Pro-Israel, Palestine groups on campus react to ongoing violence

Ella Chochrek | Contributing Reporter

The ongoing violence faced by Israelis and Palestinians has brought strong student voices on the Washington University campus forward, with Facebook posts, rallies and more.

An Oct. 8 Facebook post by Wash U Students for Israel (WSI) about the actions of Students for Justice in Palestine groups at other universities sparked a fresh wave of dialogue between members and a new group, Wash U Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

A group of students supporting Israel poses in front of the George Washington statue on campus as part of a rally of support. In the past few weeks, violence has encouraged students to advocate for peace in the region.Joachim Vaturi | Student Life

A group of students supporting Israel poses in front of the George Washington statue on campus as part of a rally of support. In the past few weeks, violence has encouraged students to advocate for peace in the region.

The head of Students for Justice in Palestine described the group as “under attack,” while the president of Students for Israel did not believe there was a conflict between the two groups.

Wash U Students for Israel held a rally outside Olin Library on Wednesday to affirm its support for Israel and desire for peace in the nation. Sophomore Paul Felder, president of the group, said the decision to hold the rally was prompted by increased violence in Israel.

“There’s been a lot of violence in Israel recently, and it’s resulted in a lot of death…We wanted to come together and unify and make a statement that we’re pro-peace and call for the end of incitement,” Felder said.

Students at the rally dressed in white and blue to show their support for Israel. The event consisted of speeches from Felder, Israeli exchange student Ido Shlomo and freshman Peri Feldstein, a member of Wash U Students for Israel. Attendees, led by Israeli exchange students, sang Israel’s national anthem.

“As a freshman, I’m so excited to have such a strong community that supports Israel,” Feldstein said.

Junior Sam Wexler, vice president of Students for Justice in Palestine, believes that pro-Israel students’ arguments are backed by racism, citing a quote from former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that was posted by Wash U Students for Israel.

“[Wash U Students for Israel] used a quote from Golda Meir that said, ‘There will be peace in the Middle East as soon as the Arabs love their children more than they hate us,’ which to me is an unbelievably racist thing to say and totally delusional—hateful, even…There are Muslim and Arab and Palestinian students on this campus, and that is a very hurtful thing to hear,” Wexler said.

In Wash U Students for Israel’s initial Facebook post, the group called for Wash U’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter to condemn other SJP chapters’ recent support for an intifada—a Palestinian resistance movement, which has occurred twice since 1987.

“With the wave of Palestinian terror in Israel, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters in New York have shown support for a Third Intifada, an uprising of violent Palestinian terrorist attacks. SJP recently started a chapter on the Wash U campus. We hope the Wash U SJP will condemn the support for terrorism that has become widely accepted in other SJP chapters across the country,” the WSI post read.

An ongoing exchange then began between the two student groups. Wexler felt that Students for Justice in Palestine was being unfairly targeted by Students for Israel.

“We always are going to be open to respectful and intelligent criticism and feedback, but we don’t have to answer to you. You don’t get to lord over us and tell us what to do. I understand that that’s how it’s always worked on this campus, but we don’t find that acceptable. We wanted to just make a very general point about how we feel about sort of the heart of this issue, which is yes, there is in fact violence that comes from both sides, but that is the reality of occupation,” Wexler said.

Wexler also noted that he felt a double standard existed amongst the two groups, stating that there was no discussion on campus of attacks against Palestinians.

“Israeli terrorism is never talked about. As opposed to understanding that there are religious extremists in every single group, we only hear a narrative about one,” Wexler said.

Felder said that he felt the most important thing was to raise awareness of the ongoing problems in Israel.

“The Israeli-Arab conflict is not about an exchange of Facebook posts between a pro-Israel and anti-Israel student group. This is about coexistence and the future of Israelis and Palestinians,” Felder said. “I think [SJP] are a little more anti-Israel than pro-Palestinian. I think WSI is pro-Palestinian in addition to being pro-Israel. Lately there’s been some stuff on Facebook, but I wouldn’t say there’s a conflict between us,” Felder said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that Sam Wexler is the vice president of Students for Justice in Palestine.

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