In the spotlight


Published October 9, 2002

The Second National Student Conference on the Palestinian Solidarity Movement will be coming to the University this weekend. The event, sponsored by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, will feature speakers and discussions related to the issue of Palestine and will call for the divestment of University holdings from Israel. Charges of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism leveled at SAFE and the so-called "Divestment Conference" are already hot topics of discussion.

The combination of this event, the current state of world affairs and the fact that the University is home to vibrant and vocal Jewish, Muslim, Israeli and Arab communities means that debates surrounding this topic often attract widespread attention. Recently The New York Times and Time Magazine have mentioned the University in relation to accusations of growing anti-Semitism on college campuses.

In light of this increased media focus, those on both sides of the debate must work diligently to ensure that people behave in an appropriate manner. Recent embarrassments such as spoofed email, hate-filled mass mailings and false accusations of racial discrimination serve no purpose other than to divide. The debate on campus can have real meaning only if those participating conduct themselves in a professional, academic manner.

The First National Student Conference on the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, held at the University of California at Berkeley last year, erupted into a violent, chaotic and embarrassing degeneration political protest and petty politics. The director of Berkeley's Hillel was not even permitted to attend the entire conference.

Anti-Semitism is not acceptable and the divestment movement has the difficult task of distinguishing between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. It must walk a fine line in order to limit perceptions of anti-Semitism that would embarrass the University and spread a message of hate. While anti-Semitism may not be the intent of this conference, if participants are not careful, it could become the effect.

While accusations of anti-Semitism should never be ignored, it is important that speech is not silenced. Pro-Palestinian speakers have a right to speak their mind without being shouted down as anti-Semites before they even open their mouths.

Because the University is recognizing the freedom of expression of SAFE to hold this conference, SAFE must in turn allow other students their freedom of expression to attend the event and to protest it. Local pro-Israeli groups are planning a variety of events to counter the conference's message. These events must also respect the freedom of expression of others.

In short, the conference represents a challenge to the political maturity of the University. If the University community does not live up to this challenge, it will lose credibility. However, this conference and the surrounding events can become an opportunity to prove that both sides can conduct themselves in a peaceful and thoughtful manner.

The University community must avoid hot perils that fiery passions awaken and participate in a free exchange of ideas beneficial to all.