Voicing Your Opinions

Last semester a few students founded “Israel’s CWRU,” a student organization dedicated to educating the Case Western Reserve University community about Israel and the current conflict in the Middle East. The organization was formed in response to what was recognized as a culture of avoidance among most of the students on campus when it comes to this subject. At first we thought that the problem was apathy or that students were generally unaware of the issues, but after speaking with leaders of various student organizations regarding the Middle East, we realized that wasn’t the case. In reality, there are many opinions regarding Israel on our campus and not all are positive. As the first group on campus dedicated to telling the Israeli story, we hope to encourage people to speak up for what they believe in.

        Thursday, April 14, our group welcomed Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist, to campus, courtesy of CAMERA. We advertised the event to campus and reached out to classes and student organizations in the hopes of attracting a very diverse, multi-opinionated audience. Very few pro-Israel students showed up to the event besides the members of our group, one graduate student and his mother, a native Israeli. Despite the forum we established as a pro-Israeli group bringing a Palestinian speaker onto campus to stimulate dialogue, none of the students on campus who identify as Palestinian or pro-Palestinian even showed up. The only non-pro-Israel student who attended was a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Cleveland State University; they were not even a student here at CWRU.

Eid spoke about the current issues in the Palestinian territories including the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign and its efforts to boycott all Israeli-made products. He spoke about how the BDS effort is actually hurting the Palestinian people by forcing Israeli-owned companies out of the territories and back into Israel, costing the Palestinian people jobs and moving those jobs into Israel. He did not come to praise Israel; he did not come to criticize them either. He came to address the challenges of quality of life and economic security for the Palestinian people, and none of the people on this campus who claim to be concerned about those things bothered to show up to express support or to listen quietly.   

This conflict-avoidance problem is something with which our campus actually seems most comfortable.  While people harbor individual opinions, they seem very uncomfortable with public expression of those thoughts. The result is that the opinions are less informed, less tested and therefore less valid.

I am not sure why our campus is apathetic or disengaged when it comes to conflicts not only in the Middle East, but also around the world. I hope that more students will feel welcome attending events like ours so that we can foster a culture of productive conversations regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Middle Eastern politics in general.