Although acts of vandalism like the one that happened to the Society of Arab Students wall are not common on campus, tensions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli supporters have been increasingly common in the past three years.
On May 20, a day before the wall was burned, members of SAS and Anteaters for Israel were in a confrontation after SAS set up a ‘mock Israeli checkpoint’ to represent current situations in the Middle East.
Earlier in the year, on Feb. 26, AFI and the Muslim Student Union set up booths next to each other on Ring Road to raise awareness of a MSU guest speaker, Imam Amir Abdel Malik, that AFI claims is anti-Zionist, anti-gay and anti-Christian.
However, none of these recent events compare to the incident that broke out on April 18, 2002. That night, an altercation occurred outside Schneiderman Lecture Hall as people were leaving a lecture presented by AFI.
Several members of MSU protested in a protected area outside the lecture hall and a fight broke out between a member of MSU and a pro-Israeli supporter that exited the building. According to MSU, a police office hit a member of MSU with a baton in the ensuing altercation.
Pro-Israeli students have been victims of vandalism on this campus as well. On May 5, 2003, stakes and parts of a wire fence that was erected in Aldrich Park as part of Holocaust Remembrance week were taken down.
Jacob Green, co-chair of the Conflict Escalation Prevention Team, a new group that was created by the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of the Ombudsman and Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity to handle conflicts between groups on campus, is not surprised about the increase in tensions.
‘The collaborators of this program have noticed an increase in inter-group tensions on campus over the last several years that corresponds with an increase in campus diversity,’ Green said. ‘As the diversity of the campus increases, so do the misunderstandings among various groups on campus.’
Manuel Gomez, vice chancellor of student affairs, explains why he believes tensions have been rising.
‘These conflicts [on campus] are reflections of the broader conflicts that are occurring in the Middle East,’ Gomez said. ‘In part, it reflects the fact that we have very intelligent and active individuals who are connected to events in the world, and it manifests itself in these demonstrations, these protests and forums and discussions.’
According to AFI President Merav Ceren, a no-dialogue policy has prevented her organization from engaging in open discussion with SAS.
‘The administration knows that AFI has been working for dialogue all year,’ Ceren said. ‘They are aware that [the no-dialogue policy] goes exactly against what we’ve been doing all year.’
Ceren said she was unaware SAS had a no-dialogue policy until Bryon Breland, assistant dean of students, informed AFI of their policy.
‘We were getting no response [from SAS], not surprising, but at the same time, still really frustrating in the sense that we don’t stand for hate crimes or hate speech. Nobody does,’ Ceren said.
The administration feels that after recent incidents, discussion between various groups that support both sides is necessary to ensure peace.
‘There will be some new processes put in place to try to help students understand how they can carry out their freedoms of speech without necessarily resorting to threats or intimidation,’ Gomez said. ‘We’re also going to prepare a workgroup to initiate and help respond to these kinds of incidences.’
Gomez believes that it is possible for both groups to express their opinions while respecting other viewpoints and decreasing hostilities as well.
‘These issues are contentious, they are passionate and they are volatile,’ Gomez said. ‘But our campus and most great universities have this tradition of debate and civil discourse in a way that provides respect for each other. The idea that these activities should stop are abhorrent.’