Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of Israel’s creation as an independent state. On Copley Lawn, the Georgetown Israel Alliance hosted a birthday party. There was free food, hookah and a moon bounce.
And there were protesters.
About 30 demonstrators, many of whom were graduate students, wore black shirts, tape over their mouths and, in many cases, neck scarves. They did not speak but handed out quarter sheets with a cartoon and short message; one held a poster-sized version of the quarter sheet which began, “Our presence is a gesture toward the many for whom the passing of these 60 years is not marked by celebration.”
“We did not want this event to be summarized by conflict,” GIA Co-President Roy Daiany (COL ’08) said. The goal of the event was to celebrate Israeli culture and independence; organizers wanted to show what Israel is like and make it more accessible to people, Daiany said.
The protest began in Red Square, where the silent demonstrators were blocked from the Israel Alliance’s festivities by barricades set up by the Department of Public Safety. After a few minutes, event organizers allowed the protesters to walk onto Copley Lawn and to sit on the grass surrounding the event as long as confrontation did not ensue. The protest remained silent and nonviolent.
Harald Fuller-Bennett (GRD ’09), one of the organizers of the protest, said the idea for the demonstration started when he saw a poster for the event in Lauinger Library reading, “Israel: Still Sexy at 60,” which he found “offensive.”
In response, Fuller-Bennett made 8.5 by 11-inch flyers that said, “Whatever you think about Israel, whatever you think about Palestine, is this sexy?” which he put up next to the Israel Alliance’s posters. On Fuller-Bennett’s poster were two pictures: one of a wounded Israeli soldier and the other of a dead Palestinian child.
Fuller-Bennett said the word “sexy” was withdrawn within a few days.
“It was kind of a marketing slogan,” said David Denker, co-president of GIA. “We didn’t want to offend anyone.”
Denker said members of the Students for Justice in Palestine group approached the GIA and said the slogan was offensive. Denker said GIA members were “surprised and disturbed” that people were offended and that GIA appreciated that they came forward. The phrase was not used in any future advertisements.
Fuller-Bennett said he thought the protest was a success.
“I think we did a good job representing the people who have been displaced by this,” he said. “People saw us and saw what our message was.”
Daiany said that GIA supports free speech and that he thought the event was a success. “We ordered food for 500 people, and we were out by the end,” he said.
Debbie Reichmann, Jewish outreach coordinator in the Office of Campus Ministry, said she recognized the long-standing conflict surrounding Israel.
“There has been loss on all sides and there has been pain,” she said. “Solutions are not easy.”
Reichmann said the students involved in the celebration reacted appropriately to the protests. She also said that protests are part of the learning experience at a university.
“Hopefully there’ll be a lot of lessons learned,” she said.