Middle East studies in the News
BDS Paranoia: Attack of the Zionist Conference Robot [incl. Beshara Doumani]
This is pretty funny, and shows how paranoid the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has become.
Now comes the "Zionist robot" conference attendee. Seriously.
"Open Hillel" seeks to undermine pro-Israel Hillel campus groups by opening them up to anti-Zionist, pro-boycott groups, thus destroying the only place on many campuses where pro-Israel students can feel comfortable. Anti-Israel students have plenty of their own places, including the Humanities and Social Sciences faculty and classes.
Open Hillel recently was involved in a talk at Brown University with Israeli Arab Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi, who regularly engages in outrageous statements against Israel including backing the Intifada, participating in the Gaza Flotilla, and inciting against Israeli Arab policemen.
In a dystopian twist, the latest development in the attack on open discourse by right-wing pro-Israel groups appears to be the use of robots to police academic discourse. At a March 3, 2016 event about Palestinian citizens of Israel sponsored by Middle East Studies at Brown University, a robot attended and accosted students. The robot used an iPad to display a man from StandWithUs, which receives funding from Israel's government.
The robot wore a suit and tie, and had an iPad in the place of its head, which displayed the StandWithUs employee. The man who appeared on the iPad told questioners that he worked for StandWithUs. The robot was accompanied by a man identified by event organizers as also affiliated with StandWithUs, and the two spoke together in Hebrew. Students believed that the technology being used was a "Double Robotics Telepresence Robot for iPad Tablet" from Brookstone, which retails at $2,299.99. It is unclear at this time whether the individual that brought the robot was a student or professional employee of StandWithUs.
Before the event began, students say, the robot approached students and harassed them about why they were attending the event. Students declined to engage with this bizarre form of intimidation and ignored the robot. At the event itself, the robot and the StandWithUs affiliate remained in the back. During the question and answer session, the man briefly left the robot's side to ask a question....
It is not yet known whether this was the first use of a robot to monitor Israel-Palestine discourse on campus.
The "progressive" website JewSchool took it one step further, and called it a drone:
The developer of the device, Roey Tzezana, PhD. had a more innocent explanation which he posted on the Open Hillel Facebook page. He had permission from the organizers, the device did not record, and was an educational experiment:
Dear Open Hillel,
I'm afraid there's been some mistake in your report. I'm the co-founder of Tele-Buddy – a company that brings robots everywhere so that people will be able to log into them and share their opinions.
A few days before the event, I contacted Prof. Beshara Doumani (the organizer) and asked for permission to bring a Israeli using the robot. He confirmed, saying that the event was open both for human beings and robots. I also promised that since the robot can (and should!) be used to enrich any discussion, I would be happy to host another person who couldn't come with his/her biological body in the next panel: whether it is a Palestinian, a Chinese, a North-Korean or anyone. The robot can serve such valuable purpose for all debates and panels!
Anyway, Mr. Shahar Azani from StandWithUs took control over the robot in the event. I can personally testify that he absolutely did not "harass" anyone. He talked with people, and if they didn't talk back – he just went on talking with other people. It was fun, and people took pictures and were interested to hear about Shahar and the robot.
As for surveillance or Israeli support for this venture: you're absolutely wrong. No footage of what the robot 'sees' is being saved anywhere, and the Israeli government has absolutely no connection to this use of the robot. It was strictly my idea, and I stand behind it: if we can enrich debates with more points of view, to reach more meaningful insights about the future, how can we allow ourselves not to do so?
I'll be back in Providence next week, and would be happy to meet with you (with or without the robot) and discuss the event and the way you see it – and how we can all make better use of the robots in future events, with or without connection to the Israeli or the Palestinian issue.
Roey Tzezana, PhD.
Stand With Us provided the follow letter it sent to Jew School:
We were surprise and saddened to read the following story on your blog http://jewschool.com/2016/03/39222/standwithus-sends-robot-intimidate-attendees/
The article published is inaccurate in multiple ways. It would have been appropriate and demonstrate journalistic integrity and professionalism to seek information from StandWithUs prior to publishing incorrect information.
The "Robot" used is not a drone, nor is it or was it at any point owned or invented by StandWithUs. It is an invention created by two companies: Telebuddy and Double Robotics and our participation at the event was initiated by Telebuddy CEO, Dr. Roey Tzezana, who told our staff member that he has permission from one of the organizers of the event to attend the discussion with the "robot."
To the best of our knowledge, the invention meant to enrich discussions and conversations by allowing remote participation in an interactive manner, with great potential for a variety of opinions, meetings and engagements.
The Zionist sharks and birds could not be reached for comment.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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