Lately the Committee for Justice in Palestine at The Ohio State University was denied funding for the first time by the OSU Student Government (USG). Student Paul Peters wrote to the school newspaper, The Lantern, supporting the group’s appeal of the denial. Because his letter has not appeared, Peters gave CJP’s President, Sarah Almusbahi, permission to publish it. Almusbahi tells me that Peters is “a student at OSU who did an independent study with The Lantern and is currently the editor of the Collegiate Council on World Affairs’s (CCWA) magazine (algerianosu.com).” Here is Peters’s argument:
A few days ago Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) received the news that the Allocations Committee of USG would not fund their seminal event this year–“A People with a Culture”. It was set to feature performances by a stand-up comedian and a Palestinian dance group.
SJP is a national organization, with branches at schools across the country. Recently one of their chapters was influential in helping pass divestment legislation at UC Berkeley, and they’ve gone on to pursue similar initiatives elsewhere. The official purpose of the organization at Ohio State, however, is simply “raising awareness and educating the public on the Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination”. Their events are open to the public, even specially designed to ensure accessibility.
I first heard about the organization when I happened to sit next to its former president in a class last fall. As a double major in Arabic and Political Science I’ve come to find that opinions on the questions of Israel and Palestine tend to work their way into the classroom, and the issue is one with which I’m well acquainted. SJP’s new president and I have come to know each other, but I’m not a member of the group, nor do I generally attend their events. Still, it struck me as odd that the Allocations Committee would refuse SJP’s funding request.
I talked to a friend on the Allocations Committee. He told me that the request had been denied due to the politically motivated nature of the event–that the phrase “Israeli occupation” used in the written request had set off red flags. Other considerations like a lack of fundraising and the $10 charge at the door were also raised in reaching the decision, but the “malicious issue” was its political character.
The actual phrasing [from CJP] cited by the committee in the rejection note was: “through this entertaining event, we hope to promote cultural diversity and educate the campus community (students, faculty, staff, etc) about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Palestinian culture. The audience will leave the event experiencing the rich Palestinian culture and understanding how it has been a symbol of strength and pride during the Palestinian struggle for independence against the Israeli occupation.” It was denied because, according to the Allocations Committee, “USG is required to represent all students in our constituency and we do not want to be seen as picking a certain side in a political debate.”
Though the language in question was cited from the written application submitted prior to SJP’s presentation to the committee, none of these concerns were raised during the presentation. The only questions had to do with the size of the event.
References to Israeli occupation are commonplace in the international community. The United Nations has deemed Israel an “occupying power” and the Israeli High Court of Justice holds that it presides over the West Bank with “belligerent occupation”. Its newly acquired status as a UN observer-state would seem to make it objective that even if the U.S. doesn’t recognize it as a country, there is some entity called Palestine. Agreements in the Oslo Accords to eventually cede control of certain areas to the Palestinian Authority would also seem to make clear that there is a struggle for independence–one supported by the Israeli government.
I can certainly forgive the Allocations Committee for a lack of expertise in these areas; last year I saw a video made on the oval, and it showed that many OSU students can’t even locate Israel on a map, but the Multicultural Center had already pledged money to the event. So why didn’t the committee ask about any of these issues?
Last summer USG President Taylor Stepp took a trip to Israel with the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an extremely influential pro-Israel lobby group. The New York Times quoted an advocate in Washington as calling these visits “the Jewish Disneyland trip”, and they serve to showcase Israel’s opulence and solidify pro-Israeli political interests in the US. Naturally Palestinian culture isn’t presented in a flattering light.
SJP has the opportunity to appeal the Allocation Committee’s decision in the General Assembly on Wednesday, but Stepp has publicly stated that even if the appeal is granted he will veto it.
Undergraduate Student Government here at Ohio State likes to make a big deal that its a part of the only true shared governance model in the country. That is, the students that constitute our ranks are actually voting members in all University Senate committees. We have the opportunity, unlike other schools, to really have a say in the policies adopted by the university, meaning that many of our actions–like our recent support for Columbus School Levies and LGBT rights–are expressly political. It also means that USG here isn’t just a stepping stone on the way to bigger and better things.
I sit on the Committee of Diversity and Inclusion, one of eleven committees [that] make up the Executive Branch. Our charter obliges us to “seek out and advocate for issues pertaining to underrepresented students and groups of the student body, with the intent of properly representing its diverse constituency”, as well as to recommend policies that foster tolerance and mutual respect.
Palestinian culture in the last half-century has necessarily been affected by Israeli-Palestinian relations. It is often presented exclusively as an opposition movement–routinely in a violent light, so when a student group at Ohio State seeks to present Palestinian culture in contrast to Israel it does so out of necessity not nefariousness. Failing to give it a voice is failing to represent our constituency.
On Wednesday an AIPAC National Board Member and a US Congressman will be speaking at a BuckiPAC Gala [Buckeyes Israel Public Affairs Committee] for “politically motivated and Jewish community affiliated students”.
Meanwhile, a group of less prestigious representatives will decide the fate of “A People with a Culture”.
The Appeal will take place today, Wednesday, November 6, at 6:30 PM, in the Senate Chamber of the Ohio Union. All are welcome to attend.