Op-Ed: No dialogue on the diag

Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - 8:18pm

Forty-three years ago, a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on the Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Last Tuesday, on the high holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality — the University of Michigan’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine — erected two enormous walls on the Diag simulating Israel’s “apartheid” toward its Palestinian neighbors. SAFE members dressed in Israeli army costumes also invited students to engage in a mock checkpoint inspection at the walls. This consisted of dressing student volunteers in chequered keffiyehs and then both verbally and physically assaulting them as they tried to pass through the walls.

While I fully support every person’s right to demonstrate and protest against issues they care strongly about, SAFE’s decision to hold this occupation simulation on one of the holiest days in Judaism is blatantly disrespectful to a significant portion of the Michigan community. SAFE’s espousal that they “believe that the best way to achieve (their) mission is through peaceful, constructive, and proactive engagement” directly contradicts their actions from what they called an “apartheid” wall demonstration.

Rosh Hashanah is a day of reflection and new beginnings; it is a day that symbolizes both inner and outer peace. SAFE’s demonstration on Rosh Hashanah was incredibly insensitive toward the Jewish students at this university, many of whom spent the day in synagogue or observing Tashlich, a ritual where Jews empty their pockets into a body of flowing water, symbolizing casting off their sins to begin the year anew. Instead of choosing one of the 362 other days out of the year that are not high holidays to hold their demonstration, SAFE chose this day to make their point whether knowing or not that countless Jewish students would be conveniently absent from campus. Even if they were not conscious of Rosh Hashanah’s immense holiness to Jews, they still should be held accountable for their actions, and at the very least, this op-ed should serve as a learning lesson to SAFE for their future demonstrations.

Hillel Chair Eitan Katz, an LSA senior, heard about the protest secondhand after spending the morning observing Rosh Hashanah with family in synagogue. In an interview with the Daily, Katz said he felt “frustrated and hurt” that he could not be physically available “to support fellow Jewish students” as they witnessed this anti-Israel demonstration, many for the first time in their life.

If SAFE feels passionately about engaging in meaningful dialogue about issues relating to occupation and Israeli/Palestinian relations, they should avoid scheduling their rallies on days when many Jewish students are off campus observing religious holidays. Having a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions rally on Rosh Hashanah — a holiday tantamount in holiness to Christmas or Easter — does not make for a level playing field.

While I do not necessarily agree that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic, events like the one on Tuesday make me genuinely question that belief. Holding a BDS demonstration on a day so holy and meaningful for Jews not just in Israel, but here at the University, is not the behavior of a group that respects its fellow students or wants to engage in constructive dialogue. Had Jewish or pro-Israel students demonstrated on Eid al-Adha or Eid al-Fitr, two of the holiest Muslim holidays, I am certain SAFE members would feel frustrated and marginalized, just like the Jewish community is feeling right now. There is a tacit understanding that certain days are off-limits for protesting, and SAFE should understand that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most obvious and important ones for their fellow Jewish students.

Samantha Goldstein is an LSA freshman.