There are few issues as contentions and controversial as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. People’s emotions can sometimes get in the way of having civil discussions about it. It is still, however, important to discuss the conflict that the U.S. is so heavily involved in.
Xavier University prides itself on being committed to social justice, inquiry, and involvement in communities of marginalized and oppressed people. However, when students try to bring awareness and start a dialogue on campus about potentially controversial issues, these ideals are set aside.
My friend Zach Moeller and myself started a student organization this year called Students for an Informed Society. The goal of the organization is to educate and inform students about social and political issues at the local, national and international level. We then debate and discuss these issues trying to find out causes and possible solutions. Once we, as an organization feel we can come to a conclusion on an issue, we seek peaceful means to inform other students on campus of these issues.
One of the issues we discussed in detail was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We tried to argue both sides, understand all aspects of the conflict and understand that it is not always black and white. We did small-scale events, like writing chalk on sidewalks and handing out flyers. We always welcomed questions and comments, as that was the main point of these events. Although these events were educational for some people, we wanted to do something that would attract a larger audience.
We researched ways other universities brought the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to their schools, and we found something that caught our eye. Columbia University held a mock-Israeli checkpoint back in 2010. All of the people involved were volunteers. There were a couple ‘Israeli soldiers’ and about a dozen ‘Palestinians’ who were trying to cross the checkpoint and faced various forms of harassment and discrimination, something very well documented by Israeli human rights organizations like Machsom Watch.
With a few modifications, like members of SFAIS available to answer questions passersby might have, this would have been perfect. We filled out the proper forms to request permission to have such an event and met with people from the Office of Student Involvement, who were very helpful. Step by step we were getting approved, Xavier University Police even permitted us to use cardboard cutout guns as props, so long as we colored them bright colors. When the request came to the table of the Provost and the President, they decided to not approve the event due to the “lack of context and for the potential for it to incite controversy from the wider Cincinnati community.”
We were surprised not only that it was canceled this far up, but the reasons why it was canceled. Lack of context? We are living in the context, this is an ongoing issue. If by that they meant on campus, then we that would have been covered as well. We had two events on campus about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In concern for it creating controversy, the simple fact that something could create controversy is not a valid reason. There was nothing vulgar, rude, inappropriate, anti-Semitic, or xenophobic about what we planned to do. We were merely posing a question of an Israeli military practice. We welcomed questions and other people’s opinions. Our only goal was to create a dialogue about this very important issue about which most people are not well informed. We were using facts and practices that are well documented by Israeli and other international organizations.
What the university did was censorship. Xavier University likes to say that it is committed to social justice, inquiry and involvement in communities of marginalized and oppressed people; however, this is only applicable when the university wants it to be. When a topic comes up that makes people face difficult facts and asks harder questions then we are used to, it is silenced and deemed “too controversial.”
Xavier University needs to ask itself if it truly stands for social justice, or if it just stands for what is popular and easy to answer.
Savin Mattozzi is a sophomore international studies and communications double major from Portland, Maine.