A call for conversation

This is a republication of an original article written by Julia Ring, president of the Jewish Student Union at the University of Maryland, in the Diamondback on Sunday, April 24, 2016.

I am proud to serve as president of the University of Maryland Jewish Student Union. Annually, JSU hosts Israel Fest, a day-long cultural celebration of the country of Israel held on McKeldin Mall. As reported by The Diamondback on Tuesday, this year’s event was disrupted by a protest. Students marched from McKeldin Library to the bottom of the fountain chanting and waving Palestinian flags, ultimately laying down on the ground and orchestrating a “die in.” University police removed protesters, as they were obstructing foot traffic. I am now taking this opportunity to voice to my perspective on what happened.

When planning this year’s event we set out with a clear goal: to bring the campus together so we can all celebrate, learn about and gain exposure to the country of Israel. We do this in an effort to bring a religiously, culturally and politically diverse group of students together. Countless students spent months planning to ensure that we met our objectives. This year especially, we made concerted efforts to be confident that our programming was a genuine reflection of Israel.

Israel Fest is one of hundreds of Israel related programs that take place throughout the year, planned by a wide array of Israel focused groups. There are many Israel related student groups on the campus. Several of these groups are cultural, and even those that are political run the spectrum.

Ten different student groups created educational activities for the event. Every activity was approved by JSU to make sure that the activity aligned with our goal. Each student group’s table provided participants the opportunity to learn new information about Israel. Activities included learning about Israel’s maps and borders, Israeli technology, Hebrew language and history, as well as much more.

The night before Israel Fest, Students for Justice in Palestine hosted an event, “Palestine Forever!” According to its Facebook event page, “Palestine Forever!” was similar to Israel Fest in that it celebrated Palestinian culture with food, performances and community bonding.

It is truly amazing the university community created space for both events to occur. Yet, only one of them was protested.

I don’t write this column as a call for pity. JSU does not need pity. We were able to maturely and professionally handle the disruption. Even more importantly, our event continued with a vivacious spirit and students were able to have fun, learn and converse. This atmosphere was reminiscent of Israel itself. Despite routine adversity, the country maintains its unparalleled resiliency and continues to thrive. I write this column as a call for conversation. There are many opportunities on this campus for students to engage in constructive conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am confident that, at this university, we have developed a student body that supports its members. It’s my hope that we become a community of leaders who feel comfortable recognizing our discomfort and appropriately engaging with such situations, rather than disrupting them. I, with the rest of JSU, am committed to dialogue, as it is the only way to actually create progress and lasting peace.

About the Author

Julia Ring, president of the Jewish Student Union, is a Senior English and secondary education major. She can be reached at jring1@terpmail.umd.edu.