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18 February 2006


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NEWSFLASH:

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY SEVERELY RESTRICTS
PALESTINIAN CONFERENCE

MER - MiddleEast.Org - 18 February - Washington: "In twenty years with the media in Washington I've never experienced such unreasonable restrictions and procedures" said one journalist, a slew of Press Credentials to the White House, Congress, etc., dangling from her neck chains as she stood out in the cold surrounded by Georgetown University officials who refused her entry to the Intercultural Center (ICC).

The event was the 5th annual Palestine Solidarity Movement Conference -- no well-known speakers and certainly no one who is use to having any serious security. "I saved these two days to be at the conference" the reporter insisted before declaring in obvious frustration that she was going to have a weekend vaction instead and left in a huff.

The unusual maybe unprecedented restrictions for such a conference totally barring any media with any recording devices or cameras of any kind even if not used was apparently imposed on the student organizers by Georgetown University under threat of not allowing their conference to take place at the university. The PSM, well-known both for passionate commitment to their cause as well as inexperience and naivete in dealing with serious political and p.r. matters, apparently agreed to the restrictions oblivious to how their conference was being considerably restricted and undermined by those opposed to their concerns.

Asked if their evening speakers welcomed media coverage the student organizers could only shrug indicating that the University insisted that they could not have any media with tape-recorders or cameras allowed into the building where the speechs were going to be given. This policy was in fact being visibly enforced by quite a number plain clothes as well as uniformed police who challenged anyone other than those students registered for the conference if they tried to enter the usually open and public ICC.

The theme of the PSM conference this year as in the past is "divestment" from "Apartheid Israel." A press conference and opening speeches were given in a separate university building which the media was allowed to attend. Many uniformed police plus plain clothed university officials seemed to be standing guard for something to happen; but in the end they outnumbered those few who came to protest.

In the end all that happened was that three obviously right-wing Jewish Israeli supporters, complete with skullcaps and in one case heavy beard and prayer shawl, mildly and rather surprisingly meekly heckled for a few seconds a few times and then during the Q@A session attempted to repeat their obviously unfriendly questions from the floor. Since it was the Jewish Sabbath they didn't even use the floor microphones but rather mildly badgered for a short time the four speakers on the stage at Gaston Hall until -- in what seemed a rehearsed and ritualized way -- University officials went on stage and took the microphone, taking over from the students it appeared, and after a few hesitations told a few cops to escort one of the the three Jews from the Hall.

Conference organizers said they were expecting 500 or 600 persons to attend the conference but the number who actually came seemed about half that and in fact the entire balcony at Gaston Hall was closed off and not used at all. Yet the pretense of importance was certainly there including a kind of surreal 'media escort' procedure taking journalists one by one from the main gate of the University to Gaston Hall just a few steps away.

Despite the important subject and the Washington venue very few media people were in attendance at the PSM conference to start with and the organizers seemed more comfortable, and maybe more interested as well, in talking to each other in a kind of reunion atmosphere rather than in really truly having an impact -- as much as some of the speakers kept referring to that unsuccessful theme.

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Mid-East Realitieswww.middleeast.org

Source: http://www.middleeast.org/articles/2006/2/1355.htm