Admission changes cause controversy
A last-minute change to the admissions policy for "Never Again for Anyone," led some members of the Jewish community to protest Saturday outside of Trayes Hall in the Douglass Campus Center.
The event was intended to shed light on Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and Palestinian suffering in the 1948 ethnic cleansing known as "Nakba" in order to show that all suffering affect all humans, said Hoda Mitwally, public relations officer for BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice.
"Whenever we see injustice, we must speak out no matter how small or large it may be," said Mitwally, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "All human suffering is equally unjust and unacceptable, and that is the purpose of tonight to say, never again to all forms of oppression."
American Muslims for Palestine, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) and the Middle East Children's Alliance, who sponsored the event, initially advised that it be advertised as free and open to the public, said Sami Jitan, BAKA event coorindator.
But on the day of the event, Sara Kershnar, founder of the IJAN, changed the price of admission to $5 because of changes within the contract.
"The contract with BAKA was canceled and a new contract was created with American Muslims for Palestine because the University felt that it was not a student event, but it was an event by outside organizations," she said.
The University instead needed to charge a private room rate, which Kershnar said was three times the original rate.
"Combined with the fact that these different Zionists organizations put out a call for protest, we then also had to pay for two additional security guards," she said. "When we were on site we decided to charge everyone a minimum of $5 to $20 because we had to pass on to some of the costs to participants which is not unusual. That was true for anyone who came in."
Because it was no longer a BAKA event, the student group did not know anything about the change and found out at the same time everyone else did, Kershnar said.
"We made that decision on site and then they were there and we let them know that it was our decision," Kershnar said.
Some students wearing yellow shirts emblazoned with "Don't politicize the Holocaust" danced and sang with others to songs of solidarity to Israel, the United States and freedom, said Shoshana Smolen, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
"We came here to be peaceful. We came to sit here, listen and voice our opinions with our shirts, not with our voices," said Max Hockley, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. "They said they would charge only the 150 Zionists — Jews essentially — even though it was advertised as being free."
Student protestors originally thought BAKA was behind the event and claimed a right to admission, considering that student organizations receive funds from the student body, Smolen said.
But even after they realized the event was privately sponsored, they still felt campus groups that endorse events should still allow fellow students to join them, she said.
"If you're talking about barring people because of ethnicity, race, religion, that was not the case," said Jitan, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "We had Jews, Christians, Muslims, Atheists inside who calmly participated in the event. We were not discriminatory. People who wanted to pay got in."
Members of BAKA, the University chapter of Psi Sigma Phi Multicultural Men's Fraternity, Youth Action International, the University chapter of Palestine Children's Relief Fund, LLEGO: The LGBTQQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Ally) People of Color Union at the University and Hub City Anti-Racist Action endorsed and volunteered at the event.
"If there was anything in the advertisement that was sent that should have changed before coming in, then that should've been given to us in the advertisement," Jitan said. "IJAN was running the show."
As part of the event, self-identified Anti-Zionist Jews and survivors of the Holocaust Hedy Epstein and Haja Meyer, survivor of his village Deir Yassi's ethnic cleansing Dawud Assad and Osama Abu Irshaid, founder and editor-in-chief of Al-Meezan newspaper, shared their personal testimonies and called for activism.
"We are not claiming a sort of equivalence between oppressions. We are not claiming that one oppression is worse than the other," Mitwalla said. "Frankly, that isn't our point. Our point is to say that all human suffering matters no matter the scale, no matter where or when it occurs, no matter the effects."
A principle goal for the speakers was to show that people should not solely act as witnesses when others are dehumanized and experience racism, ethnic cleansing and genocide, Kershnar said. People also cannot use past atrocities as an excuse to commit similar acts against others.
But some students who protested during "Never Again for Anyone" felt the memory of the Holocaust should not be a means of attracting attention to the event. Students like Hockley said systematic murders, ethnic cleansing and starvation are not currently taking place in Palestine.
"Even Osama admitted the atrocities are not the same," Hockley said. "Whether Israel has made mistakes, to compare it to the Holocaust is shouting fire just to get attention and is inappropriate and an insult."
Daniel Levy, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, respected the speakers' personal experiences of the Holocaust but felt they were not equipped to discuss a more developed, modern-day Palestine.
"I've been to the border of Gaza," Levy said. "I've looked over Gaza. It's not hard to see where you are. I see tall buildings. I see farming. I see farmers."