By Morgan Caplan
For the Mitzpeh
After Students for Justice in Palestine, amongst others, interrupted the Israel Fest events of 2016, the organization has already begun its counter movement to this year’s festival, seeking an end to certain Israel Fest activities.
Last Israel Fest, a group from SJP protested with signs and megaphones in the middle of the festival, an event which the Jewish Student Union intended to be a celebration of Israeli culture rather than a political event.
“Israel Fest’s mission is to provide a fun and educational venue for all students of all different backgrounds to celebrate Israeli society and culture,” JSU President Samuel Fishman said. “It’s celebrating all the amazing things Israel has to offer like technology, food and sports.”
This year, SJP has created a petition calling for this university to support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians,” according to the official BDS movement website. The BDS movement is modeled after the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.
The petition, which alludes to 1989 when this university took a stance against South Africa and its racial policies, urges for “UMD to stand against injustice yet again”. Currently, the petition received approximately 400 signatures and SJP President Miranda Mlilo said the student body has highly supported the petition. SJP plans to send this petition to the Student Government Association and university President Wallace Loh, but the Student Government Association has not yet heard any word of the petition SGA President Katherine Swanson said.
Along with the petition, SJP issued a letter to President Loh at the beginning of the semester, urging the discontinuation of particular Israel Fest activities.
“We think it is a highly politicized event that fails to include Palestinians, and Arabs, who make up a significant percentage of the demographic,” Mlilo said.
SJP and JSU have discussed alternatives that will allow JSU to continue their festivities instead of completely ending the event. SJP offered other names such as the Jewish Cultural Festival that will allow for students to celebrate and enjoy their culture. As an organization, JSU decided to keep the pre-existing name as it would be “a disservice to all the students who wish to celebrate and enjoy Israeli society,” said Fishman.
SJP made a statement to clarify that as an organization, they are against the country of Israel, and not the celebration of Judaism.
“Changing the name would allow for Jewish students to have a cultural event, without the high politicization of the name ‘Israel Fest,’” Mlilo said.
This year, it is unknown if the same sequence of events will occur at Israel Fest. JSU has been working with students, Hillel staff, university police and administrators to prepare for any potential protests. The group devised a plan as a precaution, but wants to ensure, despite the potential conflict, that Israel Fest’s energy and attention is still high, Fishman said.
“They 100 percent have the right to protest. But they should do it in a place that isn’t in the middle of our event; it shouldn’t be a disruptive demonstration in the middle of our event,” Fishman said. “There’s a difference between free speech and completely interrupting someone else’s event.”