With tensions escalating between Palestine and Israel over the past week, a student organization’s rally in support of Palestine Friday afternoon was met with pro-Israel student attention.
The rally, organized by the University of Wisconsin’s Students for Justice in Palestine, began with a speaking circle in Library Mall, outside of which Madison-Israel Public Affairs Committee members and pro-Israel students stood.
According to SJP President Zeyad El Omari, a former advertising executive at The Badger Herald, the rally was organized to raise awareness for Palestinians “in solidarity with Gaza.”
El Omari, who was unaware his rally would be met with a counter protest from the pro-Israeli students, said the two groups ultimately had the same mission to raise awareness, but from different perspectives.
“We are just doing the same to raise awareness to the plight of Palestinians in Gaza strip who are living in a permanent state of imprisonment in a blockade that has been established in 2006,” El Omari said. “The violence has escalated in recent days and we want to let the world know that we are concerned about the livelihood of Palestinians in Gaza.”
Pro-Israel UW freshman Martin Weiss said he wanted to make it clear his fellow pro-Israel students did not come in opposition, but rather simply in support of Israeli belief.
Despite members of MadPac being present, board member Cory Meyer added they were not there to represent the organization, as it had “no interest in engaging or debating anyone.”
Among SJP rally speakers was Naama Nagar, an Israeli UW Sociology graduate student, who spoke in favor of the Palestinians.
“I am here today as an Israeli, but while I have concern for my family and friends I fear more for Palestinians whose suffering has been, is and will be for many more years far greater,” Nagar said.
Nagar said any discussion involving Israel requires a parallel discussion of the United States, adding she puts a “finger of shame on Obama” as well as the Senate’s unanimous resolution Thursday in “support of Israel’s right for self defense in acts of terrorism.”
Contrarily, Meyer spoke in favor of the administration for their unwaning support for Israel adding that MadPac had just attended an event to honor the Senate’s decision and write letters of thanks.
Israeli UW sophomore and philosophy major Tomer Stein said America’s support for Israel is in its own interest.
“The reason why Americans are paying so much money to Israel is for defense, defense of Israel and defense of the United States,” Stein said. “That is why we are here. We care for America, as American citizens and for Israel as Israeli citizens.”
According to El Omari, the rally is the first of many upcoming events for SJP who plan on doing teach-ins to raise awareness about Palestinians living in West Bank and Israeli citizens in Gaza.
Both El Omari and Weiss said the goal of such rallies is to counter the biased representation in the media.
“There is definitely a will to learn more about what is going on especially when the mainstream media does a poor job of covering the truth and that is the main reason of why we are doing this,” El Omari said. “To provide a different perspective that is not given in the media.”