As a result of bias, distortion, and double standards, I have recently found myself completely and utterly disappointed with the Student Government Association (SGA) at Georgia Tech. I have been actively involved on campus for almost ten years, and most recently serving on behalf of the students, for the past year as a Senator in the Graduate Student Senate. Despite the good work carried out by SGA, I have had no other choice then to resign from the association that has regrettably strayed from upholding Georgia Tech values. The problem arose when a proposal by the radical extremist organization, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was mishandled. SJP submitted a bill to SGA for $1850 to fund Jeff Halper, a former professor of anthropology and currently the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD), who intended to speak about cohabitation, militarization, and apartheid for the purpose of providing a one-sided attack on Israeli anti-terrorism policy. Despite my best attempts to warn SGA of the dangers of this group’s plans, SGA blindly agreed to fund them with the Association’s money. This money belongs to the students and is intended to enhance the students’ experience at Georgia Tech, not to promote the radical agendas of fringe groups.
One of the central responsibilities of the SGA is the allocation of funding for campus events, and this is done at the discretion of the elected representatives. While I believe that any student group has the right to bring anyone to the campus at their own expense, the Institute is not obligated to fund all requests. Indeed, it does not have the cash resources to support a policy of funding all speakers and events various groups want — at least not fairly. Given this constraint, priority should be reserved for events of benefit to the entire campus community and the promotion of American values such as freedom, democracy and mutual respect. The students of this school do not have to fund radical speakers nor give any additional legitimacy to radical groups and their agendas. Those with a record of legitimizing terrorism should certainly not be funded by our students.
The organization, Students for Justice in Palestine, is, despite the name, not always run by students and seldom interested in justice. Campuses across the nation have witnessed “apartheid walls”, imitation “checkpoints,” mock “concentration camps” to showcase Palestinian victim-hood. They’ve even gone so far in de-legitimizing Israel as to put on plays of Israeli soldiers beating up pregnant Palestinian women. This is not civil discussion and debate. It is creating a picture of the Middle East far removed from reality. It not only inspires demonization of Israel, but also creates an image of the Palestinians distant from the complex realities of the situation, terrorism not least amongst them.
SJP’s proposed speaker, Jeff Halper, is presented as a peace activist. If he is interested in peace, why has he never supported a peace plan? Following the Camp David Accords, he referred to the Palestinian representatives who negotiated with the Israelis as “quislings.” As first explained by Professor Emeritus Werner Cohn in his piece, “The Matrix of Professor Jeff Halper,” this is a little known reference to Vidkun Quisling, who as a Norwegian Nazi collaborated with Hitler to recruit for the SS and aid in deportations. His name is now used as a euphemism for traitorous behaviors that amounts to crimes against humanity. The invited speakers use of it implies that the real proponents of peace, the official negotiators of the Palestinian people are traitors. It also makes a comparison between the Jewish State and the Nazis. This is a theme amongst the extreme Israeli radical-left and Islamic fundamentalists and is extremely offensive to the Jewish student body.
Halper’s speeches are often eloquently worded to bring anyone with a conscience to his cause, despite his underlying hatred and contempt for truthfulness. Numerous publications of comprehensive reports highlight his inaccuracies and distortion of facts in such talks. For example, he might talk of 12,000 Palestinian homes destroyed, but would not mention that some of these homes are the property of suicide bombers and many others are built illegally on land that is not owned by the occupants. He will argue that Palestinians are not given building permits, but he will not mention how 95% of the Palestinians are administered by the Palestinian authority, the governing body that distributes the permits. He will speak of one million olive trees that have been uprooted, but he will not mention the decade upon decades of growth in olive exports from the West Bank and Gaza. In contrast to his like-minded brethren, he will not openly call for the death of Israel, but he will claim that Israel has no moral right to exist. He will never condemn suicide bombing originating from Palestinians; in Halper’s world, it is “the legitimate resistance of oppressed peoples to their oppression.”
The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is not something that has any easy answers. Painful concessions are required on both sides. A dialog is helpful, but a person like Jeff Halper is not interested in concessions. He is advocating no less than the destruction of Israel. Perhaps the Student Government Association would do better by funding a round table where all interested parties can offer their own experts. Even the opinions of one expert would be not be sufficient to encompass the range of debate and disagreement valued and encouraged in Israel’s free, pluralistic society. Only by bringing all ideas together can a true educational experience emerge.
Over the past year, there has been a dangerous rise of anti-Israel rhetoric on Georgia Tech’s campus. Examples of this alarming trend include numerous extremist speakers, the “Apartheid” wall, the “War on Lebanon” display, the “Life Under Occupation” movie series, a wide range of initiatives by Amnesty International, and now the Halper lecture. It is my belief Students for Justice in Palestine is affiliated either directly or indirectly with these initiatives, including the construction of the War on Lebanon display that portrays dead children, charred babies, burning bodies, and lines of fallen civilians. I should note that above the pictures, there is text describing the “massacre” at Qana. I was in Israel during the first four weeks of the conflict and I have first-hand information on the Qana incident. The attack was in retaliation for the firing of Katyusha rockets into northern Israel for two weeks. Residents were advised by leaflets and phone calls that the attack was going to take place. Hezbollah fighters would not let people leave the vicinity, assuming they will be safe if they have human shields, including women and children. Believing that civilians left the area, Israel carried out the attack against the building. Total casualties numbered 28 (source Human Rights Watch, Associated Press), not over 60 as depicted.
While this display and others like it are free speech activities and protected under the First Amendment, they are not appropriate or fitting within the sensibilities of the student body. Even more disconcerting is the severe double standard that exists on campus, where such inappropriate (and arguably, inaccurate) speech is not only allowed but often celebrated, yet when I tried to speak up regarding Jeff Halper in the Graduate Student Senate meeting, my words were not protected as free speech. Repeated speeches based on nothing more than uninformed opinion asserted that Halper would be offering a positive opinion on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. These speakers were given ample time, while I was prohibited from presenting the facts and expressing my views. As the only knowledgeable and dissenting source on the subject in the Graduate Student Senate, why was I censored? Why were my comments referencing Halper, based on his numerous writings and videos, stifled, while comments from other Student Senators, who expressed optimism about Halper, were considered germane to the issue at hand? Do our elected officials prefer plausible deniability? Or are these double standards a sign of a deeper problem of bias?
This incident in Georgia Tech’s Graduate Student Senate was yet another blatant example of how extremist views were protected while my speech was stifled. After witnessing this situation and other disturbing trends on campus, I decided to resign from the Student Government. I am no longer interested in being a part of this body, and I believe my efforts will be better served spreading truthful information to the entire campus community. I hope that in light of my resignation, the members of SGA will consider the wider impact their decisions are having, and that students and the public will let those in authority know their views. Are Georgia Tech’s limited resources best spent promoting extremism and hate, or could we do better for all our students?
Randy Weinstein is a graduate student at Georgia Tech, studying Biomedical Engineering. He is an active leader on campus, a former Senator in the Student Government Association, and a member of the Jewish Student Union – Hillel. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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