On Monday night, a panel of student leaders shared their perspectives on the posting of mock eviction notices by Emory Students for Justice in Palestine (ESJP) and the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an audience of about 120 students.
The panel included research interns at the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel Brett Kleiman (20C) and Shaina Alcheck (19C), Emory-Israel Public Affairs Committee (EIPAC) co-President Ben Lefkowitz (22C) and Palestinian student Ata Hindi (21L), as well as students Sarah Spielberger (17Ox, 19C) and Xavier Sayeed (20C).
The panelists first diverged on the effectiveness of the mock eviction notices. Lefkowitz stated that he did not think that the notices encouraged productive dialogue.
“I’m a very strong believer in freedom of speech and in good-faith dialogue but what I saw wasn’t encouraging people to talk. It was a fear tactic,” Lefkowitz said. “It was something that people might wake up to and think that they were actually being evicted.”
Hindi said he did not find the notices inappropriate because they did not target a specific group of students, noting that they were a realistic example of an important struggle.
“I’ve seen what the real eviction notices look like. I have friends that have been evicted from Jerusalem,” said Hindi, who lived in Jerusalem for five years. “I hope that is awareness that can be raised in the United States, where the issue of Palestine is still a taboo.”
Spielberger said that while she thought the eviction notices were incendiary, she also believed Israel Week was similarly confrontational and not conducive to fruitful dialogue. Lefkowitz theorized that the University was ill-equipped to productively engage in discussion about Israel and Palestine because the campus had never dealt with the issues on such a broad scale before.
“This was one of the first times that we had a full Israel Week, and the apartheid wall was accompanied by these fake eviction notices, the die-in — things that the Emory community as a whole has never seen before,” Lefkowitz said. “So I don’t think either side was prepared to have a dialogue.”
Spielberger identified Emory administration as another obstacle to productive dialogue, while Kleiman blamed external media coverage for intensifying divisions between campus groups by taking students’ quotes out of context.
The discussion then opened up to student questions and moved to the broader issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Panelists discussed distinctions between being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, shared their definitions of Zionism and proposed solutions.
Alcheck and Lefkowitz said they thought compromise would solve the ongoing conflict, advocating for a two-state solution.
Hindi disagreed with the idea of a two-state solution, saying that Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is illegal and must be rectified with withdrawal.
Kleiman stated that Emory students should be cognizant of the differences in the way that people in the U.S. and people in Israel and Palestine talk about the conflict.
“There’s a complete detachment between what’s happening in the land and what’s happening here. Here it’s very idealistic, very partisan and very polarizing,” Kleiman said. “We’re talking about history, the 1800s, the 1890s. A lot of the people there are worried about tomorrow. They’re worried about whether their house will be evicted. They’re worried about if there’s gonna be a bomb.”
The discussion concluded with suggestions from the panel on how the Emory community can have productive dialogue about the conflict in the future.
Kleiman, Sayed, and Hindi encouraged students who want to learn more about the issue to educate themselves by reading various credible sources and staying aware of potential bias in news sources. Hindi specifically suggested that students read the work of Israeli historians and Israeli Human Rights organizations because they get information directly from the scene of the conflict.
Spielberger said that students needed to prioritize finding a solution over defending their opinions.
“We have to want to find a solution more than we want to be right,” Spielberger said. “Embrace the discomfort that comes from real dialogue, because that’s the only way forward.”
The discussion was hosted in part by Jane Wang (22C) and Kimia Tabatabaei (22C), students who hope to charter a BridgeUSA chapter at Emory next semester. BridgeUSA is a national organization which seeks to educate students about global issues by creating civil dialogues that bridge the gap between different sides of the political spectrum, according to its website. Wang and Tabatabaei organized the event in collaboration with the Emory International Relations Association.
“There’s this echo chamber on college campuses where people who agree with each other only talk to each other, and that strengthens their beliefs without ever challenging them,” Wang said. “We wanted to challenge people’s beliefs and get them to hopefully understand each other.”
After the panel, Zachary Shuster (17Ox, 19C) said he thought the discussion held importance.
“I’m really glad this happened, I think it needed to happen,” Shuster said. “One thing I did wish to see more of was a panelist from the right wing, because all of them I know were on the left.”
Noor Alfalih (22C) said she thought Wang and Tabatabaei had successfully created a space for dialogue that represented a variety of perspectives.
“I thought it was a great discussion,” Alfalih said. “I do agree all sides should be heard, and personally, I have learned more from the other side, though it doesn’t necessarily mean that I changed my mind.”
Editors’ Note: Kimia Tabatabaei serves on the Wheel’s editorial board. Tabatabaei was not involved in the composition or editing of this article.