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February 10, 2009

Another Missed Opportunity for the Palestinians

The Palestinians, the old adage goes, never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. One of those missed opportunities happened early last month, when members of the rival factions Hamas and Fatah clashed on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.

No, not in Ramallah or Gaza City. St. Paul.

The occasion, which was captured on YouTube and made the blogosphere rounds a few weeks later, was a rally held on the steps of the capitol to protest Israel's invasion of Gaza. At the rally, organized by pro-Palestinian groups in the Twin Cities area, protesters chanted slogans, waved Palestinian flags and listened to guest speakers, who included Keith Ellison, the congressman from Minnesota's fifth district and the first Muslim ever elected to the U.S. Congress.

As the 10-minute YouTube video (recorded by a group called "Minnesotans Against Terrorism") shows, a schism soon developed during the rally, as rival supporters of the Hamas and Fatah factions began shouting at each other. When a member of one group burned an Israeli flag, the Fatah supporters objected. Later, speakers loyal to Fatah were booed by Hamas supporters, and vice versa.

But the most remarkable part came when Ellison spoke. The congressman, who had been invited by the Fatah faction, spoke in favor of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. In the face of demands that he condemn Israel's actions, Ellison said repeatedly that "I'm not here to condemn anyone," at which point the crowd booed and demanded that he leave.

When a Fatah spokesman took the microphone and asked them to stop, he too, was booed and asked to leave. As Ellison left, he was shouted at by the Hamas faction, who screamed "We are all Hamas."

After viewing this video, I have three observations:

1. I had no idea there were actual open, vocal Hamas supporters in the Upper Midwest of the United States. It's one thing to be a peacenik, or even sympathetic to the Palestinians' plight. But to support a full-on terrorist militia? To paraphrase what an old professor of mine used to say about the Communist Party, signing up for Hamas isn't like joining the College Democrats.

2. If the Palestinians can't get their act together in a small protest on the steps of the capitol in a free country, I don't feel so great about their chances for reconciliation in the West Bank and Gaza.

3. The person who came off looking the best from this was . . . Keith Ellison. As long as he's been on the scene, the right has been calling Ellison an Islamic radical, with Glenn Beck going so far as to ask him, live on CNN Headline News, to prove that he's not working with our enemies. But one time he was near actual radicals they booed him off the stage.

Sure, Ellison represents a unique district, in which there are large numbers of both Jews and Muslims, so it behooves him to not lean too much to one side. But still, he handled himself quite well in this situation. Which is especially embarrassing for those gathered, because if Ellison isn't the only member of Congress who would appear at a public pro-Palestinian rally, there can't be more than three or four others.

Note: The video can be viewed at www.youtube.com/user/VoicesAgainstTerror


2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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