Pro-Palestine groups lead boycott of Israel Fest

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By Jared Beinart
Staff writer
@Jared_Beinart

Rock climbing, camel rides and food were all a part of the festivities on McKeldin Mall for Israel Fest Tuesday, but another notable attraction was the boycott of the festival held by numerous on-campus organizations.

This university’s Muslim Political Alliance and Students for Justice in Palestine, which had a notable presence at the event, were among the groups hosting the boycott. Members of these organizations gave speeches intended to educate students on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“We want to promote equality and justice in Palestine and Israel,” SJP President Miranda Mlilo said. “We have three main things we advocate for: ending the occupation in settlements, advocating the right for Palestinians to return to their homes and promoting equality between Arabs and Israelis.”

People gather for a boycott of Israel Fest in front of McKeldin Library May 2. Jared Beinart/Mitzpeh.
People gather for a boycott of Israel Fest in front of McKeldin Library May 2. Jared Beinart/Mitzpeh.

Last year at Israel Fest, members from SJP and other pro-Palestine on-campus organizations protested the event with megaphones and signs.

“Last year was like a disruption protest,” said Mlilo, a sophomore environmental science and policy major. “This year we wanted to actually give people a chance to talk to [the crowd] about why we are protesting Israel Fest and why we want to boycott.”

This year, the organizers focused on teaching and educating onlookers about the on-going Israel-Palestine conflict.

MPA President Sarah Eshera said she hoped to educate students regarding Israel’s oppressive nature towards many different religions and groups affected by the conflict.

“We decided to ask people to turn away from the festival and not participate in any of the festivities,” said Eshera, a junior math and philosophy double major. “I really hope people will think about what they are really celebrating.”

MPA President Sarah Eshera speaks to boycott attendees. Jared Beinart/Mitzpeh.
MPA President Sarah Eshera speaks to boycott attendees. Jared Beinart/Mitzpeh.

One by one, members of these organizations lined up in front of a large make-shift gray wall they constructed, which was painted with various phrases including “Israeli Apartheid” and “Free Gaza.” The groups leading the boycott then read speeches and encouraged the crowd to join in on chants, such as “Free, Free, Palestine” and “From Mexico to Palestine, Border Walls are a crime.”

Shane James, a senior history major and SJP member, explained his focus to promote the effort of peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians.

“Our argument is that we believe that in order for peaceful solution to happen, where Palestinians and Israelis come to peace, we have to look at it through international law,” James said. “What we are trying to say is that we need to address these issues and we have to address them from the framework of human rights.”

Along with educating students, SJP is focusing its attention towards a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement which is modeled after the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.

Testudo dressed in a Palestinian flag and a sign that reads "End Israel Apartheid" during the boycott. Jared Beinart/Mitzpeh.
Testudo dressed in a Palestinian flag and a sign that reads “End Israel Apartheid” during the boycott. Jared Beinart/Mitzpeh.

“UMD divested in 1989 from South African apartheid,” said Eshera. “So we are asking UMD to divest from Israel. We are hoping to put in a bill through SGA, get it passed and then hopefully move on to administration.”

Jewish Student Union president Sam Fishman, a senior government and politics major, said though he does not agree with the protest, he is pleased with how the event was handled.

“Unlike last year, they did not interfere whatsoever with our event. That’s how it should be done,” Fishman said.

JSU is responsible for organizing the annual Israel Fest, which it plans as a festival to celebrate the history and culture of Israel. The event is intended to welcome students from all over campus to enjoy the festivities.

“Israel Fest welcomes many organizations all across the political, social, and cultural spectrums,” Fishman said.

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