Drowning Out the Actual Conversation

On April 2, an outcry could be heard throughout Emory’s Atlanta campus. A student organization, Emory Students for Justice in Palestine (ESJP), had posted fake eviction notices on the doors of students on both on- and off-campus housing, containing statistics of the displacement of Palestinians by Israel along the West Bank. And, while Jewish students were not targeted by the notices, some of the notices ended up on Jewish students’ doors. The backlash was immediate – over 30 students (again, not all Jewish) filed complaints about the notices, and the flyers were removed for violating Emory’s posting guidelines. Student members of Chabad, a Jewish Orthodox organization, even were informed that there was a high-profile attorney – of an unspecified name – willing to represent them if they felt threatened.

It’s incidents like this – in which two groups with at least some sort of political bent get into conflict with each other – that reminds me of just how dismal of shape our politics are in. Legitimate dialogue seems increasingly impossible in this sort of environment. ESJP’s protest has turned into a battleground within mere days. Students are saying they feel unsafe and threatened. And while the flyers were designed to make students uncomfortable, this is above and beyond expectations – to the point of major news and heavy consequences.

ESJP is a student organization promoting “a sustainable and just peace in the internationally recognized lands of Palestine.” Students formed this organization – and this protest – to vocalize support and hold legitimate protest in favor of Palestine. However, their Israel Apartheid Week, a week dedicated to protests of Israel’s settlement of the West Bank, coincides with Israel Week, hosted by Emory Eagles for Israel – making the whole event ripe for conflict already. ESJP even hosted a “die-in” during Wonderful Wednesday, an event at which Eagles for Israel was also tabling. Yes, it is an effective protest of Israel – but it opens no possibility of a dialogue. Instead, they are immediately trying to combat another student organization. There’s no hope for a genuine discussion being had in there; these two event weeks occurring simultaneously makes the entire affair “us and them.” Once that mindset takes hold, there is no hope for a conversation being had – everyone is at each other’s throats before someone can actually open their mouth.

It’s almost like we’re afraid of discussion now. When students filed complaints about the notices, they said that their safety felt threatened and that they felt insecure in their own housing despite explicit statements on the notices that said they were not genuine. While the flyers were posted in places that violated Emory’s guidelines, the perceived threat to security came from a protest. Either no one read the flyers in full enough to realize that the notices were fake (and did not even appear to be a legitimate eviction notice) or no one can stand the thought of their ideology being challenged. Even media outlets covering the issue, as the NY Post, are making the protests out like an attack, creating further divides between people.

This is not meant to be a critique of either side in particular – rather of the events as a whole. Both sides carry some fault for the conflict on Emory’s campus now. Our voices are meant to be used to start legitimate discussions, to unite us and allow us to understand other people’s viewpoints better. Not everyone has to agree in politics or in anything, but everyone should at least try to listen. But what we’re using them for right now is to drown out everyone else – because I guess we have to be in the right if our voice overpowers all others. But if this proves anything, then it proves that it’s time for us to start talking – and listening.

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