Understand before accusing
BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice held an event a week ago entitled "Never Again for Anyone," which planned to shed light on the injustices faced by Palestinians in the frame of horrible injustices done to Jews in the Holocaust. The panel included two Holocaust survivors who intended to share the message that the atrocities committed in the Holocaust should not be forgotten or isolated from history, but rather remembered and kept in mind so that such events never happen again to anyone — hence the title. As is almost necessary in today's Israel-Palestine conversation, mistakes were made and problems were blown out of proportion until the situation reached and passed a threshold and entered the realm of prejudice. While the event organizer's choice to impose a $5 fee — which was outside of BAKA's control — the resulting hoopla brought more negative attention and contempt for opposing sides than the event alone would have originally created. The ensuing xenophobia and racial or religious slurs thrown at University students from protestors — who were mostly non-students — created an enormous debacle.
The entire event was a microcosm of the situation on campus and elsewhere in the United States. It seems that whenever the Palestinian question is brought up, the rational proponents of a free Palestine or the opponents of Israel are defamed as anti-Semitic. On the flip side of the coin, the rational proponents of Israel's sovereignty are made out to be Islamophobic or blind religious fanatic imperialists. There hardly seems to be a middle ground in the debate, and it certainly will not be able to continue on such grounds. The disputed Israeli and Palestinian territories obviously bring into question the religious claims to the land. As a secularist, I frown upon claims of religious absolutism or divine truth. Religious claims to land generally disguise underlying racism or ethnic prejudice while using religion as a shield against criticisms. But this is not the case. Religious radicals on both sides of the issue polarize the problem and demonize the "enemy."
The event started with wrongs on both sides — the fee change on the filmmakers' side, and the protest on the opposition's side, which went beyond its defined zoning by going inside. The ensuing mess is largely the fault of the non-University protestors, who used racist slurs and incendiary language to intimidate the mostly Arab group members, including "towelhead," "Nazi" and "terrorist." Many of the protestors did not even know what they were protesting, but had only received notices in e-mail or newsletter form that a group at the University was showing a perceived anti-Semitic film, and showed up with venom and vitriol in their voices during a student event. Was the price change before the event wrong? Yes. Was the reaction worse? Probably. With situations like these, "so it goes" from Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" comes to mind. What can and should be seen as a tragic breakdown of communication and an inability to reconcile is further polarized by opposing sides into more vitriol and slander. Students at the University and anyone versed in the realm of Palestine-Israel debates just end up sighing, whimpering "so it goes."
This can no longer feasibly be the case at the University, let alone in general. The students of BAKA put on "Never Again for Anyone" with the honest intentions of spreading awareness of Palestinian suffering and opening discussion for Jewish and Arab attendees alike. There was no intention to exaggerate the treatment of Palestinians, lie about the state of Israel or belittle the gross injustices endured by European Jews in the Holocaust. Despite the best intentions, it took one small act of raising the price — outside of BAKA's control, mind you — to set off a tidal wave of overreactions, oversimplifications and offense taken. In the meantime, gay, Islamophobic, anti-Arab and even anti-Semitic remarks — one Jewish helper was called a "traitor" by a Jewish protestor — were hurled with disdain at innocent students helping to set up the event. I can't personally speak for the hurt, the heartbreak, the pain or the ostracization each one of those students felt. What I can say is that hearing that news will forever have an impact on me. As I sat in the BAKA meeting following the event, and each student had a chance to "vent," I could see the toll facing such abuse had. I am sure the same pain is also endured by Jews in Arab lands, Christians in some parts of Africa and other such religious minorities I could come up with. But this is America, and this is the University — if you want to protest or voice an opinion, do it with dignity and respect. The culture of pain exclusivity — the idea that only one group can really claim to understand what "suffering is" — must stop for a real exchange of ideas to be had. If it happened before, it can happen again. It is our responsibility as students, citizens and human beings to make sure that "never again" really is for "anyone."
Cody Gorman is a School of Arts and Science junior majoring in political science. His column, "The Tuning Fork," runs on alternate Tuesdays.