Two weeks ago, the Muslim Student Union (MSU) held its annual anti-Israel week, an event notorious for its controversial presentation and inflammatory rhetoric.
The MSU has been known to invite anti-Semitic speakers such as Mohammed Al Asi, who has compared Jews to “rats running away from light,” and Amir Abdel Malik Ali, an anti-American imam who has expressed his belief that the “Zionist Jew” is responsible for Sept. 11 and controls American wealth, media and government. The usual hateful rhetoric and half-truths preached by the MSU’s speakers this year came as no surprise. The responses of their co-sponsors, however, did.
Over the course of the three-week long anti-Israel event, five of the MSU’s original co-sponsors decided to withdraw their sponsorship. By the end of the second week, The Agora, Hip Hop Congress, the Armenian Student Association, Alpha Epsilon Omega and the Sikh Student Association had all withdrawn. In addition, one of the MSU’s speakers planned for the week, a Ha’aretz journalist named Gideon Levy, canceled his appearance and decided not to attend the event. This marks the first time that such a large number of campus organizations, not to mention a speaker, have withdrawn from the annual event.
The organizations’ leaders expressed a common theme in their reasons for backing out of the anti-Israel week; mainly that they did not wish to pick sides in the conflict.
“Hip Hop Congress [HHC] as a group is not political to begin with,” said Geo del Carmen, the former president of Hip Hop Congress and a third-year political science major. “Essentially, we’re just a simple music club … We don’t alienate people based on their ideology. This event clearly calls out certain groups.”
Despite HHC’s decision to withdraw from anti-Israel week, the MSU still announced it as a co-sponsor at their evening event featuring Malik Ali. The high number of groups pulling their sponsorship also forced the MSU to reprint a new batch of flyers to correct its list of co-sponsors. The new batch still included HHC’s name on the list. When asked about the matter, del Carmen expressed agitation.
“It’s frustrating,” del Carmen said. “What I do not appreciate is having my request to immediately rescind our sponsorship … being ignored by MSU. I mean, I left Facebook messages telling them to take our name off immediately and instead of giving me an explanation, my requests were ignored entirely.”
However, not all co-sponsors pulled out, which del Carmen also expressed frustration with.
“It’s very disturbing how a powerful cultural organization such as the Umbrella Council and [the] Cross-Cultural Center support [anti-Israel week] when their main job is establishing cultural awareness, not pushing political agendas,” del Carmen said.
He also expressed disappointment with one cultural group that agreed to stay on as a co-sponsor.
“I also left the Asian Pacific Student Association … because I greatly disagreed with the idea of mixing partisan politics with Asian culture,” del Carmen said.
Other organization leaders felt that co-sponsoring the biased and often hateful event was too divisive a decision for their own communities.
“We were under the impression that the rest of the Armenian organizations on campus were going to support the event as well,” said Andre Sahakian, president of the Armenian fraternity Alpha Epsilon Omega (AEO) and a third-year social ecology major. “But when we heard [one Armenian group] wasn’t participating and that the Armenian Student Association withdrew their sponsorship, we dropped too. We want AEO to be cohesive with the Armenian community. It wasn’t in the entire fraternity’s interest to do it.”
Sahakin believed that it was in the group’s best interest to distance itself from the matter.
“We don’t want to side with either party,” Sahakin clarified. “We just decided we have no interest in being involved in something controversial on campus.”
Asked how the MSU delegates presented the event to him, Sahakian provided an eyebrow-raiser of an answer.
“[The MSU delegate] told me [the event] featured a series of speakers, that it was fair and unbiased,” Sahakian said. “He said it had speakers from both ends of the spectrum arguing for both sides. That’s why I agreed. I mean, if it’s a fair discussion, then why not?”
Anyone who attended the anti-Israel events last week can attest that this was certainly not the case. The event and its speakers were incredibly biased; for example, Malik Ali compared “Zionist Jews” to “Satan,” while Anna Baltzer provided isolated examples meant to demonize the Israeli Defense Forces without even addressing Israeli motives. Of course, there was one speaker representing the pro-Israel side or even the moderate center, and there were certainly no instances of “fair discussion.”
This begs the question: Did the MSU lie to its co-sponsors about the content of its event? Not likely. The more probable explanation is that they are so blinded by their own bias that they are unable to approach their event from an objective perspective. This is the precise reason why their presentations must be taken with a hefty grain of salt.
Some of the co-sponsoring groups didn’t agree with the lack of open forum and a chance for fair factual representation in anti-Israel week, and so chose to withdraw.
“The idea behind The Agora is to move beyond partisan support, support open dialogue and communication of all parties while refraining from choosing sides,” said Oren Klein, president and co-founder of The Agora and a third-year political science and philosophy double-major. “We would certainly support groups who offer an open public forum and debate … though educating our students about worldwide issues is the number one priority of The Agora, addressing the issue from an antagonistic and xenophobic perspective is counterproductive and only ferments conflict.”
This year’s anti-Israel week marked several firsts for the controversial week-long damning of the Jewish state. The MSU flaunted a viciously defaced Israeli flag. The five campus organizations that removed their sponsorship also represented another first. All of this only underlines the fact that the MSU cannot be taken seriously until they decide to approach the conflict in a less prejudiced manner and instead offer constructive dialogue that covers all of the facts, not just the ones they have selectively picked. Otherwise, presenting only one side of the story is far from progressive and insults students’ intelligence.
AE Anteater is a third-year English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.