The Middle East Conflict on Campus

Tufts university clerics try to put Palestinian supporters and Friends of Israel in the same room for a discussion. Who shows up?

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Itamar Ben-Aharon, president of the campus group Friends of Israel, is decorated during a get-together called Celebrate Israel. Photo: Katherine Taylor for The New York Times

What some see as a celebration of culture through food, others see as a political statement, and an offensive one at that. Just slip an Israeli flag on a toothpick.

To the Tufts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, last fall’s Taste of Israel was appropriation, pure and simple.

“I don’t think the Palestinian students on this campus would see it as ‘cultural’ if they were to walk in and see flags of Israel all over the food their grandmother used to cook before she was evicted from her village,” said Nic Serhan, an S.J.P. member who is part Arab, part African-American.

As students sampled pomegranate seeds, hummus, falafel and pita, Mr. Serhan and fellow protesters strode into the event carrying signs reading “Taste of Israeli Occupation,” “Don’t dip into apartheid” and “Fresh from stolen Palestinian land.” Then they passed out chocolates with anti-Israel sentiments on the wrappers and asked: “Do you want the real truth about Israel?”

This was not the biggest or loudest such protest at Tufts, a private university of some 12,000 students just outside of Boston. But it was the last straw. Whenever Friends of Israel or Hillel staged a lecture or event, it seemed, S.J.P. was there. There had been die-ins (students had to step over bodies on red cloths signifying blood) and checkpoints (mock Israeli soldiers conducted security checks around campus). Friends of Israel had already requested campus security at programs, but after the food festival they filed a complaint with Tufts’s judicial affairs office.

“It’s bullying masquerading as social justice,” Anna Linton, co-president of the club, told me.

Friends of Israel, in its complaint to Tufts administrators, said that the Taste of Israel protest had victimized students and violated university policy, including one called Working With One Another. They wanted to meet with S.J.P. leaders and a mediator.

Read the full story in the New York Times