Anamika Singh (Art ’17)
On September 22nd, the Cooper Union’s Great Hall teemed with anticipation as Ambassador William Clarke introduced President Mahmoud Abbas of the State of Palestine. Standing at a podium not unlike the one Abraham Lincoln had stood two centuries ago, Abbas Mahmoud addressed Cooper Union students and staff, students of other local universities, youth groups, and other members of the public. Early within his speech, Abbas addressed Islam’s current association with terrorism and its role within the socio-political climate of the world as he touched upon the significance of the close proximity of Ground Zero. Abbas quickly condemned ISIS, al-Qaeda, and various other terrorist organizations as inconsistent with Islam.
As Abbas spoke about Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the escalating conflict, he garnered applause from the audience. Within his rhetoric, Abbas incorporated past American conflicts in an attempt to appeal to an American sentiment. For example, he quoted leaders such Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. Abbas likened the potential actions of today’s public to those of Freedom Riders and Vietnam War protestors in American colleges, thus associating the struggle of Palestine to the Civil Rights Movements and the Vietnam War. He urged his audience to “Rethink Palestine”, his slogan for the night, which was revisited every so often to guide his message.
Throughout his speech, Abbas reiterated his desire for peace between Israel and Palestine, and his hope that Israel could be a “good neighbor” to Palestine. Abbas also took the opportunity to announce his intention to propose a binding timetable for peace in his upcoming address to the UN General Assembly. Despite Mahmoud’s aspiration for peace, he expressed sadness in the fact that he himself may be unable to experience it, “At 79, I do not know for certain if I will ever hold in my hand and taste the sweet fruit of peace. But I do know this for certain. I have held in my hand, and seen with my own eyes, the seeds of peace.”
As Abbas closed his speech, he received a passionate applause and a standing ovation from his audience. As the public began to leave the Foundation Building, a group of Jewish youth began a protest chant against Abbas, shouting, “Abbas is Hamas” and “Shame on Cooper.” This revealed the complexity of emotion within the Cooper Union and New York City community in regards to the hosting of the Palestine President.