At the University of California, Berkeley in January, a coalition of students held a rally with mock coffins covered by Palestinian flags, while students wearing Israel Defense Forces sweatshirts and holding up Israeli flags stood nearby. Emory University held its first Israel Apartheid Week this year, during which a wall was constructed on campus to represent Israel’s security barrier; the wall was subsequently knocked down by three unidentified students. And there are numerous YouTube videos of the student center at York University in Toronto, packed with crowds of students shouting accusations at each other and waving Palestinian and Israeli Flags.
At Yale, we’re relatively sedate about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That’s not to say we don’t have strong opinions on the subject or don’t get involved. Rather, the lack of hostile confrontation among students with diverging viewpoints on this issue points to a high level of intellectual maturity among Yale students — a quality of which we should be very proud.
This year at Yale we have had numerous speakers, films and discussion groups on the topic of Palestinian-Israeli relations. As far as we know, all but one of the events proceeded as scheduled, without protests or demonstrations by student groups. The one protest of which we are aware — at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, where security concerns forced the cancellation of a lecture by a retired Israel Air Force general — was organized by an outside community group from Hartford.
The non-confrontational, non-threatening atmosphere at Yale can be attributed to two main factors. The first is a sense of open-mindedness and respect regarding all issues discussed on campus. We go out of our way not to step on each other’s toes; we go even further and learn everything we can about whatever subject is in play, in hopes of contributing to solutions for our world’s problems. This year at Yale, students undertook several efforts to bridge the gap between Palestinians and Israelis. For example, a widely attended vigil took place on Cross Campus for Palestinian and Israeli victims of war, and Seeds of Peace showed a film presenting a model for dialogue. In addition, One Voice, a grassroots organization with offices in both Israeli and Palestinian cities, held an informational event on campus that was well-attended by students with a range of positions on the conflict. Though some students expressed reservations about aspects of the organization’s methods, they raised these issues in an intellectual, polite and respectful manner.
Students applied this model of non-confrontation at the beginning of the spring semester, when Jews and Muslims at Yale sponsored a fishbowl discussion on events in Gaza. Each side took a turn with its own fishbowl, creating a safe space for discussion within the circle while allowing the other group to “look into the fishbowl” from without. These events focused on finding common ground, listening and responding rather than on bypassing points of view.
The second factor that has contributed to our campus’s relatively low political blood pressure regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been the nature of events introduced by our student groups. They increase our understanding of the issue without resorting to emotional propaganda techniques, and without having scandalous blurbs in the Cross Campus section of the News. Students at Yale have presented a slew of politicians, academics, activists and films focused on the conflict, all with the intention of educating rather than making a scene. We’ve even gone beyond these traditional modes of political expression to more creative ones, staging the play Palestinian Monologues, which was performed two weeks ago in Linsly-Chittenden Hall (and which received a standing ovation), and holding a concerts such as those by the Israeli band Coolooloosh, which is performing next Wednesday night at Café Bottega. The live arts of music and theater on campus entertain the mind and the senses; they challenge us to summon our creativity and talent in approaching divisive issues.
There is little doubt that Yalies will continue our exceptional way of approaching discourse on the issue of Palestinian-Israeli relations, as we generally behave maturely and respectfully (except to those wearing crimson on Thanksgiving weekend). We should continue to follow the model we have set, and we are hopeful that model will serve other campuses as well.
Shira Winter is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College and a co-president of Jews and Muslims at Yale and Yale Friends of Israel. Shai Kamin is a freshman in Pierson College and the vice president of media affairs for Yale Friends of Israel.