On Thursday Feb. 11, 2009, two campus organizations, Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI) and Stanford Israel Alliance (SIA), gathered outside of Encina Hall where Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren was speaking.
SCAI organized their protest through a mass email stating that, “We need to show Mr. Oren that truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.” The group alleges that the Ambassador is a war criminal because of his service as the English spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Force during its Gaza operations of 2008-2009.
Recently, Ambassador Oren and other Israeli officials speaking at universities have faced disruptive protests. According to a Los Angeles Times report by Raja Abdulrahim, eleven students were arrested on Feb. 8 at UC Irvine for disrupting an event featuring Oren. Oren’s speech was interrupted ten times, causing him to leave the stage at one point.
The UC Irvine administration has been criticized for letting the protesters cause such a disruption and for inhibiting Oren’s speech. On the same day, a student at Oxford University shouted “Slaughter the Jews!” during Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s speech. Ayalon is looking to press charges against the student.
These two events are in sharp contrast to Stanford’s event featuring Oren. Members of both the protest and the counter-protest never came in contact with Oren.
The climax of the night took place after the respective protests. Once all event guests had left, the SIA met the SCAI on the steps of Encina Hall to discuss the prospects of opening further campus dialogue. The two groups even considered greeting Oren as a unified body. SIA and SCAI decided to try to plan face-to-face meetings over the coming weeks to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to Co-President of Stanford Israel Alliance, Justin Hefter, these meetings are “not to convince each other that our views are correct, but just to better understand where each other are coming from and keep dialogue intellectual – not propaganda like it was at UC Irvine and other places, because it is Stanford.”
During the two meeting SIA hosted during fall quarter, the group worked with SCAI to create productive pro-peace campaigns that both groups could funnel energy into, like sending humanitarian aid to Gaza. The events surrounding the Oren protest indicate both groups’ continued desires to make progress at Stanford.
SIA decided to form their counter-protest to show those leaving the event that there is a balanced perspective on campus. Hefter stated, “We came here to celebrate life and the positive contributions Israel has made to society.”
This positive approach was evident. SIA leadership heard about the protest just an hour before the event and gathered almost twenty-five members over the course of the evening. Students danced around draped in and holding Israeli flags singing “Salaam” (Peace Will Come to Us), a song using both Arabic and Hebrew that has come to symbolize a call for peace and end to the struggle in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
SCAI mobilized just under a dozen members for their protest. Standing at the entrance to Encina Hall, they held signs calling for peace and signing “We Shall Overcome,” an anthem from the Civil Rights Movement that has been adapted worldwide.
Fadi Quran, one of SCAI’s leaders who grew up in Ramallah, was upset that there was no “pure academic debate” about the issue and that Oren’s talk was not an open event.
The protesters wanted “to get the American audience to become aware of this situation (involving the alleged war crimes) and to act against it.” According to Quran, another goal was “shaming the people who are committing crimes so that they can stop their sins.” While most event attendees responded positively, Quran reports being spit on one event attendee. Overall, Quran thought SCIA’s message was effectively communicated.
Dovid Eliezrie’s Feb. 9 opinion piece in the Orange County Register states, “the real question (at Irvine) was would the university be a place for an exchange of ideas or one where totalitarianism and verbal violence would hold sway.” SIA and SCAI have proved that Stanford is a place for the exchange of ideas.