Monday, August 10, 2020
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iFest Protests Stifle Conversation

On Thursday, April 23, I attended the Israeli Independence Day Festival (iFest) hosted by Anteaters for Israel. This fun and well-organized event was the culmination of many months of planning and preparation, complete with dancing, music, games, free food, charitable fundraising and informational posters about Israeli culture. The event attracted students throughout the campus, many of whom left with a free iFest T-shirt or shot glass.

Apparently, all of this upset the Muslim Student Union (MSU) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

Walking up Anteater Plaza, I heard their mindless, hate-filled (though, to their credit, quite catchy) chants long before I saw them.

For two hours straight, 60 students, flanked by a dozen police officers, blocked Ring Road, scared away other students and drowned out the music with their thinly-veiled rhymes calling for the destruction of Israel (their chant, “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free,” demands the entirety of Israel be surrendered to Palestinian control).

What other group on campus would so diligently and deliberately attempt to ruin an event put on by another group? How could their actions be justified? They must have a very important message to convey, right?

I, an American non-Jew very interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict, got as close to their line as the cops would allow, raised my hand high, making eye contact with the protest leader. “Can I ask a question?” I yelled. Ignored. I tried again. Ignored. “Why do you hate Israel?” No response. “Does Israel have a right to exist?” No response. “Do you support a two-state solution?” No response.

An hour later I tried talking to people holding signs. “Don’t talk to him! Don’t talk to him!” their leaders yelled and they all promptly turned their backs on me. My Jewish friend held up a sign saying “Let’s talk it out,” which two Muslim girls later laughed at and mocked.

Why would these groups stage such a massive protest, then refuse to answer very basic questions about why they are protesting? How could students who so frequently populate the University-funded Cross Cultural Center show such little interest in “cross cultural dialogue?”

Far from being an isolated incident, this is par for the course “anti-Israel” campus activists, whose ignorant playbook consists of the single, tired play of putting out one-sided propaganda, lies and half-truths about Israel, stifling any sort of rational discussion about the conflict, then either chanting to shut down “pro-Israel” speakers and events or pressuring students with no knowledge of the conflict to boycott the Jewish state.

By far their most famous exploit is centered around the montage of tall wooden “anti-Zionism” boards that you will see running through Anteater Plaza this week.

While I desperately want to believe these groups are simply determined to alleviate the suffering of innocent Palestinian civilians (repeatedly inconvenienced by Israeli checkpoints, exploited by their corrupt leadership and caught in the crossfire of war) by building a coalition of students interested in discussing, debating, learning about and ultimately resolving the conflict, the reality on the ground paints a very different picture.

Israel is uncritically depicted as a monstrous “anti-black,” “racist,” “apartheid,” “genocidal” state, hell-bent on making Palestinian life as miserable as possible. Its West Bank barrier is dismissed as an “Apartheid Wall” and its checkpoints as an excuse to abuse Arabs (not to prevent suicide bombings as both policies have been effective in doing).

Death tolls are vacuously quoted without discussing the many measures Israel takes to minimize civilian casualties, nor how opposing militants recklessly endanger Palestinian civilians by firing rockets from homes and stockpiling weapons in schools.

Hamas — the radical Islamist terrorist group that controls Gaza, carries out suicide bombings, executes gays and calls unapologetically in its charter for the annihilation of Israel and a mass slaughter of the Jews — is never even mentioned, let alone condemned, and has even received lavish praise in previous years from speakers like Malik Ali.

This is all meant to “prove” that the entirety of Israel (not just disputed West Bank territory) is an illegal “occupation” and therefore should not exist.

Far from helping the Palestinian cause, these groups have done nothing but alienate potential allies on campus, manufacturing for themselves an echo-chamber of irrationality, uncritically championing ever more radical and impractical positions.

I am writing to urge my very passionate friends in the MSU and SJP to take a step back, to reconsider your missions, to abandon your childish antics and to respectfully engage and ally with the very many students on this campus (Jewish, Muslim and others) interested in practically and justly resolving this conflict.

Nick Gallo is a second-year Ph. D student in the Department of Computer Science.  He can be reached at