Forum mulls Middle East

Speakers addressed more than 100 people on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Hayley Odom

Destroying myths and providing alternative ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict created enthusiasm and dissent at an academic conference at the University last Friday.

The conference – Fugitive States: Palestine, Occupation, Dissent – provided a full range of views on the topic, said Tim Brennan, a cultural studies and comparative literature professor.

More than 100 faculty, students, community members and visitors met at Coffman Union for the conference.

Brennan said the issue is central to U.S. conduct, from monetary concerns to national debt to freedom of speech.

“The conference aims to bring balance to one-sided reporting in the United States on issues that go right to the heart of freedom of speech and academic freedom,” he said.

First-year student Joseph Walla said he disagreed with the conference’s intent.

He said he was worried about events like this feeding anti-Semitism.

Speaker and political science professor Stephen Bronner said it is essential to not just speak about Israel but also about the Palestinian homeland.

“It’s time to stop identifying those people who are critical of (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon and his policies as anti-Semitic. It’s like saying those who don’t support (President George W.) Bush’s policies are anti-American,” he said.

Bronner spoke on the importance of directing political messages to campuses, churches and opinion-makers in order to get points across.

Speaker Simona Sharoni, of The Evergreen State College, focused on the conflict’s human level.

She said the side of justice is pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. Many Jewish people and groups are fighting for Palestinian rights and their story is not being heard, she said.

Sharoni, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, said because the Holocaust mostly targeted Jews, they must be at the forefront for Palestinians.

“It’s the ultimate challenge of empathy,” she said. “The fates of these people are intertwined.”

Raymond Duvall, associate director of the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change and a political science professor, said that overall it was a very good conference.

“The point is to increase awareness of what’s going on and not repeat the standard rhetoric of this conflict,” he said.

Walla said the conference’s rhetoric was wrong and misinformed.

He said the Jewish speakers at the conference were automatically given credibility because of their descent.

“What they’re saying automatically becomes true,” he said.

Senior Kara Ferguson said she attended the conference because she wanted to see a point of view that is not always represented in the media.

When asked about her stance on the situation, Ferguson said she is pro-human rights.

“The idea that being pro-human rights is being anti-Semitic is deplorable,” she said.

The event was sponsored by the Humanities Institute, the Institute for Global Studies and the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change, all located at the University.