Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Every year, Israel Fest inevitably becomes one of the most controversial and contentious days on the University of Maryland’s campus. Organizations such as Maryland Hillel and the Jewish Student Union host the festival, and protesters from groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine gather to lead anti-Israel protests.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extraordinarily complex and multifaceted. There are valid arguments and grievances on both sides of this seemingly endless conflict. So, while the Jewish students of this university should be able to have an Israel Fest, students should of course be able to hold a peaceful protest against that event. But it’s wildly inappropriate for the Pride Alliance to have played such a large role in that protest.
Members of the Pride Alliance were among those who spoke at the protest. Furthermore, the student organization made a Facebook post regarding Boycott Israel Fest, which includes the following statement: “We understand that Zionism is an oppressive political ideology.” Zionism is the movement for a Jewish nation in the land that is now Israel. In this statement, the Pride Alliance has effectively taken the stance that the movement for a Jewish homeland in Israel is inherently oppressive.
This view, as expressed, suggests even the long sought-after solution of creating two separate states on the land that is now Israel would still be oppressive. Even if this was not the intention of the Pride Alliance, it is the implication of their published words. This organization should not be taking such a strong stance on this complex issue.
The post concludes with the following sentence: “Pride Alliance is dedicated to creating community spaces for all students on campus, including queer Jewish students.” After nearly 400 words denigrating the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland in Israel, this statement cannot erase the feeling it likely leaves for many queer Jewish students at this university — that they cannot use the Pride Alliance as a safe space because they are not welcome there.
This university is one of the top five colleges in terms of Jewish student population. There are nearly 6,000 Jewish undergraduates at this university, making up approximately 20 percent of the undergraduate population; given this, there are bound to be many queer Jewish students. They deserve to feel they can belong in a space like the Pride Alliance just as much as any other queer students. Taking such a strong stance against Zionism runs the risk of alienating much of this population.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is emotional for many students at this university, and students from both sides should have the right to express their views and opinions. However, all queer students on this campus face discrimination and hardships that heterosexual students do not. The purpose of the Pride Alliance is to provide those students with a safe community to express themselves, and it has now worked against its purpose.
As an organization dedicated to social justice, the Pride Alliance should not be forced into silence. Instead, it should seek to support justice in a way that is inclusive — and not so aggressively damning. The views the Pride Alliance has chosen to express, and the methods in which it expressed them, have only damaged its mission by undermining its role as a safe space for queer Jewish students.
Mitchell Rock is a senior government and politics and physiology and neurobiology major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.