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Disturbing the Peace 

The local conversation between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists is getting less civil every day. And Lee Kaplan's tactics aren't helping.

Wednesday, Aug 9 2006
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Page 5 of 5

Later that day, about two dozen activists gathered for the workshop on student organizing on college campuses. Appel, the Berkeley student who works on Lee Kaplan Watch and one of the workshop's leaders, wasn't surprised when Kaplan strode into the room. Appel keeps a sense of humor about Kaplan's watchfulness: "At least I get to tell people that my archnemesis was on the O'Reilly show," he says. "His archnemesis is just some 21-year-old guy."

At the workshop, Appel and Al-Qare described their campus organizing work in minute detail. Then Appel told a story about an anti-war demonstration in the spring at which the pro-Palestinian contingent was joined by a few strangers waving Palestinian flags — and signs advertising a neo-Nazi Web site. "We need to smash these people and prevent them from infiltrating our group," he said fiercely. When the student organizers finished talking and opened the room to questions, Kaplan's hand shot high in the air. Appel reluctantly recognized him.

"Ehud, you were talking about your objection to Nazism, which sounds like a good thing," Kaplan said. "But I've recently shown that Al-Awda has links to the National Socialist Movement, which is the Nazi party." Kaplan ran through his allegations: A neo-Nazi Web site linked to a Web page calling for the boycott of companies that do business with Israel, a page from a Web site that Kaplan said was registered to the founder of Al-Awda. "If you're serious about your objection to Nazism in your movement, you might want to look into that. Al-Awda was notified about this weeks before this conference," Kaplan declared.

As he spoke, a clamor of voices grew. Then Appel leapt to his feet and dramatically pointed to Kaplan. "You are using guilt by association!" he shouted, and would have gone on, but a conference organizer burst into the room to restore order.

"We won't have debate!" said the organizer. "Each person can ask one question, based on the presentation, and they will get one answer."

Kaplan looked up, unfazed. "OK, here's my question for Ehud. Have you read the Hamas charter?"

The tumult of voices began again. Someone shouted: "Lee Kaplan, you're a racist!" Others yelled, "Next question! Next question!"

Kaplan got no answer, and the workshop leaders tried to go back to the topics at hand, such as how to use MySpace as an organizing tool. But the room vibrated with energy, all of it centered around the hulking interloper. Twice more Kaplan interjected comments, and twice more the group drowned him out in a wave of collective antagonism. A few fresh-faced college students asked questions about how to deal with "disruptive people" who are "obnoxious and annoying," while pointedly averting their eyes from Kaplan. He stayed silent.

It seemed like the workshop might come to a close without further incident. Suddenly, a new uproar erupted by the doorway. "He used a camera!" shouted one of the organizers, pointing to Kaplan, who was holding a chunky pen. "It has a lens; he took a picture!"

Everyone turned on Kaplan, who protested, "It's a computer pen! It's a computer pen!"

A few organizers leaned in around him, apparently demanding that he turn the questionable object over.

"Kiss my ass," Kaplan replied.

Unwilling to wrest the pen from his hands, Al-Qare took the high road, announcing that the police would investigate. The session broke up as several activists ran to the student lounge to find the cops.

In the lounge, a flat-screen TV tuned to CNN showed images of rubble in the streets of Beirut, and posted the phone numbers that Americans in Lebanon could call to arrange for evacuation by sea. An Israeli missile had hit a civilian convoy, the station reported, killing 23 people who were evacuating their village. Hezbollah forces had launched a barrage of Katyusha rockets that fell on the Israeli city of Tiberius. And there was no word of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

Meanwhile, Kaplan retreated down the hallway and headed for the exit. He had discomfited nearly everyone at the conference, and thoroughly derailed the proceedings of the student workshop. He had photos of activists that he could add to his "rogues' gallery," and he had material for his next article. It was a good day's work.

About The Author

Eliza Strickland

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