Palestinian event at library brings controversy

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COLUMBIA - A public program called "The Exiled Palestinians" held at the Columbia Public Library on Tuesday drew strong opinions. Two Palestinian women, Umm Akrum and Amena Askar, who live in a Lebanese refugee camp, spoke during the event. More than 100 supporters and opponents of this event attended the program.

"I think it's important for us to develop a greater collective consciousness and awareness," Jeff Stack, an organizer, said.

An attendee who advocates the event said the perspectives of Palestinian refugees have historically been absent in the U.S. mainstream. 

"I think there's a lot gets missed out on. I think a lot of times the people who are consulted as experts don't come from those backgrounds, so they don't have those personal experiences to really give a nuanced opinion. A lot of times a lot of facts are missed out on, or they are framed in a way that's very biased," Farah El-Jayyousi, who is part Palestinian and part white-American and grew up in Columbia, said.

Daniel Swindell, a person who opposed this event, wrote an official letter to the Columbia Public Library and hoped the library would cancel the program based on hate speech laws.

"I'm extremely disappointed that the Columbia Public Library allowed this event, not just because of the idea of hate speech, but the Friends Room in the library says it's open to people who want to use it for education events, hosting an event where you call for destruction of Israel is not really an education event," Swindell said.

Swindell said the reason he opposes this program is he believed the program calls for Jewish people to be denied rights.

"In the 1920s, the League of Nations granted the Jewish people right to self-determination, so the international community granted the Jewish people the rights to a nation. So if you host an event where you call for destruction of Israel, then you are literally hosting an event where calling for Jewish people to be denied rights," Swindell said.

The event was sponsored by Mid-Missourians for Justice in Palestine, the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, Mid-MO Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, MU Socialists and Occupy CoMo.