There could be a storm brewing on campus.

Georgetown’s decision last month to permit the Palestine Solidarity Movement to hold its fifth annual conference on campus in February has been criticized by critics who charge that the group is tied to anti-Israeli and terrorist groups.

Representatives of the PSM have denied the charges and are moving ahead with plans to hold the conference from Feb. 17-19.

Questions have arisen over the group’s tactics and official position on the use of terrorism as a political tactic, as well as its relationship with other pro-Palestinian groups, specifically an organization known as the International Solidarity ovement that also advocates Palestinian self-determination.

PSM spokesperson Nadeem Muaddi said in an interview that the PSM and ISM are two separate organizations. He said that the confusion of the two groups may stem from the fact that “the ISM is a high-profile organization,” that pursues the same goals as the PSM.

David Staples, an official at the State Department, said that neither ISM or PSM are on the government’s list of terrorist groups.

“As for a [State Department] position on either organization,” Staples said, “I don’t believe there is one.”

Bill Levinson, a columnist for the pro-Israel Web site Israpundit.com, has sent repeated e-mails to administrators at Georgetown listing charges against PSM and detailing what he believes are the group’s true intentions for its conference.

“The PSM is [lying] to Georgetown’s administration and the Georgetown community about its true agenda, which is to destroy a country that is friendly to the United States,” he said, referring to Israel.

Students for Justice in Palestine, the student group at Georgetown that is hosting the event, supports Palestinian self-determination, according to the group’s Web site. Neither SJP nor PSM have official positions advocating the destruction of Israel.

“There is always going to be a place for these Jewish citizens,” Muaddi said. “Jews also have the right to self-determination.”

Muaddi added that the PSM does not seek “the end of Israel as a political entity in the Middle East.” He did, however, cite Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the barrier being constructed along the West Bank as “violations of international law” which he said must be rectified.

Another source of contention is the PSM’s support of divestment, or encouraging corporations and universities to withdraw their financial investments from Israel.

The strategy has gained increasing traction in the years since the PSM began its push for conscious boycotting of Israeli goods at its first conference in February 2002 at the University of California at Berkeley. Muaddi said that following a similar conference at the University of Michigan in October of that year, student governments at Wayne State University and the University of ichigan-Dearborn passed resolutions supporting the strategy. Other groups supporting the effort include the American Presbyterian Church, he said.

Muaddi said the PSM prefers working with universities and churches to gain support because the nonviolent nature of divestment is more compatible with such groups.

“We condemn violence in all its forms,” Muaddi said.

But Muaddi declined to condemn suicide bombings, saying that it would not be right “to criticize Palestinians for taking part in violence when the Israeli forces are taking part in violence.”

University President John J. DeGioia has voiced his opposition to divestment even after increasing pressure from area Jewish groups.

“Some people have asked me if Georgetown will consider the [Palestine Solidarity Movement’s] call for divestment from Israel,” DeGioia said in a university press release. “The answer to that question is no.”

Greg Goldberg (COL ’08), president of the Georgetown-Israel Alliance, said he feels that divestment prevents progress.

“We feel that to divest is against constructive dialogue and is an attempt to remove Israel from the debate,” he said.

In spite of the dispute over the legitimacy of divestment as strategy, several members of the campus community supported the right of PSM to speak out on the issue.

“Even extreme groups have a right to express their opinion,” GIA member Jonathan Aires (SFS ’06) said.

Attendance at the PSM’s last conference, held at Ohio State University, was estimated at 600 people, Muaddi said. Free housing has been offered to attendees of the Georgetown conference.

Several students living off campus, as well as people in the area who are “sympathetic to the cause” have offered room, Muaddi said.

Accusations about the PSM’s connection to terrorism or anti-Israel subversion have also spurred a re-examination of the university’s policy regarding freedom of speech on campus.

Georgetown’s policies “lead us to a bias for more speech, rather than less speech” said Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs.

“In our academic community, this will often mean that controversial ideas – even ideas offensive to some in our community – are part of the discourse,” Olson said.

And however they may feel about PSM, many campus groups have decided to fight back against the organization peacefully.

Pro-Israeli campus groups such as GIA are planning an event called “Mothers for Peace” to take place Feb. 8, Aires said. The event will feature two mothers – a Palestinian and Israeli – speaking about prospects for peace.

CORRECTION:The article “Critics Step Up Protests, but PSM Still Coming to Hilltop” (THE HOYA, Jan. 27, 2006, A1) incorrectly stated that the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s most recent conference was held at Ohio State University. The conference was actually held at Duke University. The article also incorrectly stated that PSM spokesperson Nadeem Muaddi said that the International Solidarity Movement “pursues the same goals as the PSM.”

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