Nearly two weeks ago, Students for Justice in Palestine set up a mock checkpoint at Porter gate to demonstrate an aspect of Palestinian daily life. The Yale Friends of Israel has held a vigil every time a suicide bomber has killed Israelis this year. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak spoke at Battell Chapel. A retired Israeli Colonel spoke on suicide bombings at a master’s tea Tuesday. And the flurry of political activity revolves around one question.
What decides who gets to live in Jerusalem: the Bible, United Nations legislation, or hundreds of years of Palestinians living in the area?
And as hostilities at home and abroad escalate, no formal discussions between SJP and YFI have occurred or are in the forecast. Even whether there needs to be a formal debate is up for debate. The closest thing to a dialogue between the two groups has been a series of critiques of each other’s demonstrations.
YFI co-president Elyse Schneiderman ’05 dismissed the SJP’s mock checkpoint as “sensationalism.”
“We could have our own. We could have someone pretending to be a terrorist blowing themselves up in the dining hall. But that would bring down the level of discussion,” Schneiderman said. “[The checkpoint] was completely one-sided. No one mentioned the reason there are checkpoints is that terrorists are coming into Israel.”
SJP member Catherine Halaby ’03 disagreed. She said the checkpoint was a valid activity that was able to “shuttle a little sympathy to the plight of the average Palestinian.”
“Their vigils function in the same way,” Halaby said. “They serve the same purpose — calling attention to what is happening to innocent people. It plays a similar role on this campus. We can’t really give an accurate portrait [of what’s going on in the Middle East]. But I don’t think that asking people to consider the human side of the conflicts is necessarily sensationalism.”
Halaby is a writer for the Yale Daily News.
Members of both YFI and SJP said educating the Yale community is their top priority.
“We have a certain bent,” Halaby said. “But we’re trying to get out facts.”
While members of both groups consistently assert that teaching Yale about the conflict is their primary goal, however, neither organization seems to have an interest in educating the other.
Schneiderman said there are no current plans for a formal discussion with SJP, but did not offer a response when asked why this was the case.
“In terms of our relationship with SJP, there haven’t been activities in the past — at least not this year,” she said. “It’s out there– members [of the two organization] are talking. There hasn’t been anything formal; but I don’t think there needs to be.”
Halaby said she would be in favor of a debate under the proper circumstances.
“Setting up a formal debate — this is the two sides — that wouldn’t be appropriate,” Halaby said. “My personal perspective is that [any sort of debate] shouldn’t be sponsored by Hillel and Muslim students. Personally, I would be in favor of co-sponsoring a debate that isn’t ‘SJP versus YFI,’ but ‘YFI and SJP invite you.'”
Halaby said though she would like to see a debate, she would not be surprised if it takes some time because in addition to the intellectual debates, there have been many reactionary outbursts as well.
SJP member Saqib Bhatti ’04 agreed the student group Jews and Muslims is not the forum for such a discussion for two reasons.
“The first is that JAM is meant to be an apolitical group. It was not meant to be a forum for debate or dialogue about the politics of the Middle East,” Bhatti said. “The second is that contrary to popular belief, the two sides in this conflict are not Jews and Muslims. They are supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestine. There are actually very few Muslims in SJP. It wouldn’t make sense for an SJP-YFI dialogue to take place in a JAM meeting.”
Perhaps what it comes down to is fear of miscommunication. Because the issue is inflammatory, people get defensive when primarily political ideologies are confused with religious stances, Halaby said.
“More so than the sweatshops issue, more than the labor issue, it’s easy to feel defensive or threatened,” Halaby said.