The posters attempted to convince their audience that SJP’s political positions and activism in support of divestment are a form of hatred. In response, the town hall provided a forum to discuss the differences between political disagreements and discrimination, and for students to talk about the harmful consequences of discourses that rely on painting groups and communities as hateful in order to delegitimize their political viewpoints.
These conversations are especially critical as we recognize that the recent poster incident was not the first display of anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic action on our campus. As individuals’ stories reflected, a pre-existing climate of hostility to and condemnation of supporters of Palestinian rights allowed for such disturbing hate speech to take place this last week.
As was made clear last night, we know that individuals will disagree with SJP members over certain political issues. For example, out of a commitment to justice and equality for all people, our organization has decided to support Palestinian Civil Society’s 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) directed at the state of Israel until it ends its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, provides Palestinians equal rights inside Israel, and respects and promotes refugee rights. However, while we locate our support for BDS in an anti-racist, pro-human rights, and pro-international law framework, we do not believe that disagreement over these issues necessarily makes one anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and/or Islamophobic. By the same token, when anti-divestment rhetoric moves from a political debate to the demonization of groups like SJP, the entire campus suffers. In this sense, Horowitz’s posters served as a chilling demonstration of the dangers of demonizing pro-Palestine students simply for the support of Palestinian freedom and the BDS call. As the editorial board of the Daily Bruin recently wrote: “Communities are capable of vehement disagreement over deeply personal and moral issues while maintaining mutual respect for the other’s humanity.”
Universities are sites for learning and education, and we recognize that no student engaging in these debates begins from a place of perfection. Engagement with political questions often prompts a process of growth and change that can be stifled by attempts to demonize groups, and we hope that this pattern, to the extent that it applies to any community, can be reduced.
While there is much work to be done, our ability to discuss and elaborate on these issues among a diverse crowd of individuals of varying political and communal persuasions boded well for the prospect of improving relations among our fellow students. We were pleased to see that so many in attendance seemed similarly dedicated to this prospect, and we look forward to future political debates devoid of essentialism and demonization even during instances of impassioned disagreement.