Chicago students stage simultaneous walkouts on Israeli apartheid

On Thursday, November 10, 2011, students and community members staged simultaneous walkouts at two prominent Chicago universities as part of a concerted effort to undermine propagandist attempts to normalize the occupation of Palestine and the systematic violation of human rights law.

At Northwestern University, roughly one third of the audience silently walked out soon after Gil Hoffman, chief political analyst for the Jerusalem Post and an Israeli reserve soldier, began a presentation on “63 Reasons to Like Israel”. One week after students walked out of Hoffman’s speaking engagement at Wayne State University in Detroit, organizers capitalized on the momentum to remind Hoffman and the event’s sponsors that the reality of oppression, apartheid, and humanitarian abuse cannot be ignored.

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In response to the walkout, Hoffman generically asserted that the walkout served only to “delegitimize Israel” but still failed to acknowledge any aspect of Israel’s illegal activity, including settlement building and adamant rejection of refugee rights.

At the same time, students and community members gathered at DePaul University to strategically disrupt a StandWithUs-sponsored event designed to paint Israel as socially-responsible and its policies towards Palestinians as compliant with international law. The group began by “fact checking” the panel — a tactic popularized by the growing Occupy movement in which the crowd repeats statements or facts announced by the group’s leader, thus amplifying the message (see video directly below). The demonstration was followed by a walkout and an outdoor teach-in and debriefing.

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By the end of the evening, Chicago activists, students, and concerned community members effectively shut down two events that sought to whitewash Israel’s discriminatory policies towards the indigenous population of Palestine as necessary components for democracy and peace. For the second time in a matter of days, Hoffman was forced to face the facts he selectively chooses to ignore, and pro-Israel organizations must now deal with the reality that state-sponsored propaganda has no room on America’s college campuses.

The organizers of the two demonstrations released the following joint press release:

Chicago students walk out on Israeli apartheid

Students and community members stage simultaneous walkouts of Israeli political events at Northwestern and DePaul Universities

CHICAGO, IL (November 11, 2011)—On the evening of November 10th, students and community members staged two simultaneous walkouts at events promoting Israel’s narrative of its history and politics. At Northwestern University’s Evanston campus, demonstrators held a silent walkout during a presentation by Gil Hoffman, an Israeli military reservist and journalist. Meanwhile, on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus, students and community members used the “People’s Mic” technique – popularized by Occupy Wall Street – to disrupt a presentation sponsored by the organization Stand With Us. Organizers say that they protested because the presentations omitted the disturbing reality of Israel’s repeated violations of international law and countless human rights abuses against the Palestinian people.

At DePaul, a group of about thirty concerned individuals “fact checked” an event called “Israel 101,” sponsored by Stand With Us, an organization that seeks to brand Israel in a friendly and positive light. Demonstrators interrupted the presentation, stood up, and announced a statement about Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. According to one of the participants, University of Chicago student Ishan Chakrabarti: “We used a version of the ‘People’s Mic’ technique, recently utilized by the Occupy Wall Street movement. We challenged Israel 101’s propaganda and selective history and spoke truth to power by amplifying our voices.” The “fact check” was followed by a walkout and teach-in.

At Northwestern University, around thirty students and community members protested a presentation entitled “63 Reasons to Like Israel: Why American Jews should be Optimistic about Israel,” featuring Gil Hoffman, a reserve soldier and spokesman for the Israeli military as well as the chief political correspondent/analyst for The Jerusalem Post. Co-sponsors of the event included the Coalition for Accuracy of Middle East Reporting in America and the Zionist Organization of America. The university’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter staged a walkout on Hoffman’s speech, inspired by the example of other student groups around the Midwest, including The University of Michigan, Benedictine University and Wayne State University. Outside, a diverse crowd demonstrated in support of the walkout.

DePaul student Agnieszka Karoluk explained, “At DePaul, we made up about three-quarters of the audience. At Northwestern, they filled a third of the room. We made it obvious that the community at large does not tolerate the promotion of Israel at the expense of Palestinian human rights.” A handful of protesters at both events decided to stay behind to engage in civil debate and discussion.

Organizers say these actions are part of the recent rise of a new global political consciousness about Palestine. This is reflected not only through non-violent protests and walkouts, but also through the growing “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, which reuses the methods that helped dismantle apartheid in South Africa. For the third year in a row, international solidarity activists nonviolently challenged Israel’s six-year blockade of Gaza. These events reflect the success of civil disobedience in achieving concrete political change across the world, from the US civil rights movement to the South African anti-apartheid struggle. Palestinians and their supporters are part of this history.

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