As the temperature neared zero degrees on Wednesday night, about 200 people gathered on the steps of the Michigan Union to protest Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza.
The demonstration was organized by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a campus student group on campus that aims to promote human rights and self-determination for the Palestinian people, according to the group’s website.
Andrew Dalack, SAFE’S co-chair, said the group planned the protest in order to galvanize campus support for the Palestinian cause.
“There’s a sizable number of students on campus that demands an immediate cease fire, that supports an immediate end to U.S. military aid to Israel and that supports the full and immediate end to Israel’s current occupation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” Dalack said.
Students and Ann Arbor residents came out in droves to show support for SAFE’s cause. Many protestors were carrying signs including ones that read, “What has Zionism done for peace?” as a woman shouted in a mega-phone, “Boycott Israel now.”
In addition to holding up signs, students carried both Palestinian and Hamas flags.
Dalack said he was upset that protestors were carrying flags of political parties, like Hamas.
“I was disappointed by the ignorance some people displayed in their language, signage and behavior to onlookers as well,” Dalack said. “I hope that the inappropriate behavior by some community members does not reflect on the community as a whole, as they are supportive, rational and of high moral caliber.”
Members of Students for Social Equality were also at the demonstration to show support for the cause, despite minor disagreements with SAFE’s message.
“Students for Social Equality oppose the attack, but we also try to bring perspective of the bankruptcy of religious nationalism,” LSA senior Daniel Green, a member of Students for Social Equality, said. “We think that it’s very destructive — Hamas’s role in this. We’re here in support of the opposition of the attack and the occupation, but we also have a perspective which may not be the same as everyone here.”
While SAFE was busy making preparations for the protest, yesterday, members of the pro-Israel community took part in a “Blue Out” in order to show support for Israel.
The Union of Progressive Zionists, the American Movement for Israel and Israel Initiating Dialogue, Education and Advocacy, organized the Blue Out, in which they encouraged students to wear blue in support of Israel during this “difficult time,” said LSA junior Bria Gray, chair of the UPZ.
“What we’re promoting is that everyone wear blue in support of Israel,” Gray said. “We’re promoting education about what’s going on so that if someone’s noticing you’re wearing a blue shirt, hopefully you’ll be able to share something about how Israel is not this war-monger evil country, but a country that is trying to protect itself the only way it knows how.”
Gray said that while the SAFE demonstration was not the only reason they chose Wednesday for the Blue Out, it was definitely part of the motivation.
“I think partly we want to react soon because it broke out during the break,” she said. “We have to learn together to educate ourselves.”
Ben Kaminsky, chair of Israel IDEA, and Rachel Goldstein, chair of the American Movement for Israel said, however, that the Blue Out was not intentionally scheduled for the same day as the SAFE demonstration.
“We do not want to react against the feelings of other student organizations, but rather unite the pro-Israel community,” Goldstein said in an e-mail interview. “Everybody has a different perspective on the situation in Gaza, but we can join together on the idea that Israel has a right to defend itself in some way.”
LSA freshman Jennie Fine, who recently lived in Israel for a year, took part in the Blue Out after receiving an e-mail from AMI, in order to show her support for Israel.
“The West doesn’t understand what’s going on in the Middle East. They have no idea,” Fine said. “It’s a different world over there.”
LSA sophomore Craig Foldes said he wore blue yesterday as a way to advocate for Israel.
“Israel gets a bad reputation, but it needs to do whatever it can to ensure its survival,” Foldes said.
Several members of Israel IDEA, including Kaminsky, showed up at the demonstration.
Kaminsky said he wasn’t pleased with the behavior of some of the protesters.
“You have people waving Hamas flags. Hamas is a terrorist organization. It’s absolutely outrageous that these things can go on,” Kaminsky said
Despite the presence of opposition groups, LSA junior Kamblya Youseff who was at the event said she was happy with how the demonstration went.
“I just think it was amazing. It was very impressive and it showed a lot about what kind of support this cause can garner,” she said.
Youseff added that the demonstrators’ willingness to brave the cold is indicative of their support for the cause.
“If that in itself doesn’t tell people that something’s going wrong in the world, then I don’t know what will.”