February 27, 2013

Jewish Students Denounce Defacement of Hillel Posters

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Jewish students are decrying the anonymous distribution of anti-Israel posters in the Noyes Community Recreational Center last week. The pro-Palestine group that later took credit for the posters has defended its actions, calling them an act of necessity as tensions in Gaza continue to boil over.

More than 20 posters that were left in a newspaper bin in Noyes last week showed a defaced promotion for a Cornell Hillel event that brought Israeli soldiers to speak on campus. The posters, which were marked up with red scrawlings, denounced the “exclusively Jewish” soldiers — asserting that they engaged in “war-crime[s],” not “combat,” and served in “massacres,” not “missions.”

On Sunday, Students for Justice in Palestine, an organization that describes itself as being dedicated to “raising awareness of the Palestinian experience,” took credit for making the posters. SJP claimed it produced the posters to “condemn the nature of Hillel’s event.”

The event “normalize[d] an illegal military occupation and illegal wars of aggression that have cause[d] immense suffering and death in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon,” the organization wrote in a statement to The Sun.

“We wonder why a putatively religious organization such as Hillel would choose to step into this issue,” the statement said. “Did they consider how their glorification of military occupation and apartheid might affect Palestinian, Arab or any other students who identify with the populations living under attack and occupation?”

Although SJP said that it deliberately decided to produce posters rather than picket or interrupt Hillel’s event, some Jewish community members reacted to the posters with feelings of fear, disappointment and frustration.

When a friend told her that she had found “anti-Semitic posters” in Noyes, Jordana Gilman ’14, president of Cornell Hillel, said she felt like she had been “attacked.”

“This felt scary. There is someone on this campus who is threatening to me,” Gilman said.

The posters are not the first indication of the polarization of political expression on campus. In November, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups held a rally on Ho Plaza that ended in students screaming at each other and campus police ejecting one of the groups from the plaza.

The anonymous nature of the posters, which did not indicate that they were created by SJP, left no way for students to respond or productively discuss Israeli-Palestinian relationships, Gilman said. Ultimately, what was more frustrating than the content of the posters was the way in which they were distributed, Gilman said.

“I don’t want to debate each and every point [the person who made the posters] made. I want to say that I’m so disappointed it had to happen in this manner,” she said.

Gilman emphasized the need for improved dialogue between the two groups.

“If what we want — which is what I think we want — is for the two governments to talk to each other, then we need to model that,” she said, adding that Muslim and Jewish community members did just that — convene — at a Shabbat dinner Friday.

SJP, however, expressed its own frustration over the moderation of campus dialogue, saying that its posters had been ripped down and discarded.

To Eli Shaubi ’13, co-president of the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, the posters showed a “lack of acceptance of any Israeli suffering by the other side at Cornell.”

“I am personally disappointed that some people feel the need to demonize Israel and delegitimize the political expressions of such a large portion of the student body,” he said.

Shaubi said CIPAC acknowledges that both Israeli and Palestinian citizens have “suffered immensely,” and that CIPAC does not seek to “delegitimize the Palestinian cause.” But the posters, in criticizing an event he said was meant to share Israelis’ stories with the Cornell community, showed blatant intolerance for the pro-Israel movement.

“Supporting the Palestinian people and accepting national Jewish self-determination are not mutually exclusive, and many members of CIPAC and the pro-Israel community at large have learned how to be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian,” Shaubi said. “I expect the same respect from supporters of the Palestinian cause, whether we agree politically or not.”

In its statement, however, SJP said that it felt “required” to respond to Hillel’s event. Through the posters, SJP said it intended to criticize and call attention to “manipulations of language and history in [Hillel’s] description of the event.”

Among the issues SJP said it took issue with was Hillel promoting the event as a part of “Israel Week,” rather than “Israel Peace Week” — an annual, pro-Israel event held on college campuses around the world.

“The omission of the world ‘peace’ illustrates the duplicitous nature of events that would celebrate Israel while ignoring the occupation,” SJP said.

Countering SJP’s claim, Gilman said that Hillel had renamed the event held on Cornell’s campus “Israel Week” for an entirely different purpose: to remove the politics from the event and focus on promoting Israeli culture throughout the week.

“We didn’t want to polarize the event. A lot of people think of Israel and they think of barbed wire and tanks,” she said. “I would like people to know the Israel I know, which is palm trees and clubs and people trying to figure out Israel’s identity.”

In promotion of its views, SJP said it is organizing an Israel Apartheid Week to raise awareness of what it called the “racist, colonial nature of the Israeli occupation.” Gilman questioned why the event is not called “Palestinian Culture Week,” a name she said is less anti-Israel and more inviting of positivity.

“I want to emphasize that not every Jew is a poster child of being pro-Israel, and I understand that not every Muslim is a poster child of being anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. I really want us to view each other as individuals, and the only way to do that is if we sit down and talk,” Gilman said.

Original Author: Akane Otani