Thoughts on the message U of Chicago administration sent to students affected by Israel’s invasion of Gaza

Administrators at the University of Chicago sent the following message to select students on campus following Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip:

The Campus and Student Life division of the Office of International Affairs messaged a number of students on campus, including myself, urging us to take advantage of the University’s resources and support networks during these trying times. As the death toll tops four dozen, with so many children and one pregnant woman being among the fatalities, families in the Gaza Strip are calling for an end to Israel’s invasion and ongoing blockade of the territory.

From a campus body that can best be defined with one word — apathetic — and an administration that, quite frankly, hasn’t ever and probably won’t ever present the Palestinian narrative the way it does when Ehud Olmert and Michael Oren are free to speak on the work they’ve been doing to force Palestinians into submission (see: Operation Cast Lead, 2008-9), this is an unexpected and exceptionally thoughtful move that I’m sure many will appreciate.

The important thing in all of this is that the University seems to have finally acknowledged that Palestinian students do exist on campus and that their struggles here and abroad actually bear weight. When Olmert spoke on campus just months after authorizing the 2008-9 assault on Gaza that left over 1,400 people dead including 330 children, campus authorities sent a schoolwide message expressing how ‘disturbed’ they were that Olmert had been interrupted. No staff member, faculty member, or administrator connected on behalf of the University with the many horrified, offended, and devastated students who, still today, reel from Olmert’s boastful speech about how Israel had done no wrong in targeting Gaza’s civilian population.

All that did happen, however, were a series of fruitless closed-door meetings that refused to acknowledge that the University had compromised its apolitical stance and that, worse, it had completely marginalized a small but active minority of the student body.

Two and a half years later, Israeli ambassador Michael Oren was invited by the University to speak about why U.S. support is crucial for a possible invasion on Iran and an inevitable buckling-down on Gaza.

Now, as election season in Israel rolls through and as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fights to rally support for his campaign by showing how tough he is on the Palestinians, writes University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, we are left to witness something that will unfold with even greater consequences. Some of these consequences will extend to college campuses around the nation where Palestinian students and their supporters, already facing a climate of resistance from administrators, will have to substitute time spent on studies with time spent checking up on friends and family hoping to outlive Israel’s aerial bombardment. The University knows and acknowledges this. The next step is to get it to guarantee none of its endowment and our tuition money funds the weaponry used over Gaza tonight.

Sami Kishawi

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