Palestinian activists at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alma mater attempted to cancel an event celebrating Israel’s Independence Day Thursday because the event would make students feel “unsafe.”
The executive committee for Palestine@MIT issued a statement on the group’s Facebook page targeting the school’s Undergraduate Association for the decision to include an Israeli Independence Day Carnival at SpringFest.
The event apparently went off without a hitch.
“As Palestinians and supporters of Palestine in the MIT community, we are alarmed by the fact that the UA are endorsing this event, given that the UA represents us as well,” the group wrote. “We feel unsafe in an environment that celebrates a catastrophic day for one nation at an official school-wide capacity by a body that represents all students equally, with no regards or sympathy towards our tragedy.”
According to the executive board, “the Israeli Independence Day raises politically sensitive questions given that it just so happens to represent the 1948 Palestinian Exodus, also known as the ‘Nakba’. This is a day of extreme tragedy and traumatic loss for millions of people, including many students here at MIT.”
“The UA represents the entire student body, and therefore we believe that such specific cultural/political events should not be endorsed by the UA, noting that the relevant organizations exist to support such an effort indisputably,” the executive board states, despite the UA recognizing various organizations on campus that host “specific cultural/political events,” including Palestine@MIT.
“If Palestinians are truly equal members of the MIT community,” the statement concludes, “we expect this school-wide event to resonate that message. In a community that promised us a united mission, ‘one community, in service for all,’ we trust that any event that may distress members of the community at least be detached from a UA-sponsored school-wide event that is meant for celebration.”
A link was provided so students and staff could show their support for the initiative to cancel the Israeli Independence Day Carnival.
As a result of the outrage by the Palestinian activists on campus, the Undergraduate Association’s President, Matthew Davis, met with Palestine@MIT, along with MIT’s Hillel and Friends of Israel group.
In an e-mail sent to the MIT undergraduate student body, obtained by Legal Insurrection, Davis explained the decision to include the Israeli Independence Day Carnival at SpringFest:
“Every student group at MIT is recognized by the Association of Student Activities (ASA), and through this organization, all undergraduate student groups are recognized by the UA. Every recognized student group has the ability to apply for funds from the UA through the Financial Board, and is eligible for such funding as long as they are recognized by the ASA, with no other consideration,” Davis wrote, clarifying the position of the Undergraduate Association.
“As part of this, it is often the case that some student groups will be ones with which other undergraduates are uncomfortable, or may express an idea contrary to the opinions of others. In the course of history, it is often the case that such groups would not be allowed; moreover, it is often the case that those who hold a minority opinion, contrary to that of the majority, may have their opinion silenced either through the active suppression of the majority, or a lack of resources provided. Perhaps the most valued and intrinsic desire of every human being is to have a voice — to allow their ideas to be expressed. There are two courses of action the UA may take in regards to controversial groups and ideas — either recognize no groups, whether of the majority or minority opinion, if there is a hint of controversy, or recognize all groups equally, regardless of the popularity of their idea.”
Davis elaborated on the importance of freedom of opinion on college campuses, writing that “by recognizing all ideas and opinions equally, we are more able to allow a free expression of ideas, allowing undergraduates to be exposed to a wide range of opinions, and choose for themselves those of which they are for, and those of which they are against.”
Ultimately, Davis decided “we do not feel that it is appropriate to derecognize their event, due to our failure to notify student groups of the opportunity to publicize. To do otherwise would set a precedent that would be contrary to the values expressed above, and, we believe, would ultimately be more harmful to all affected groups.”
Palestine@MIT did create a “comfortable and safe space for students to openly express how they feel during this sensitive time.”