left to fester so long that it now manifests itself in a humanitarian, ecological, economic calamity,” she said.
While listening to her relate the 2014 Gaza War suffering, I noticed that she was omitting the events that led to the war, that Gazan protagonists were using schools as launch sites and munitions stores and that Israel’s bombing practices were incomparable to the widespread destruction and civilian mortality caused by the Russians in the neighbouring Syrian Civil War.
I have no doubt that Gazan civilians are suffering and that her empathy and despair for them is genuine.
On the face of it, she clearly reserves her blame for Israel alone, for its “inhumanity,” and for acting contrary to international law. Her hope is in the rule of international law and believes that Israel is guilty of breaching it despite the criticism of the international community. She acknowledges Israel’s legal defenses, but they are all dismissed as “word games.”
To her, Israel’s military actions and the blockade are the source of Gazan suffering, and completely ignores Palestinian attacks on Israel’s own civilian population. She never once mentions that Egypt also enforces a blockade along its Gaza border.
Why the double standard? A hint of anti-semitism? Ironic, as she relies on the fact that she is a Jew for part of her credibility. She hid this fact from her colleagues in Gaza until a few hours before she left Gaza for good.
Garson repudiates the Trump Peace Plan as illegal, because it is giving away land that is “rightfully” the Palestinians’. She blames the international community of nation states for not enforcing international law. In her eyes, only numbers and external pressure will change things.
Therefore, to her, boycotting Israel is the only option left that has any chance of success. She urges New Zealanders to join her in the boycott, despite her misgivings of it as a tool.
She ends by reading aloud:
After the 2014 Gaza bombardment, she asked her team how they explain the bombs to their children. They were small, they were pre-schoolers. One team member replied, “We want our children to know that they have a right to live in their homeland, but we don’t want them to grow up feeling anger and hatred. I say to my girls that Gaza is full of good people, but we have a very angry government. Across the wall, there are good people in Israel too, but they have a very angry government. When the angry governments fight, everyone is afraid. But the angry governments will fall, then we must not hate, because we might forget how to live together, we are refugees but all humans deserve to live in peace and dignity, regardless of their religion.
It is not until Q&A time before it becomes clear that she is aware of other factors that would detract from her one-dimensional narrative. I asked, “Your quote about “angry governments” was intriguing: To what extent can Hamas be held accountable for their actions by Gaza’s citizens?”
In reply, Garson said, “It’s the first place where I’ve worked where its citizens are afraid to even tell jokes about their government because they are so certain that they would be overheard. The degree of control [exerted by Hamas] was often unpleasant. The people don’t have a chance to state what their preferences are.
She ends by saying “Hamas is not very popular, but it is pretty effective.” “What do you mean by “effective?”” “At keeping control.” “Hamas maintains the status quo,” said Garson.
Her testimony describing her genuine experiences in Gaza, witnessing the suffering of Gazans, and their hopelessness, is deeply moving. But, her omissions and myopic framing of the problem turns their plight into cynical propaganda.
Tony Kan is the president of the NZ Friends of Israel Association. His article was originally published on the NZFOI website. It is republished here with permission.