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In wake of Gaza violence, despite tension campus discourse remains civil

Published: Monday, December 10, 2012

Updated: Monday, December 10, 2012 15:12

israeldiscourse

Courtesy Hani Azzam

Students for Justice in Palestine organized a vigil last month to honor the victims of the recent violence in the Middle East.

“I don’t really think it has been particularly polarized,” she said. “I think in large part [that was because], for this particular issue, that it was a very human one.”

She cited a moment of silence carried out at an FOI event held after the violence began and vigils SJP and J-Street organized to honor Israeli and Palestinian victims.

“I think you’re finding a lot of respect for the innocent people who are being caught in the crossfire here,” Shamir said. “It was more of a focus on the human element of it.”

NIMEP Executive Board member Stephanos Karavas, a senior, said that while it’s hard to generalize the conversations he’s had since the November shelling, he has found that through NIMEP, the Tufts community has made an impressive effort to engage in organized discussion about the issues objectively rather than ideologically.

“At least once a semester, NIMEP hosts a discussion that somehow relates to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and they tend to be very charged, very ideological and sometimes heated discussions,” he said. “This past one that we had was confined to a much smaller group of people ... [but it was also] a very policy-oriented discussion focusing mainly on the main questions that had to do with ... the strategic goals of Hamas, Israel and the Egyptian state under Mohamed Morsi.”

“It was comforting to me given the past precedent of very ideological, very heated discussions on the issue to see that,” he said.

On a personal level, however, outside of NIMEP discussions and organized vigils, Karavas said he was disappointed with the unyielding approach many of his fellow Jumbos took when discussing the violence.

“Naturally, in public individuals ... are more accountable for what they say. And what they say is under greater scrutiny, so they’re a lot more careful with how they present their opinions,” he said.

Among fellow students he’s spoken to on a personal basis or via Facebook, though, he still sees room for improvement.

“I saw a lot more of the same of what I’ve seen over the past four years,” he said. “[They’re] very closed-minded people, people that have made up their minds about which side they find themselves on in the dispute and are very entrenched in their beliefs.”

Perhaps because a university climate is more conducive to thoughtful discussion, or because there are more venues for open dialogue specifically at Tufts, most student leaders agreed that Tufts is an anomaly.

“I definitely don’t think it’s typical on this campus,” Bleiberg said. “I can’t speak for other campuses, but I do know there have been some very unfortunate incidents ... where students do feel polarized, and I haven’t really heard of that kind of fighting at Tufts. People really ... grappled with the issues in a substantive way.”

Atalla said the university setting and the relatively numerous groups dedicated to providing forums for discussion about the Middle East were contributing factors.

“We definitely have a lot of intellectual freedom at Tufts so we can play with this issues, and discuss them in classes and groups,” Atalla said. “There are multiple clubs ... where people can take their ideas and develop their understanding of an issue and decide whether they feel like taking action on that issue.”

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