This week marks the third-annual Palestinian Solidarity Week at our university. Students for Justice in Palestine, the primary sponsor of the week's programming, claims its goal is to unite students who are concerned about the well-being of the Palestinian people and seek the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. But the numerous provocative events that are part of the week do something far different than achieve its stated goals. The solidarity week's events and the speakers the group brings to the university present distorted facts and extreme biases that ultimately seek to vilify and isolate Israel. Often, the inflammatory comments and content of the programs spark strong reactions, diverting attention from the true underlying issue at hand: How can the Israeli and Palestinian peoples work together to create a lasting, constructive peace?
Instead, Students for Justice in Palestine spreads a message that does not fairly represent the framework and delicate situation in the Middle East's only democracy. Readily apparent from the very beginning of the week, the depiction of a security barrier as the "Apartheid Wall" is the first of many misrepresentations of Israeli intentions. Posters claiming "Zionism is Racism" and the spewing of misleading statistics and inconsistent facts about life in the West Bank and Gaza only further distorts the issue. The group neglects to mention the security wall was built to defend innocent Israelis against the suicide bombings that occurred on a daily basis just a few years ago and the constant rocket attacks that persist today.
Furthermore, yesterday's event with Norman Finkelstein, a political scientist who seeks to inspire support for Palestinian statehood through what the Anti-Defamation League calls "his anti-Israel animus," is the perfect example of how this week is counterproductive and pushes the debate away from the conversation that is necessary. Finkelstein is a man who has made radical claims, such as that Jews exploited the tragic events of the Holocaust for personal gain, and has stated that some Jews in America are "de facto agents of a foreign government." That a group can say a speaker such as Finkelstein is part of a week that is fair and respectful is shocking and something every student should question.
Despite all of the accusations made this week to delegitimize Israel, it is a state that receives widespread bipartisan support, whether it be from the White House, Congress or students at this university. Both the Action Party's Kaiyi Xie and the Love Party's Ben Simon, the two candidates for Student Government Association president, agree on their strong support for Israel. Xie and Simon are just a few of the countless student leaders from a broad range of groups who have publicly stated their support for Israel and desire for a peaceful resolution to this deep, complicated situation.
Likewise, for our entire university to ever build ties of mutual understanding and respect — ones that are critical to realistically addressing the issue — this should be a week designed to promote positive dialogue that can advance the Palestinian cause and build the unity necessary for peace. The pro-Israel community seeks to do just that with Israel Week, held May 2 to 5, which seeks to promote Israel in a cultural way and is inviting to all students who wish to attend. I challenge Students for Justice in Palestine and every student at this university to work together, rather than apart, to create a more inclusive and honest discourse that other schools can look to as we seek to achieve a goal that is desirable to all parties.
Daniel Ensign is president of Terrapin Students for Israel. He can be reached at daniel.ensign at gmail dot com.