Palestine banner is flawed

By Adam Weissmann

Anyone who has walked through the Reynolds Club marketplace in the past two days has seen the banners advertising next week as Palestine Awareness Week on our campus. What many do not realize is that suddenly Israel has ceased to exist, vanished without a trace into obscurity. Or at least that is what the event’s organizers believe; their large banner hanging in the Reynolds Club includes an outline map of Israel and the disputed territories joined together with the word “Palestine” written across it in Arabic. Apparently, the Muslim Students Association (MSA), the Arab Union, the Middle Eastern Studies Students Association (MESSA), and—believe it or not—the Student Government Finance Committee (SGFC) seem to believe that there is no Israel, or, if there is a State of Israel, that there should not be.

Moreover, the event for which this banner draws attention is highly controversial: For one of next week’s Palestine Awareness Week programs, the sponsoring organizations have invited representatives from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a group that has admitted to aiding and sheltering suicide bombers en route to civilian targets inside Israel. The ISM does not even try to hide its outright support for terrorism, encouraging its members to undertake “direct action.” Until recently, its mission statement supported the “armed struggle” of the Palestinian intifada, until it was changed to reflect the newfound public relations tactic of calling itself a “non-violent” group.

Just last week another call was made for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” No, it was not the MSA or SGFC that time; rather, it came from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Within hours of his speech, leaders from every corner of the Earth condemned his words and called for an immediate response in order to demonstrate that there is no place in the modern world for even talk of the annihilation of a people. Even the Palestinian Authority rejected his call; chief negotiator Saeb Erekat denounced it, emphasizing that “Palestinians recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist.” The Palestinian leadership deserves great credit for not responding to Ahmadinejad’s call for anti-Jewish genocide with its usual silence.

Are the MSA, Arab Union, MESSA, and even SGFC so violently anti-Israel that they, too, would advocate Israel’s extermination? I doubt that SGFC is, though seeing this banner in the very center of our community causes me to wonder how ignorant those who allow it to hang must be. It was embarrassing enough four years ago when the University was forced to admit that a Hezbollah terrorist banner was being displayed on the fifth floor of the Regenstein, right over the desk at which an Israeli graduate student worked. It should be even more upsetting to members of the administration that they are indirectly supporting terrorism against civilians in Israel, and that they are allowing student groups on campus to call for genocide. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were a student here, I have no doubt that University officials would have condemned without delay his racist incitement to murder Israelis.

The debate in the last two weeks surrounding the now-infamous “Straight Thuggin’” party highlights the presence of ignorance and latent racism on our campus. Laura Oppenheimer, in her op-ed this past Tuesday (“Racism is a fact of life”), was correct to state that “the ivory tower is not a bubble.” The ethnic and economic diversity of our community makes this campus a forum for ideas, some of which are new and frightening to some. But every marketplace has rules of barter and sale; worldviews that envision mass murder, intolerance, negative stereotyping, or the suppression of scholarship must be exposed to the light of rational scrutiny and cast out from our midst.

That the University, through the SGFC’s sponsorship of this program and its advertisements, could unknowingly stand alongside Ahmadinejad and wish for the state and people of Israel to disappear is abhorrent but understandable. Until we “collectively take responsibility for the ignorance that persists among members of the student body,” as Kristiana Colon writes in her op-ed of 10/20/05 (“Racial ignorance persists among University Students”), we are to blame for allowing this violent and cancerous hate speech, whether in the form of a defaced flyer, a horribly insensitive party theme, or a banner in the Reynolds Club that has wiped an entire people clear off the map. We must speak up as a community and as individuals to condemn all such acts of hate speech. It is imperative for us to demonstrate to the administration our belief that to allow the freedom to incite racism is to yield the very freedom we hold dearest: the freedom from fear.

Tolerance and respect should be guiding forces throughout the world, and we must begin here on our own campus. When the lines between free speech and hate speech blur, it is not only our right but our obligation to err on the side of the safety of all groups. If we are forced to tolerate intolerance, we will be tempering the sword of our own destruction as a community founded on the principles of civil discourse, academic integrity, and respecting diversity.