Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine Student Groups Promote Their Causes Peacefully at Campus Rally

In response to a rise in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict abroad, students on the University of Minnesota campus are promoting their vision of peace.

The school’s Students Supporting Israel chapter came together with partnering Jewish organizations on campus and hosted a rally for peace Friday, Oct. 30, drawing crowds of students, faculty and community members in support of the cause.

But just a few feet away from the rally stood a group of silent protestors in support of University group, Students for Justice in Palestine, offending some SSI-followers.

On Oct. 1, an Israeli rabbi and his wife were killed in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank, shortly after which members of Hamas were arrested, an SSI pamphlet said. Since then, according to the pamphlet, there have been 16 separate attacks in Israel, the last on Oct. 28.

“People are scared to just go buy groceries at the supermarket,” SSI President Sami Rahamim said. “It’s really awful.”

SSI leaders, a University professor and directors of both Minnesota Hillel and Chabad presented their thoughts on the conflict overseas outside the University’s Northrop Auditorium, and asked the crowd to join them in welcoming peace.

“We are here because the lives of Israelis and Palestinians matter,” University Law Professor and Director of the Institute for International Legal & Security Studies, Oren Gross, said.

Gross said at the rally the goal of Palestinian terrorists and their supporters is to destroy Israel and bring injustice and death upon the country, asking rally-goers to seek out peace.

The message was consistent across the board — each speaker discussed the need for amity and an end to terrorism.

“Violence and incitement toward hatred and fear are not the answer and are unacceptable under any circumstances,” Rahamim said.

The crowd joined leaders in singing the Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Student a cappella group, the MN Chai Notes, sang Shir l’Shalom, a song written in memory of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, commemorating his fight for peace.

Minnesota Hillel Executive Director Benjie Kaplan spoke out about ongoing animosity between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists on campus and called for peaceful and productive discussion between students as a way to rid messages of hateful undertones.

Still, SJP President Rula said there’s a need to regard Palestinians affected by the conflict in the Middle East, too. The pro-Palestinian student group and community members stood in silent protest adjacent to the rally for peace in response.

“We are here today just because we know that SSI is hosting a rally and we wanted to make sure that people know that we are on campus advocating for peace,” she said.

In the past, Rula said, SSI and SJP have had a back-and-forth relationship at the University.

“This year, we met with SSI and we spoke with an administrator and we want a respectful campus, which is really good,” she said. “We’re all promoting peace, but just because we have different views on the world doesn’t mean we should be disrespectful towards people. We shouldn’t feel threatened on campus.”

Rula said she thinks the promise of a peaceful campus, however, isn’t being fulfilled.

Facebook posts between both groups has caused the tensions to rise, after SSI replied to an SJP post in support of an 18-year-old Palestinian shot dead after attempting to stab an Israeli, though Rula said there’s no evidence of the event.

While there’s disagreement between the nature of the incident and the response on Facebook between both SSI and SJP leaders, some other students in the community didn’t take well to the silent protestors.

Molly Wertheimer, a retail merchandising sophomore and a student leader at Chabad, said working together with SJP would’ve more successfully promoted peace.

“The fact that pro-Palestinians are protesting a peace rally shows where they stand,” she said.

Despite strained relations, SSI Vice President Zach Rabinowitz said he was “inspired” to see the Jewish and pro-Israel community at the University in support.

“We really wanted to get out and let our voice be heard,” he said. “What’s next is doing a little bit of outreach to individuals that we met here … and just working together collectively on new projects, new events and new ideas.”