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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Engrossing: Closed-mindedness on campus

Published: November 12, 2010
Section: Opinions

As anyone with eyes—let alone a Facebook account—knows, this past week has been “Israeli Occupation Awareness Week.”

For those who have managed to avoid the e-mail, Facebook message and flyer campaigns, I will give a brief summary.

“Israeli Occupation Awareness Week” was sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. It consisted of a series of speakers and events with a critical view of Israeli politics. The “zine” produced for the event asserts that “The Brandeis student body does not fall in line with the AIPAC, the ADL, and other un-nuanced approaches to the State of Israel and the Palestinian people.”

The week was created with the intention of presenting a point of view that is not regularly projected on Brandeis’ campus and opening up dialogue between students with opposing viewpoints on the conflict in the Middle East.

Campus has been tense to say the least in the midst of such controversial speakers as Daoud Nassar, a Christian Palestinian farmer whose community is affected by Jewish settlements, and Diana Buttu, a negotiator for and legal advisor for the PLO.

However, the majority of adverse reactions to the week’s events have been dealt with in respectful and tactful ways. For example: BZA’s mass postering of campus with pro-Israel slogans and a BIPAC/BZA protest that took place on Rabb steps Thursday morning.

This courtesy extended right up until Thursday night’s event, a speech by Noam Chomsky, U.S. political activist and theorist and professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology the week’s keynote speaker.

Chomsky’s speech was highly anticipated. The buzz surrounding it combined with an overwhelming number of Facebook RSVP’s prompted event organizers to change the location from Pollack lecture hall to Sherman Function Hall. Attendance was limited to Brandeis students and faculty with few exceptions and attendees were encouraged to show up 30 minutes ahead of time to assure attendance.

As it turns out, the suggested 30 minute wait time was not enough time to guarantee a seat. More than 100 students who had shown up as much as an hour before the speech was scheduled to begin were denied admission after the venue exceeded capacity.

The event started normally enough.

After everyone had settled in, a student official from Students for Justice in Palestine welcomed the crowd and thanked them for coming out and opening up their ears and their minds.

Unfortunately, this was not what many students had in mind.

Around 30 minutes into Chomsky’s presentation—which, no matter how anyone feels about his policy, was grounded concretely in fact and almost free of emotion—a group of more than 50 students dressed in white stood up, wrapped themselves in Israeli flags and walked out of the venue.

It is more than clear that the students who organized the walk out had not come to the event with an open mind, the intention of learning something new or even the courtesy of respecting a rival group on campus.

They were there with the sole intention of making a political statement.

If this wasn’t disturbing enough, these 50 plus walk outs took seats from other students who had come out to see Chomsky with the intention of learning and expanding their point of view.

This instance of closed mindedness is just another example of the disturbing argument culture that is developing on this campus when it comes to Israel dialogue.

Most groups are simply reacting to the actions of others, sitting around and waiting for their turn to talk instead of listening to the incredible—albeit controversial—speakers that visit campus.

When these groups finally get the chance to voice their opinions, it becomes clear that many of them speak for the sole reason of hearing their own voices instead of letting their voices along with those of other groups on campus become a part of the dialogue that these events are created to foster.

I am deeply disappointed by the organizers of and participants in the walk out for their perpetuation of a less than flattering trend on Brandeis’ campus.

I can only hope that enough students will be touched by the combined events of “Israeli Occupation Awareness Week,” “Israel Peace Week,” J-Street’s “Two States for Two People’s Week” and other events put on in the future by Israel minded groups on campus, to create a dialogue that will put an end to such spectacles for good.