Heat of the Israel-Palestinian conflict flared Wednesday at the Florida House Government Accountability Committee when a pro-Palestine student charged that a resolution supporting Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a threat to peace, and then the bill’s sponsor interpreted her comments as apparent threats of terrorism.
“There will be no true peace and safety for any of your constituents as long as resolutions like this … are passed,” declared Reem Zaitoon, a Florida State University student who identified herself as an organizer for the FSU Students for Justice in Palestine.
“If I heard right, the previous speaker basically threatened our constituents with terrorism if we voted for this bill,” he added.
Reached afterward, Zaitoon insisted she made no such threat. She said she was referring to peace and safety for Palestinian-Americans and Palestinian immigrants living in Florida, constituents in the lawmakers’ districts.
As for offensive comments, yeah, she said, that was intended. Zaitoon said she was there to bring visibility to the struggle of the Palestinian people. Along the way Wednesday, she made references to Israel being a “murderous” country, and to the United States as being an imperialist supporter, and called for a “free Palestine,” and she claimed Jews and Muslims had coexisted peacefully before Israel.
“His claim of calling me a terrorist, they all seem to believe that we hate Jewish people and that we want nothing to do with them,” she said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. That is not true at all.”
Also reached afterward, Fine said her comments “speak for themselves.”
“And I think every member who heard them was horrified by what sounded like a terrorist threat to us and our constituents,” he added.
The Israel-Palestinian altercation emerged during what was otherwise running as a quiet hearing for HR 1027, sponsored by Fine, a Republican from Brevard County, and state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat from Coral Springs. Moskowitz explained the bill. Another speaker, also an FSU student, spoke in support. After no questions or debate, the committee voted 22-0 to support it.
But before that vote came Zaitoon, and then Fine, as shown in the Florida Channel video of the hearing, starting 35 minutes into the meeting.
Zaitoon said she was there to denounce and refute HR 1027.
“Jerusalem must and will live on as the eternal capital of Palestine,” she said.
And then Zaitoon went on a roll, charging that the land was stolen from Palestinians, and claiming that Palestinians living in Jerusalem are assaulted and banned from praying in their mosques, and pushed out of their homes, and displaced and that Palestinians in a worldwide diaspora will never abandon Jerusalem as their home.
She contended that recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is dangerous to international peace, and said, “that includes your own constituents here in Florida. There are Palestinian constituents in Florida whose chances of liberation are further damaged by this recognition.”
She expanded on that later, adding, “There will be no true peace and safety for any of your constituents so long as resolutions like this, that refuse to be aware of the situation in Palestine, are passed.”
And she concluded by declaring the resolution’s references to promoting peace are wrong; “Let me make it perfectly transparent, that the Palestinian people and our global allies will not stop resisting until we all rightfully return to our homeland.”
Fine said later that Zaitoon demonstrated herself to be “a star witness for why the [The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement is an anti-Semitic, terrorist organization.
Before the committee, Fine strongly disputed her criticisms of and charges against Israel, and said her remarks were, “an offensive speech. It was a disgusting speech. It’s unfortunate that it was part of the record.
“Think about that: we allowed that to be heard in this chambers, the most offensive thing I have ever, and frankly, it would be offensive no matter the issue,” Fine said. “But the second thing, there is this insulting notion that Muslims in Israel are not allowed to pray. If you survey Muslims in Israel, they’re glad to be there. In no other place in the Middle East do they have as much freedom.”