The Student Union Senate voted Sunday to join nearly 300 supporters and sign a letter disapproving of the Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine protest at a forum with six Israeli Knesset members on April 4. Abraham Berin, executive senator and senator for the class of 2011, wrote the letter.
When Minister of Internal Security Avi Dichter stood up to speak behind a podium at the forum, approximately a dozen Brandeis students, including many from the organization Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine (BSJP), began to protest, shouting that Dichter was guilty of war crimes and should be arrested for violations of international law. Members of the organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) also participated in the protest.
The students passed out fliers to the audience, shouted in Hebrew, “Don’t worry Avi Dichter, we’ll meet you in the Hague,” and then exited the ballroom.
Student groups filmed the protest, posted the video on YouTube and then distributed it to several Israeli media outlets. “They continued shouting and acting rambunctiously until they were escorted out. Not only was this done during a question and answer session, which innately fosters discussion, but it was offensive to the Ministers of Israeli Knesset, who were invited guests of our university. As hosts, we have a duty to offer our respect to our guests,” Berin wrote in the letter titled “Letter of Disapproval for the Actions of the Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine and members of the Brandeis Jewish Voice for Peace.”
Liza Behrendt ’11 of BSJP said that she was disappointed that the Senate did not discuss the letter with members of BSJP.
“I’m disappointed that the Senate decided to endorse the letter,” Behrendt said in an interview Thursday. “This is yet another example of the uncritical bias towards Israeli policies even when those policies violate international law.”
She said that the disapproval letter would not deter the group from further action and protest. “We will continue to organize in whatever fashion we believe.”
Berin wrote that students should have asked the Knesset members questions, rather than stand up in protest.
“Regardless of the opinions of the Israeli Ministers of the Knesset who were invited guests of the university, their beliefs are necessary to understand the dynamic of the Israeli government through their eyes,” Berin wrote. “A rational approach would have been to ask questions and request answers, which some of the offending students did actually do. Notwithstanding the opinions of the students, their tactics overlooked the need for decorum, basic humanity, and respect.”
Last fall, when Noam Chomsky spoke on campus during Israeli Occupation Awareness Week and criticized Israeli’s policies, many students walked out in protest to his remarks, wearing Israeli flags on their backs and exiting the room in the middle of the speech.
In November 2009, when a forum with South African Justice Richard Goldstone and former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold did not feature a Palestinian representative, about a dozen pro-Palestinian protesters silently stood up in the audience with signs taped to their backs. “They do not promote peace in this manner… We refuse to tolerate such an atmosphere at this institution of higher education.” Berin wrote.