Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) planned a series of movie screenings and workshops as a part of Israeli Apartheid Week, a period of two weeks between April 3 and 14.
An anonymous SJP Steering Committee member said that the goal of Israeli Apartheid Week is “to get more information out there and more publicity beyond what people see in these short misinformed sound bites on both sides of the issue, that doesn’t really let people know what’s going on.”
SJP member Noah Knowlton-Latkin PZ ‘17 said that SJP hopes that people will gain an understanding of the history of Palestinian oppression and realize that “given that [the American] government gives $3.8 billion a year to Israel in military aid, that we have a moral responsibility to do something about it.”
Additionally, he hopes to spread the understanding that “Palestinians are not simply victims, [and] that there is an incredible history of resistance in Palestine, in the diaspora and around the world.”
The anonymous student said that the Palestine 101 workshop, which took place on April 3, was an important event presenting a “base understanding of what Palestine is and what the Palestinian narrative is, [which] is not something that is at all mentioned in our dialogue around the conflict.”
Students at Pitzer and around the colleges have noted a particular form of protest, known to SJP members as the Apartheid Wall. The panels of the wall have different talking points about Israeli policies — which Knowlton-Latkin said were corroborated by news stories — or stories of individual Palestinians painted on them. Knowlton-Latkin said that the aim of the wall is to have a visual representation of the Israeli West Bank barrier and to get people engaged.
“It doesn’t mean you have to come out to a whole hour or two hour event, you can just come [to the wall] and learn a little bit about this,” Knowlton-Latkin said. “And from that, we can start engaging people and talking to people and bringing people in.”
Alexandra Bacall SC ‘20, who is Jewish, wrote in an email to TSL that the information on the wall does bring to light the many racial and social issues within the state of Israel, but that this information is taken out of context to make Israel look like the enemy.
“What the wall fails to recognize is that the issues that many Palestinians face are a product of their poor and tyrannical system of government,” she wrote.
Conversely, Dana Nothnagel PZ ’19 said that she found the wall incredibly powerful.
“I particularly admire SJP because of their bravery; they’re speaking up about an issue that is often very difficult and very unaccepted at the 5Cs. The wall is an incredibly bold and needed addition to campus,” she wrote in an email to TSL.
Pitzer President Melvin Oliver published a statement on April 4 acknowledging the wall and the high emotions surrounding both the wall and the situation in the Middle East.
“My hope is that we use the core values of Pitzer, which include civility, respect and dialogue as a basis of conversation and further discussion of this difficult issue. Pitzer remains open to considering multiple points of view, to caring for each other and focusing on our shared positive values,” the statement reads.
The anonymous student and the rest of SJP believe that the statement fairly contextualizes the wall’s role as meaning to spark dialogue, not to hurt anyone’s feelings.
“It’s about bringing awareness to the issue of state oppression and to spark dialogue around that,” she said.
At the same time, according to Knowlton-Latkin, the statement validates students who feel offended because of political speech against a colonialist state.
“Especially in comparison to the actual trauma that Palestinians face, for Jewish students to conflate their offense to criticism of the state of Israel with that, I think, is absolutely ridiculous,” he said, referring to the “horrific forms of violence and harassment experienced by Palestinians in their own homeland.”
According to Executive Board Member for the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance (CPIA) Zachary Freiman PO ’20, Apartheid Week, which CPIA refers to as Hate Week, acts as a way to intimidate, threaten and silence pro-Israel voices on campus.
“As an organization, we feel strongly that SJP does not speak for a majority of students on campus, that they are using tactics that intimidate students for remaining silent for their pro-Israel views,” he said.
According to CPIA Executive Board Member Mica Laber CM ’18, CPIA has placed numerous posters around campus emphasizing talking points about Israel in order to promote positivity.
“There’s a lot of information about Israel that people don’t know because Israel gets washed up in this narrative and conflict and foreign affairs that gets very very messy and complicated.” Laber said. “The posters are meant to help students recognize that Israel is a vibrant country that does a lot of good for the region.”
Freiman said that CPIA has also been reaching out to Jewish students to make them feel safe and like they have someone to talk to on campus. According to Laber, many Jewish students have felt unsafe on campus.
“There are students who want to transfer, there are students who do not feel comfortable in their classrooms, there are students who are being targeted in the classroom. They’ve had students turn around and say extremely anti-semitic things to their faces,” she said.
CPIA has been planning alternate programming “to promote positive dialogue,” said Laber. At one such event, NYU Adjunct Professor Abe Haak spoke about his childhood growing up a part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and his later transition into a pro-Israeli activist.
“From the minute you’re born until you die, for most people, there is no dissenting voice to challenge the narrative that Israel is a racist, imperialist, expansionist, colonialist state, and the Jews are the vilest of mankind,” he said during the talk.
Students have had different reactions to the SJP’s and the Israel Alliance’s activity.
Hannah Zuckerberg PZ ’20 said that although SJP came from a good place and had good events, there were still ideas lacking from the week.
“An event that they were lacking was a dialogue discourse type of event where people could ask questions and engage in dialogue who might not necessarily agree with SJP and also might not agree with the Israeli Alliance group,” she said. “That sort of space was not available during this week.”
Chen Pekker HM ’19 said that she has felt attacked and isolated as a result of SJP’s “hateful activity.”
“I feel as though I have to defend my right to exist, both as a Jew and especially as an Israeli. There is so much misinformation and hatred out there which makes it extremely difficult to engage in any sort of positive, thoughtful conversation,” she said.