On November 21, 2017, Spirit and Place, an IUPUI festival, issued a public apology that included criticism of the student-designed “Palestine Room,” one of six rooms in the Spirit and Place-sponsored “Tunnel of Oppression.”
In response, several community organizations called out Spirit and Place for its attempts to silence the voices of IUPUI students. Statements from the Palestinian community as well as Jewish Voice for Peace-Indiana and the American Friends Service Committee pointed out the ethical problems with the Spirit and Place criticism.
IUPUI Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine also learned, via an anonymous source, that a group of IUPUI faculty and staff wrote to Vice Chancellor Karen Dace, the campus’ chief diversity officer, complaining that the student presentation was anti-Semitic.
Dear Vice Chancellor Dace,
As members of the IUPUI Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine group, we write regarding the Palestine Room of IUPUI’s Tunnel of Oppression. We are gravely concerned about the attempts of some fellow IUPUI faculty and staff members to defame the character of and silence the experiences of Palestinian students.
The public statement by Spirit and Place about the project is troubling, but even more so is a letter, addressed to you, which accuses the organizers of the Palestine Room of perpetuating anti-Semitism. Criticizing the Israeli state is not the same thing as expressing prejudice or hatred toward Jews. The Palestine Room presented the thoughts and feelings of Palestinians, including those of children who have been detained and tortured by the Israeli military. It is not anti-Semitic to accuse a government of engaging in human rights abuses. All states, whether secular or religious, must be held to account when they violate fundamental human rights. In this case, only the most ideological or perverse person would deny the human rights violations of the Israeli military. Our own government, a strong ally of the State of Israel, documents such abuses.
We have seen this before at IUPUI. False accusations of anti-Semitism are often used to silence Arab and other students who dare to criticize Israel. This Palestine exception to free speech is documented by the Center for Constitutional Rights. The last time it happened to Haneen, another leader of the IUPUI Students for Justice in Palestine. She was accused in public of being a terrorist and she was threatened in an online forum with sexual assault.
We will not stand idle while colleagues create a hostile environment for our students. We welcome the chance to sit down with you to express our concerns and explain how attacks against free speech and Palestinian students have no place at IUPUI. These are complicated, difficult issues, but one should begin a genuine dialogue by listening first to the voices of the oppressed.