Raucous crowd lays into Mideast pundit Pipes at U.C. Berkeley speech

Five seconds.

That’s all the time it took for controversial Mideast pundit Daniel Pipes to be interrupted at the onset of a contentious speech Tuesday night, Feb. 12, on the U.C. Berkeley campus.

“Mr. Pipes, Mr. Pipes, I’m on your Campus Watch,” said graduate student instructor and pro-Palestinian activist Snehal Shingavi, leaping out of the third row and making reference to Pipes’ Web site, which lists “anti-Israel” college instructors.

A cavalcade of jeers and nearly as many cheers followed as U.C. police led Shingavi, screaming, out of the immense Pimentel lecture hall, which was packed to the rafters with at least 600 in attendance. And Shingavi would not be the last to be dragged out of the building while shouting slogans.

It was that way all night for Pipes, who tore into militant Islam, Palestinian nationalism and the state of Middle Eastern studies on North American campuses between loud and frequent interruptions and a bevy of ejections.

The director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and recent presidential appointee to the U.S. Institute of Peace compared Islamism to the totalitarian philosophies of Nazism and communism, and called for “a war on militant Islam.”

“Militant Islam is derived from Islam, but it is [a] misanthropic, misogynist, millenarian, anti-modern, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, terroristic and suicidal version of it,” he said.

The extremely tall and owlish Pipes spoke softly and often tossed out long and complex lists like the above, making him an easy mark for disruption by campus pro-Palestinians and members of Bay Area anti-Zionist groups.

Cries and chants of “racist,” “Zionism will be defeated” and “leave Cal” ignited the politically polarized crowd, and led to frequent outbursts. Pipes did not respond to the first few interruptions, but he began to toss out barbs such as “I guess your totalitarian impulse is just too strong” as they mounted up, to the delight of the rankled pro-Israel audience members.

In his Hillel- and Jewish Student Union-sponsored speech, he derided the Oslo accords as a fiasco, doomed because the Palestinians never dropped their “foul ambitions to destroy their neighbor.”

Until the Palestinians accept Israel’s permanence, the only option for the Jewish state is to “relegate diplomacy to the trash.” Israeli concessions, he believes, will be taken as signs of weakness, and only encourage more and more Arab violence. The two sides can start talking when “Jews who live in Hebron have no more need for security than Arabs who live in Nazareth.”

Pipes said he supported the war in Iraq — “as any civilized person must” — but was displeased by the war’s aftermath.

Iraq is unlike Germany and Japan, he said, because the inhabitants of those nations had been thoroughly defeated in a long war, while the Iraqis survived a short war and emerged “liberated.”

After being showered with boos following that statement, he replied: “I’m sorry, I stand corrected. They were much better off under Saddam Hussein.”

As a “liberated” people and not a “conquered” one, the Iraqis are less receptive to the rule of outsiders, he said.

Pipes said he would like to see a vastly scaled-back American presence in Iraq, but he also wished the United States would have the patience to foster democracy in the former dictatorial state, which he believes will take 20 years or more to emerge.

He closed by lambasting the field of Middle Eastern studies as a corrupt and inept collection of apologists for terror who have been cowed by a glut of Arab money, and he defended his critiques on campus-watch.com, which accusers described as “McCarthyite.”

As he finished his speech, large numbers of pro-Palestinians stood and chanted “racist” and entire rows were expelled from the auditorium. A crowd of ejected audience members continued chanting outside, causing students taking night courses nearby to complain that their classes had been disrupted. The demonstrators also mobbed pro-Israel attendees leaving the speech, pointing fingers and shouting “racist, racist.”

Pipes said after the speech that the audience reaction was “about the worst I ever had,” and many audience members were displeased as well.

“My night was ruined; I was sitting right in front of that whole row that was kicked out. They weren’t really even listening. I was angry, I kept telling them to shut up,” said Alex Gutman, a San Francisco State student in attendance.

“They should have kicked out all those people from the get-go.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.