Protests interrupt lecture by Israeli statesman

Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - 10:29pm

Pro-Palestine students protest speaker Nadav Tamir at a lecture about relationships between Israel and Middle Eastern countries at the Ford School Wednesday.

Pro-Palestine students protest speaker Nadav Tamir at a lecture about relationships between Israel and Middle Eastern countries at the Ford School Wednesday. Buy this photo
Chun So/Daily

Two dozen members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality demonstrated at a lecture by Nadav Tamir, a prominent Israeli diplomat, Wednesday night in the Ford School of Public Policy. Tamir’s lecture marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel, but protesters called the event “ultra nationalistic” and insensitive in timing, pointing to the deaths of 17 Palestinian protesters who were killed in clashes with Israel Defense Forces, Israel’s military, two weeks ago in Gaza.

The demonstrators lined the back of the auditorium, holding posters condemning the IDF, of which Tamir was a decorated soldier. Several minutes into the lecture, three SAFE members staged a die-in.

One SAFE member, who asked to remain anonymous for safety concerns, said he wanted make sure “Palestinian voices are heard.”

“We wanted to show that the people who died in the protests and the people who have died over the past years have not been forgotten,” he said. “We felt like this was not an appropriate event at the time, especially with how ultra nationalistic it was being portrayed as. We wanted to show that there is opposition.”

The Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, Peres Center for Peace, WolvPAC and Michigan Hillel co-sponsored the lecture. The LSA Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, was previously listed as a co-sponsor, but retracted its support following complaints about the branding of the event.

In an email obtained by The Daily, CMENAS Director Samer Ali wrote the center was “concerned that the event was laden with the ultranationalist messaging,” particularly the phase “In honor of the 70th Anniversary of Israel. . .”

“If you think about it, that equates attending with honoring,” Ali wrote. “A truly public event open to opposing views must not imply an ideological litmus test for participation. In effect, the event manufactures consent by soliciting a sympathetic audience to normalize state-sponsored atrocities, while excluding those who might want to attend for the purposes of disagreeing and dissenting in a public forum.”

According to the email, CMENAS was unaware of “the full nature of the event” or “the event’s nationalist framing” when it initially took on co-sponsorship.

Tamir is currently the director of international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace, an Israel-based non-governmental organization. Before his career in diplomacy, he served in the IDF as a company commander and fought in the First Lebanon War, retiring with the rank of major.

His lecture focused on the possibility of peace between Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East, including Palestine. He discussed how the trauma of the Holocaust affects Israel’s approach to national security and peace processes.

“We are not the only traumatized people in the Middle East,” Tamir said. “The Palestinians are also traumatized for other reasons and this is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to solve this conflict, because you’re dealing with two traumatized people.”

Tamir endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and called for immediate negotiations between the two parties. He also said while he was a “die hard Zionist,” he was still very critical of the Israeli government.

“You can love your country and be completely against its government,” Tamir said. “I think many Americans feel that they don’t like your president at the moment, but are very proud to be American.”

An LSA freshman who attended the talk and asked not to be named said she thought Tamir offered an optimistic outlook on achieving peace.

“I think that sometimes people think that he’s coming at from a pro-Israel perspective,” she said. “It’s true that he does believe in the existence of the Israeli state, but what I got out of this talk is that he really seems to be working toward peace in general and he wants a win-win solution, not a win-lose one.”

Tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian student groups have simmered since Central Student Government’s passage of #UMDivest, a resolution calling on the University to investigate its investments in companies committing human rights violations in Israel.  

During a question and answer session held after the lecture, event facilitators asked questions be written down on notecards. After reading the cards, they would then pose questions to Tamir.

After several rounds of questions, SAFE member Carly, an LSA junior who participated in the die-in, spoke directly to Tamir in reference to Palestinian casualties during protests this month.

“Literally your organization just shot down 700 people in Gaza and you want me to write down my thoughts on a notecard about that?” she said. “You are a terrorist. You’ve been calling people terrorists all day and you yourself work for a terrorist organization.”

When Tamir began to answer, she grabbed her backpack and left the auditorium.

LSA sophomore Alex Harris, who helped facilitate the event, wrote in an email he admired how Tamir responded to the protesters at the event.

“I was impressed with the way Mr. Tamir engaged with people with differing opinions from his own,” he wrote. “He demonstrated that even the conflicting narratives surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be bridged through productive conversation if we respect and acknowledge each other and our unique perspectives. I believe that this is the only way that real, positive change will happen.”