BY RACHEL JAMES
The Students Supporting Israel (SSI) organization at Drake protested a speech delivered by Rabbi Brant Rosen, a prominent figure known to be critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Hosted by the Middle East Peace Education Coalition at the Thoreau Center on Oct. 17, Rosen delivered a speech about his teachings.
According to the event description on their Facebook page, the SSI attended Rosen’s speech hoping to encourage “civilized dialogue based on facts” and promote “a peaceful development in the international relations between the state of Israel and its neighbors.”
Rosen is the co-founder of Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, a congregational rabbi at Tzedek Chicago, midwest regional director of the American Friends Service Committee and wrote “Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity.”
Rosen explained the goal of his speech and his views of the protest that occurred.
“The purpose of my talk was to explore the history and current reality of anti-semitism,” Rosen said. “I heard about the protesters but never heard anything about the substance of their protest.”
Several of the SSI members went to protest Rosen’s speech because they said he does not properly represent the beliefs of many Jewish people. They said they attended to offer a secondary opinion.
“[Rosen] promotes his pro-Palestinian agenda,” said co-founder and President of SSI Sam Veytsman. “In a lot of his sermons and a lot of the prayers he writes, he integrates pro-Palestinian sentiment into his religious teachings.”
Rosen responded to the protesters’ comments with this statement: “I’m not sure what they mean by ‘pro-Palestinian’, I certainly don’t see this issue as a zero-sum game between those who are either ‘pro-Palestinian’ or ‘pro-Israel.’ I am pro-human rights, and yes, I make no apologies for my criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians. In doing so, I believe I am acting out of Judaism’s most central sacred value: that we must respect the divine image inherent in every human being.”
SSI said that they are following their beliefs by supporting Israel.
“[Individuals like Rosen] shield themselves saying that they are Jewish or that they stand for Jewish values,” co-founder and vice-president of SSI, David Schuller said. “But Jewish values for most of the Jewish community support the state of Israel. They shield themselves by saying that they are Jewish and that is not the correct view. Therefore, they can take a look at Israel that is biased.”
According to Schuller, looking at Israel with this different standard is ethically questionable. He stated relations with Israel as well as the way universities view students that are pro-Israel are important.
“This is not simply just a war of words,” Schuller said. “There are real effects. There are economic effects. There might actually be life or death situations caused by this large-scale movement.”
Schuller brought up programs such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). According to their website, BDS “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.”
Schuller said if a school participates in this boycott, the supportive nature of a university educational climate is brought into question. If the goal of a university is to expand global thinking, Schuller said students should be able learn for themselves about Israel and their role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Haashir Lakhani, president of the Middle East Peace and Prosperity Alliance (MEPPA) at Drake—an advocacy group that promotes awareness on campus of issues going on the Middle East— spoke about MEPPA’s stance on the nuanced issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We definitely see the current policies in Israel as stripping Palestinian people of their freedom and liberty as an injustice,” Lakhani said. “We support the rights of the Palestine people for justice.”
Lakhani said that MEPPA has worked with Rosen in the past and that while he was not able to attend Rosen’s recent speech, he is aware of the topic about which Rosen spoke.
“A pertinent issue when you talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that criticisms of the Israeli government and Israel’s policies are conflated with anti-Semitism, and I think that’s not intellectually honest,” Lakhani said.
The SSI is an organization in their second year at Drake, having been established after receiving unanimous approval from student senate last year. The organization’s main goal is to inform students.
“We are actually part of an international organization,” Schuller said. “They have over 40 chapters internationally both in the US, some in Canada and some in Israel. The goal of the organization is a pro-Israel grassroots movement…at places like Drake where we don’t have much opposition, we just focus on education, running events, so people can connect to Israel and the people.”
SSI also respond to events outside of Drake that go against their values. Schuller states that they do this because they do not want people to think views like those of Rosen are the general opinion. There is, at least, one other view; that carried by SSI.
When it comes to Drake University’s policy and acceptance of differing views, the equity and inclusion statement of the school states they aims to be all inclusive.
“Drake is a very open university that is willing to accept others and hear different opinions,” Veytsman said.
NOTE TO READER: The rough-draft of this story was prematurely published on Oct. 26, 2018. A rough draft of the story was also accidentally printed in the Oct. 31 print newspaper. The Times-Delphic took the story down as soon as it recognized the error. The story you are reading now is the most accurate story to-date and fully updated.
Photo: Students Supporting Israel (SSI) President Sam Veytman and Vice-President David Atri-Schuller, along with other SSI members, held up this sign at a speech made by a rabbi known to criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. PHOTO BY RACHEL JAMES | NEWS EDITOR