CORONADO, Calif. – Some parents of the Coronado High School class of 2014 left the school’s June graduation ceremony scratching their heads, while others were downright ticked off after a local Israeli peace activist took advantage of his keynote speech to go on a political rant against his homeland and America.
“I, as an Israeli, grew up much like you, privileged and unaware of the inequalities the injustices imposed upon Palestinians by country. And because the country is so segregated, I as an Israeli, never met Palestinians. In fact, I was taught that Palestinians are my enemies. Only to discover, many years later, that actually they’re not,” said Miko Peled, author of the book The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.
“My country told me that Palestinians want to kill me and destroy my country and that I must fear them and prepare to fight them. And I did prepare to do just that during my three-year mandatory military service in the Israeli Army.
“I met Palestinians the first time not in our shared homeland where I grew up, but here in San Diego. I was 39 years old. Here I was in San Diego meeting with the so-called other for the first time as equals. And I found that we are not enemies at all, but fellow countrymen.
“I was also taught to fear and distrust Arabs and Muslims because they too hate me. And it turns out, they too, do not. In fact, it turns out there is no such thing as they.
“So I would say to you, based on my experience, to question your country and question your government, but to trust in people. And fear not people who wear a headcover or a beard. Fear not people who call God by a different name, people who have a different skin color or whose eyes are shaped different than yours.
“Fear not people who are poor or homeless, but reach out, rid yourself of the fear, and you will find as I did that trust will take its place. The barriers between you and others will collapse, and that your circle of friends will grow, just as it happened to me.”
Peled went on to encourage graduates to shun any type of war or violence as a means to solve problems. He talked against racism and injustice, which provided a smooth transition into a screed against the U.S.
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“I call on you to demand more of your country and to ask tough questions of your leaders, and to demand that they does more for you, as well as for others. Ask for example why is it that here in the US, which makes up only 5 percent of the world population and claims to be the land of the free, we have 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Why is it that almost half of the 2.5 million prisoners in the U.S. are African Americans, though they only make up 12 percent of the population?
“Why is it that after kidnapping millions of Africans and enslaving them for centuries and forcing them to live under racist laws and segregation as though they are less than human, why are their children and grandchildren not compensated for the holocaust that was inflicted upon their ancestors, but instead are incarcerated in disproportionate numbers.
“Consider this for a moment: People of color in this country have only been free from legalized racism for 50 or 60 years.”
Peled’s speech continued with a hat tip to African Americans who have contributed to the intellectual, musical and other aspects of life in America, such as Whitney Houston and Jimi Hendrix.
“While it’s true we have a Martin Luther King Day and even an African American president, the vision of a truly free and just society where racism no longer exists has all but died. And the struggle that began with great men like Martin Luther and Malcolm X must be revived.”
Peled concluded his remarks by touching on the injustices of the Native Americans, the foolishness of American wars, and the plight of the country’s veterans, homeless children, immigrants and other disadvantaged citizens.
Predictably, Peled’s controversial comments drew outrage from many parents who disagreed with his political positions and social justice message. Several wrote in to local news sites, blogs, Facebook and other social media to vent their frustrations.
“I can not understand how Miko Peled was chosen as the keynote speaker for the 2014 HS graduation. I was appalled, disgusted and completely offended by his words. I thought a keynote speaker is supposed to inspire, not talk down to his audience. He spewed his own political agenda which I believe was completely inappropriate. I have known Miko and his political views for a long time. He is extremely controversial regarding the state of Israel. His views are not that of the majority, but of a very small minority! He should be embarrassed that he used his own son’s graduation to further his political agenda,” CHS parent Elaine Tenen wrote on eCoronado.com.
While many of those who attended the graduation ceremony were offended by Peled’s rant, others we equally insulted by the school district’s policy that allowed him to take the stage without first vetting his message.
Local resident Mitzi Butler wrote in to the Coronado News urging other residents to hold school officials accountable for Peled’s disparaging remarks:
“I am writing this email as an editorial for your newspaper concerning the selection of the keynote speaker for Coronado High School.
Our family attended the graduation ceremony at Coronado High School to celebrate the graduation of our grandson. When Mr. Miko Peled was introduced as the keynote speaker I thought “how interesting to have someone chosen to deliver this speech who had been raised in Israel.” Certainly he would have a good perspective on how lucky these young adults are to live in a country of limitless possibilities, only requiring hard work to achieve their dreams.
Instead we were subjected to a one sided political rant from Mr. Peled on just how awful both Israel and the Unites States are, full of opinion and thin on actual facts. At one point Mr. Peled stated that we had great Black leaders such as Malcolm X (convicted to a 10 year prison sentence on burglary charges), Jimmy Hendrix and Whitney Houston (both habitual drug users, which caused their deaths). Really? Just who I want my grandson to emulate. I think it is interesting that Malcolm X espoused Black supremacy, advocating the separation of blacks and whites in America and scoffed at the Civil Rights Movement.
I am not angry at Mr. Peled for his speech. He is what he is and states his beliefs quite openly. What I am questioning here is who made the decision to invite him to be the keynote speaker. His talk was totally inappropriate for a high school graduation where people did not ‘volunteer’ to come and hear his views. Parents sitting around us were upset and some graduates were texting their families asking; “What the heck is going on here?” The person or persons who actually selected him to speak should be held accountable to the good citizens of Coronado. The taxpaying citizens should know what kind of decisions are being made by people being paid with their precious tax dollars. Hopefully this sorry episode will be remembered on election day for the school board members.”