Palestinian students try to get Israel Independence Day event cancelled
On Thursday, the State of Israel is celebrating her 67th birthday. Naturally, pro-Israel college students nationwide have organized celebratory gatherings – ranging from guest speakers to culturally (read: food) oriented events.
On Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s campus, the planned celebration was not without controversy and dissent.
On April 20th, the student group Palestine@MIT issued an “open letter” decrying an Israel Independence Day celebration scheduled to take place during SpringFest. Palestine@MIT went as far as to claim that the event makes them feel “unsafe.”
The Israeli Independence Day raises politically sensitive questions given that it just so happens to represent the 1948 Palestinian Exodus, also known as the “Nakba”. This is a day of extreme tragedy and traumatic loss for millions of people, including many students here at MIT. As Palestinians and supporters of Palestine in the MIT community, we are alarmed by the fact that the UA are endorsing this event, given that the UA represents us as well. We feel unsafe in an environment that celebrates a catastrophic day for one nation at an official school-wide capacity by a body that represents all students equally, with no regards or sympathy towards our tragedy.
We direct this message to the entirety of the student body with a request for change. We request the UA to detach the carnival from SpringFest, and to refrain from sponsoring and/or publicizing it at a school-wide capacity.
Palestine@MIT, promoting a narrative of victimhood, suggested that the celebration of Israel’s independence threatened their community standing.
If Palestinians are truly equal members of the MIT community, we expect this school-wide event to resonate that message. In a community that promised us a united mission, “one community, in service for all,” we trust that any event that may distress members of the community at least be detached from a UA-sponsored school-wide event that is meant for celebration.
Undergraduate Association (UA) President Matthew Davis took the “open letter” seriously and met with Palestine@MIT leaders and other student groups before issuing a response. On April 22nd, Davis sent an email to the entire MIT undergraduate student body explaining that the UA weighed dissociating from the event but after careful consideration, decided not to alter the arrangement.
Considering this discomfort for students, as well as a lack of publicity for an opportunity to participate in SpringFest and transparency concerning the calendar, Palestine@MIT requested that we remove the event from the SpringFest calendar. This morning, the Undergraduate Association (UA) Events Committee and I met with MIT Hillel, Friends of Israel and Palestine@MIT to discuss these concerns and our path forward. We wish to share with you the decision we made, and the reasoning behind it.
Every student group at MIT is recognized by the Association of Student Activities (ASA), and through this organization, all undergraduate student groups are recognized by the UA. Every recognized student group has the ability to apply for funds from the UA through the Financial Board, and is eligible for such funding as long as they are recognized by the ASA, with no other consideration.
As part of this, it is often the case that some student groups will be ones with which other undergraduates are uncomfortable, or may express an idea contrary to the opinions of others. In the course of history, it is often the case that such groups would not be allowed; moreover, it is often the case that those who hold a minority opinion, contrary to that of the majority, may have their opinion silenced either through the active suppression of the majority, or a lack of resources provided. Perhaps the most valued and intrinsic desire of every human being is to have a voice – to allow their ideas to be expressed. There are two courses of action the UA may take in regards to controversial groups and ideas – either recognize no groups, whether of the majority or minority opinion, if there is a hint of controversy, or recognize all groups equally, regardless of the popularity of their idea.
In these cases, consistent with what has been stated above, the UA has always taken the case of the latter, and recognizes all groups equally, so long as that group is recognized by the ASA and is operating consistent with MIT policies. The reasons for this are many – but perhaps most importantly, by recognizing all ideas and opinions equally, we are more able to allow a free expression of ideas, allowing undergraduates to be exposed to a wide range of opinions, and choose for themselves those of which they are for, and those of which they are against. At times, this will result in us feeling uncomfortable – and it is the challenge of every one of us to recognize why that is the case, and act accordingly. Please note that this freedom does not extend towards groups or events which are in violation of MIT policies, such as the MIT Nondiscrimination Policy.
As the Friends of Israel and MIT Hillel, the sponsors of the event, are ASA-recognized student groups, and their event is consistent with established policies, we have chosen to keep the event on the SpringFest schedule. Further, we do not feel that it is appropriate to derecognize their event, due to our failure to notify student groups of the opportunity to publicize. To do otherwise would set a precedent that would be contrary to the values expressed above, and, we believe, would ultimately be more harmful to all affected groups.
Unfortunately, this exchange is directly in line with the politically correct culture that is permeating today’s college campuses. All that it takes is a for a group or individual to claim that they feel “unsafe” and protection from campus administrations and student leaders is contemplated. Too often, comfort trumps intellectual inquiry.
Anti-Israel activists, along with other far-left interest groups on campus, specialize in a particularly troubling inversion of reality. While anti-Israel groups such as Student for Justice in Palestine (SJP) routinely chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and assert that Israel is guilty of being an apartheid state, the slightest challenging of the anti-Israel movement’s moral blindness is deemed offensive and worthy of widespread condemnation.
When the David Horowitz Freedom Center, through a poster campaign, accused the SJP chapter of UCLA of promulgating anti-Semitism and “#JewHatred,” group members complained that they felt offended. “These posters are a clear example of hate speech directed against Students for Justice in Palestine, as well as supporters of Palestinian freedom and equality,” the group said in a press release, according to the Daily Bruin. “They rely on Islamophobic and anti-Arab tropes to paint Palestinians as terrorists and to misrepresent Students for Justice in Palestine as anti-Semitic.”
The charge accuses those who challenge the anti-Israel campus narrative of being racist, bigoted and malicious. In reality, it is the anti-Israel students and groups that routinely promote intolerant narratives – as was the case at Vassar College when the SJP chapter shared Nazi propaganda.
Luckily for MIT, the UA did not relent in the face of student objections. But the challenge to Israel’s legitimacy cannot go unnoticed. Palestine@MIT reinforces the narrative of the far-left that Israel and Zionism are “unsafe” ideas from which students need protection. The very foundation of the Jewish State is rebranded as a genocidal, murderous endeavor.
Most disturbing of all? While the UA didn’t set the precedent of “derecogniz[ing]” the celebration of Israel’s birth, it did set the precedent of considering doing so.
[Featured Image from Palestine@MIT’s Public Facebook Page]DONATE
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