An evening with Ehud Barak

Last night, I went to a conference by the ex-Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Ehud Barak at the University of Texas, in the LBJ Auditorium.
First thing I noticed, when I got there, is that security was tight. There was a very long line outside waiting to be screened with metal detectors, etc. I don’t know if this is customary for this kind of events (it wasn’t like that last year when Bill Clinton spoke) or if security was specially tight because the speaker is an israeli ex-Prime Minister.

Second thing I notice, is lots of people wearing t-shirts from different jewish or pro-Israel organizations (i.e. Hillel, Texans for Israel). Many “I love Israel” t-shirts too. Also, lots of people wearing pro-palestinian t-shirt with flags and kefiahs around their necks. The atmosphere was very politically charged.
I sat three rows from the top. The second row behind me was left empty, even though the auditorium was packed. In the last row sat 8 or so people that looked like UT students. They were there to protest, I assume, Israel’s policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Too bad Mr. Barak is no longer the Prime Minister, nor is he even a member of the Knesset anymore. I guess they wanted to make a point. They stood up with their backs to the speaker during the full length of the conference, about two hours. They were, at least, mostly quiet.
The conference was interesting, but nothing groundbreaking for someone who is familiar with Barak’s ideology, and has kept up with the news for the last years. He has a very very strong Sabra accent… surprising for someone who went to the University in the US. He talked about Iraq (good), about unilateralism in the international scene (bad), terror (bad), war on terror (good), Camp David, Yasser Arafat, Gaza Pullout, etc.
To me, the most interesting part was at the end, during the Q&A part. The organizers took written questions, screend (censored?) them and passed read some to Barak. Stupid things like “Do you have a cowboy hat?”. What a waste of time. Barak then stopped the guy questioning him and said, more or less:
“I see there are some palestinian supporters here, let’s let them ask questions.”
A guy sitting somewhere in the middle of the auditorium immediately jumped up and asked, in an aggressive tone, about settlement policies during his government, and about the negotiations in Camp David, arguing why he never revealed maps detailing his offer to Arafat. Barak answered all the questions and talked about some of the things that happened, like how Clinton was infuriated with the outright, complete rejection of the offers even as a basis for negotiations. A second student, wearing an israeli shirt was next to ask a question, but Barak cut him, saying he wanted to give a chance to the supporters of the palestinians to speak up. So a third student, wearing a “Free Palestine” t-shirt stood up and asked, in an educated and eloquent manner, on how Israel can reject, on a moral and legal basis, the right of return of palestinians to Israel proper. Barak’s answer was good, going back to his childhood begore the establishment of the State of Israel, the UN’s partition plan, the War of Independence and jewish refugees from the time other arab countries got independence.
All in all, it was a very interesting conference. I was, perhaps not surprised, but happy to see Barak in speak straight, concise and to the point, as he is known to do. However, I was somewhat surprised to see such a heavy atmosphere surrounding the whole event, where a lot of people did not go to listen but to make a political statement. I never experienced it at this level back in Mexico… not even in Israel. These last days, there has been a marked increase in antisemitic posts to my other website, some of them outright attacks on jews that we had to delete from the message forum and block accounts and things like that. This is the worse it’s been since the website was placed online three years ago. Makes you think.
My friend Jason Schwartz presented him… cool. He’s also mentioned in this article.

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