Pro-Palestinian protesters Thursday night disrupted a peaceful event hosted by the Brody Jewish Center and Hoos for Israel. In a reserved classroom in Clark Hall, a panel of reserve Israeli Defense Force soldiers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with students of a variety of religious and political backgrounds — the event was an opportunity to reach across barriers and engage in meaningful discourse about a controversial topic. The protesters who disrupted the event epitomize the degrading civil discourse on our Grounds. If people of opposing beliefs cannot sit together and have an educated and respectful conversation, we will never progress beyond the polarized beliefs we hold now. By refusing to engage constructively at the event, the pro-Palestinian protesters undercut their credibility and wasted an opportunity to listen to opposing views.
As these protesters shouted and otherwise interrupted the event, participants and organizers of the panel offered to open their discussion to include the perspectives of those violating University and . Instead of setting their megaphones down and talking about their views, the protesters made a conscious choice to disrespect event members. Although it is unclear whether any student groups were involved in the protest, the individuals who interrupted the event undermined their overarching message of solidarity with Palestine — they demonstrated a blatant disregard for the values of open discourse and free assembly that allow our society to function. As University Dean of Students Allen Groves to the event, we “reject the ‘heckler's veto’ of shouting down those with whom we may disagree.”
The event organizers offered protesters the opportunity to come together and show the merits of each position. Protesters refused this opportunity, and the two sides grew further apart. Sharing perspectives does not necessarily imply that people of opposing beliefs will come away in agreement, but working together to understand each other is an important first step in resolving any conflict — especially one as controversial as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For these protesters to accomplish any of their goals, they must be open to constructive conversations. We are not endorsing any of the particular viewpoints associated with the conflict, but we are insisting that every party engage with respect and a drive to understand each other.
The idea of creating meaningful dialogue may seem abstract, so we are offering some tangible actions that can ground the idea in reality.
First, parties should meet face-to-face to discuss their views. There are countless platforms for communication, such as social media and email, but these impersonal mediums disguise our humanity — making it easier to misconstrue others’ beliefs. By meeting in person, everyone is forced to acknowledge each other and engage respectfully.
Second, groups should organize roundtable discussions about their topics that involve opposing perspectives. These discussions allow people with a variety of perspectives to build off of each other and can enumerate some of the finer points of the argument as opposed to recycling the same broad points that leave no room for discussion.
Furthermore, we must recognize that individuals are not defined by a single belief — to reduce each other to one position is to disregard our humanity and will only further polarize our society.
The most important thing people can do to overcome their differences is treat each other with respect. Although two people may disagree fundamentally about a particular topic, each person still deserves to be heard and understood. This kind of dialogue requires constant vigilance — it is easy to disregard the viewpoints of others in favor of our own. It is difficult — yet still our responsibility — to listen and learn from each other. Without respect, we can make no progress towards a better, more enlightened future.
We commend the meeting participants and organizers for extending the protesters the opportunity to join the conversation. The pro-Palestinian protesters’ actions endanger the University’s ability to function as a forum for intellectual discourse, and we encourage them to come to the table ready to discuss with respect and openness.