Anyone who has taken a look at Yik Yak in the past months knows that this campus is incredibly divided on one issue in particular: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last year, before I was a student here, debate around this issue reached a fever pitch when the ASSU Senate responded to pressure from students and voted to divest from multinational corporations facilitating the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. A couple of months later, the Board of Trustees released their decision about Students for Justice in Palestine’s request for divestment from such corporations: They decided not to look into the veracity of the claims made by by SJP and instead chose to make no decision on the request to divest due to its “divisive” nature. The Board made it clear in this statement that “a diversity of viewpoints and Stanford’s commitment to open, thoughtful and civil debate are critical to the educational mission of the university.” This decision was made based on the belief that if the Board made any decision, it would create unrest and division on campus and negatively impact the ability of the University to carry out its educational mission. Such an argument is near-sighted and fails to recognize that the decision to not even consider the arguments made by the Senate resolution is, in itself, provocative. While I strongly disagree with the Board’s conclusion that divestment from such corporations would negatively impact dialogue on this issue, I do agree that it is important to have strong, open and thoughtful debate around all political issues on campus, especially ones that elicit such visceral personal reactions as the issues that surround the occupation of Palestine.
This is why I and Students for Justice in Palestine were incensed when a group of on- and off-campus organizations, including the international right-wing Zionist group StandWithUs, hosted an “Israel Block Party” in White Plaza this past Thursday, May 12, an event which we felt was neither thoughtful nor encouraging of robust debate. The party was held to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israeli Independence Day. On the surface, this may not seem controversial; however, the partition of Mandatory Palestine being celebrated at this “Block Party” was not quite the party that they presented it to be. After the smoke of Israeli independence had cleared, more than 700,000 Palestinians had either been forcibly expelled from their homes or had fled from the land that became Israel out of fear of armed Zionist militias. These refugees from now make up a diasporic community that numbers more than four and a half million ).
SJP would have hoped that an event on campus about the founding of Israel would have promoted just the kind of thoughtful and civil debate that the Board of Trustees promoted in their statement last year. Instead, these groups decided to celebrate the partition with a foam machine, a DJ and henna tattoos. Because we felt that the handling of this complex issue was one-sided and tone-deaf, SJP decided to protest the event with a die-in. We carefully prepared a statement about our concerns with how Israeli independence was being portrayed, and read it aloud at the party. As soon as we finished reading our statement, we dispersed into the plaza and laid down, simulating the dead bodies of the Palestinians killed in 1948. Some of the participants in the event, including the executive director of Stanford Hillel, decided that the appropriate response to our protest was to ignore us and begin dancing to Israeli songs in a circle around us as we lay on the ground. This response was not only grotesque, but also avoided engaging with any of the issues presented by our protest. The call to rejoice, issued by the words of the song to which they chose to dance, Hava Nagila, clashed with the serious nature of our protest and the presence of our “dead” bodies, revealing their total lack of respect for us and for the issues we were trying to bring attention to.
This attitude of avoidance of any kind of meaningful intellectual response to our protest is deeply disappointing. Thus far, every single one of the Block Party’s sponsoring organizations has remained silent. Our protest was designed to provoke thoughtful political discourse on a controversial and emotionally charged topic, a goal that I feel we succeeded in considering that the video we published on Facebook of what transpired has so far received over 12,000 views. The intellectual cowardice exhibited by the sponsoring groups has actively inhibited the discussion we started. If the Stanford community wants to have any kind of positive discourse on deeply controversial political issues on campus, we, as students, should demand engagement from groups on both sides of every issue. How can we as a community make progress towards this ideal when one side of the discussion refuses to join in the debate?
– Grant Hallee
Contact Grant Hallee at email@example.com.