Winter and Kamin: Yale is a model of coexistence

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.


  • Ben

    No, I think it's just that Yale students are too busy padding their resumes to be concerned with important global events with any sort of intensity.

  • Saul

    You don't need to ignore Israeli apartheid in order to coexist peacefully. Those Jews who claim they are peaceful invited an Israeli army officer to teach them how to peacefully coexist with Palestinians (sic)! Simply force them in ghettos in Gaza and the West Bank like the Native Americans.

  • Anonymous

    Then you don't know anything about most Yale students :)

  • Anonymous

    I am not sure that being "relatively sedate" about things that are happening in Israel and Palestine is something I would brag about.

  • Zach

    I think the point is not that Yale students are too lazy or busy to confront these issues, but that they confront global issues like this one with respect and maturity.

  • Sam

    Saul, comments like yours reveal the knee-jerk response that ignorant people have about conflicts like these. The (retired) Israeli general in question happens to be one of the most left-wing people in terms of the conflict slotted to come to campus. But, people like you hear the word army and immediately imagine baby-killers and the like. You really need to learn about the issues before you make asinine comments like that one.

  • Started Yesterday?

    While the "calm" and "mature" attitude toward the situation would be comendable if the situation in Israel/Palenstine had begun yesterday, this situation has only gotten worse steadily over the last 60 years. There is little to be calm about — whomever you happen to sympathize with more. Yalies are simply too involved in their immediate circumstances, and all too happy to intellectualize a problem that is unlikely to affect them directly. Moreover, it seems that consdidered and reasonable debate have pretty much just enforced the status quo for years now. The facts are available for all -- again, on both sides — to see, and mostly people just see what they want to. Unless we actually want to start writing policy for senators or leading a revolution, we're nothing but spectators and arm-chair commentators.

  • (Unregistered User)

    I would actually argue that it is precisely the opposite. Fanaticism and violence on both sides is what propagates the conflict and forces a reliance on the status quo. The only progress made in the last 60 years has come when people came to the bargaining table with mature and unemotional attitudes like Sadaat in the 70s and Rabin in the 90s. It is exactly your anti-intellectual attitude (seeing talking as ineffective) that keeps the conflict alive. The writers of this article are absolutely right in pointing out what truly makes peace possible, and Yale's mature environment is clearly a place that fosters that mature attitude.

  • Anonymous

    I do not think that any demonstration or talk that occurs on a college campus is of importance. The demonstrations and protests do nothing but perhaps make people feel as if they are important. There is no strong impetus to have dialouge on something that is not emminently relevant to our lives and that we can not truly affect as of now. College students shouldn't be concerned about a land dispute between two countries, which is all the conflict is about. The entire concept of being "intellectual" about the conflict is stupid. There is nothing to be intellectual about, except to learn from the conflict how to approach future methods of diplomacy, otherwise people are just wasting their time.

  • SAS

    It is ridiculous to speak of co-existence between an occupier and the occupied. The Israelis should learn to respect the basic human rights of the Palestinians people and then we can speak of tolerance and co-existence and so on

  • SOS

    One could just as easily argue that it ridiculous to speak of co-existence between people who target and indiscriminately kill civilians and those who are meticulous in attempting to navigate a difficult moral situation, even arresting their own citizens when they commit war crimes. What I just said is clearly just as one-sided as what you said, and just as false. The point is that the situation is incredibly nuanced and there is plenty of blame to go around. The second we place blame on only one side, we forego any possible future of coexistence.

  • It's Clear

    While the Israelis lowered their flags to half-mast and declared a day of mourning on 9/11, the Palestinians danced in the streets of Jerusalem. They should have lost any global sympathy on that day, but somehow they are still being treated as innocent victims. Maybe if they practiced some Gandhi-like peaceful resistance and didn't elect terrorist groups to represent them, they would have their own country by now.

  • Model What

    I think it's ludicrous to present Yale as a "model of coexistence" as if there are Israeli and Palestinian populations of relative equal size, and as if the Palestinian populated areas are manned by Israeli soldiers at all time of day. New Haven is not Jenin. There is no model to speak of. You are simply bragging bout the fact that it is quiet there. Let's hope this changes soon and we take the stand that must be taken to stop apartheid and promote real co-existence by tearing down the 'separation' barrier.