As a new student, the ongoing tradition of Students for Justice in Palestine’s mock Apartheid Wall installment on campus this Tuesday was my first experience with the organization’s activism. The Wall stated a number of non-contextualized facts regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, calling for empathy to the Palestinian struggle.
On Wednesday of that week, Steven Salaita, a teacher and author on Arab-American politics, gave a talk in the Young Research Library on campus, titled “Indigeneity, Palestine, and the Demands of Civility.” Early in his speech, Salaita listed a number of facts about the Israel-Palestine conflict, similar to those on SJP’s wall. He immediately followed by saying that those were carefully and critically chosen — not unlike those on the mock apartheid wall. He made an excellent point about this informational tactic: facts alone do not represent the truth. While they may be relevant, when put out of context, they do more to construct the speaker’s agendas and little to actually inform their audience.
After a short conversation about the club’s upcoming events with a volunteer on site, I attempted to discuss the information presented. Perhaps it was my evident familiarity with Israel-Palestine politics, or the volunteer’s sudden notice of my necklace carrying a Hebrew name, but the conversation politely ended before I had a chance to finish.
My experience is not unique, as other identifiably Jewish students on campus have gotten the same cold treatment. However, as a student unfamiliar with SJP’s campaign tactic, I was distraught, like many others, and I feel the need to respond.
In recent years, Bruins for Israel, which identifies as the pro-Israel voice at UCLA, took creative initiatives to directly respond to the installment. This year, for the first time, they chose a new approach of responding to Palestine Awareness Week — no response at all.
Eytan Davidovits, head of BFI, says that standing across the installment and explaining the falsehoods plastered across it would be not be a productive strategy. Instead of attacking fire with fire, BFI is encouraging the Jewish community to take a similar positive approach — education. This year, BFI is choosing to invest their time and energy into organizing teach-ins and other programs to educate their group members and members of the greater UCLA community about Israel, both in terms of the conflict and beyond. They are encouraging students to reach out and help plan a meaningful and effective campaign that will allow for a better understanding of the many facets of Israeli life and culture.
I hope that such measures will contribute to students having a better understanding of the conflict as a whole, rather than learning pieces of facts and myths from one side’s perspective alone.
To find out more information about Bruins for Israel, check out their website. You can also look at Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA’s website here. A podcasted recording of Steven Salaita’s lecture can be found here.