The Case for Respect: Holding ourselves accountable as members of a shared community

We could write this op-ed as co-presidents of Friends of Israel, addressing inaccurate allegations made against us last Thursday at our Taste of Israel event, parsing the careless conflation of politics and culture and dismantling the absurdity of uninformed accusations of appropriation. Although these are legitimate discussions to be had, none of these are as immediately threatening to our Tufts community as the lack of basic respect demonstrated by our Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) peers at the Taste of Israel event. We write this op-ed as two individuals on campus who are disturbed by bullying masquerading as social justice, and will no longer accept such behavior as the status quo.

On Thursday night, Oct. 29, Tufts Friends of Israel hosted our annual event, Taste of Israel, a food fair showcasing Israel’s multifaceted culture through cuisine. In response to seeing our Facebook event, the leaders of SJP planned and executed, as they called it, “a strategic interruption” to usurp our event and replace our message with theirs. They stood at both entrances and handed out candy with their own factoids, and hung up satirical posters with messages such as “Fresh from stolen Palestinian land” across from our decorations.

None of these actions in and of themselves would have been so striking. This isn’t the first time SJP has protested Israel events on campus; honestly, it wasn’t even the most radical of their protests. Two years ago, they hosted a die-in at our spring barbecue. Last year, they hosted a die-in at a Fletcher event. SJP’s appearance at our events has become not the exception, but the norm.

What was particularly inexcusable about Thursday was that they walked around the room, and line-by-line read posters that our members had spent weeks preparing and audibly mocked them. What was also inexcusable about Thursday was that when one of our members was visibly upset, members of SJP actually pointed and laughed at her. When we went to speak to their leadership and asked them if they would leave, they informed us that their primary purpose was to disrupt our event, and that asking them to leave would silence their voices.

Not knowing how to proceed, we went to a police officer and asked what we could do. (It is absurd that we should need to have the police officer at our small, student-run event). He responded that he could not ask the members of SJP to leave, as they were not physically threatening us, but that we had every right to take down their posters in response.

The only options we have are to accept their antagonistic behavior or rip down their posters? This situation is unacceptable. We will not rip down their posters because we refuse to show this type of blatant disrespect to our peers. We will not show up to their events with the intention of “strategically interrupting” them, and it is not because we do not believe ardently in our own vision to promote peace in the Middle East.  

While there is a very legitimate need for advocacy for the Palestinian people — in fact the two of us are involved in Tufts Students for Two States — and support the creation of both a Palestinian and Israeli State living side-by-side, bullying another group and ruining their event does not address this need. This protest did not benefit the Palestinian people, or promote peace — either in the Middle East or on campus.

It is unacceptable for Tufts students to demonize and isolate student groups because they express different views. This protest was not political, it was personal. The students from SJP directly satirized our graphics, mocked our posters and disrespected us as people.

As peers at Tufts, we are fortunate to have enough space and resources on our campus for all of us to have our voices heard through hosting our own events. Every student has the right to express her or his ideological, religious or political views. We must fight to ensure that Tufts remains an open community where students of all backgrounds and nationalities are allowed to hold non-mainstream views, and will not be castigated or ostracized for doing so.

As a student body, we must hold ourselves accountable to higher standards of conduct. Silencing parts of our peers’ identities through bullying isn’t what we do at Tufts.