Arab Student Group Shows True Colors on Israel, Syria
A few weeks ago, the Israel Student Association (ISA) at George Mason University organized a fundraiser to support refugees affected by the Syrian conflict. The proceeds went directly to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which provides food, shelter, and clothing to refugees in Turkey and Jordan. At the event, the ISA managed to raise more than $350, and the fundraiser was well-received for the most part.
This outpouring of generosity was not surprising. But the disgusting opposition to our event from an anti-Israel group was.
At George Mason, there is a group called the Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA). Their stated goals are to advance global support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel, the freeing of all Palestinian and Arab political prisoners, and a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that does not recognize Israel as a legitimate nation.
SAIA has had an increasingly conspicuous presence on campus. When the Syrian refugee fundraiser was posted on social media sites, it was a SAIA member that was the first to comment on the event, stating sarcastically that he was “always down to whitewash apartheid!”
Despite being well aware of their lack of respect for the ISA, it was still surprising to see members of SAIA handing out flyers and waving the Palestinian flag during our event.
Initially, they didn’t interact with us, and we managed to set up our area without any conflict. While we, the Israel Student Association, were attempting to raise funds for Syrian refugees, SAIA was handing out flyers for an event that documented “the torture of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.” It was quite a convenient time and place to be advertising for such an event.
Our first verbal encounter during the fundraiser occurred when a SAIA member stomped over to our area and yelled, “You know how you can help Syria? You can get out of the Golan Heights!”
As an organization, we chose not to respond to any political questions and debates during the fundraiser, because the purpose of our event was to aid Syrian refugees, not to engage in political discussion or controversy.
We aimed to bring the community together on this issue, since Syria’s conflict affects all of the Middle East. We reached out to the Arab Student Association (ASA) on campus to co-sponsor the event with us. They responded by saying that the group, “decided that this fundraiser is not something that ASA will be involved in for various reasons.”
Despite the setback, it was powerful to see that even without another cultural group joining in, people from all different kinds of backgrounds came out, showed their support, and donated to our cause.
The last interaction with SAIA occurred towards the end of our fundraiser. I was approached by a woman who asked how our funds were used. After we explained how the funds supported the various needs of refugees, she asked why we didn’t hold a fundraiser to support Palestinian refugees.
I answered her question by saying that our event was non-political, and was meant to bring people together for a common cause, not to incite controversy. I was then asked why Palestinian refugees were controversial, because, according to her, it is a proven fact that Israel has openly killed thousands of Palestinians.
I reiterated that I would not have this discussion with her at this time, and that if she was unwilling to participate positively in our cause, then it would be best for her to not impede our efforts. She walked away, apparently disappointed that she couldn’t get a response that would add more fuel to their cause of inciting hatred for Israel.
As we worked hard to raise money for Syrian refuges, SAIA, far from helping us in our cause, proved itself highly disrespectful with its desperate acts. To try to publicly humiliate Israel and members of the ISA while we were holding a humanitarian fundraiser is disturbing and tasteless.
At the end of the day, although it was disheartening to see SAIA stand against our fundraiser and the ISA, it is good to know that they don’t represent the majority of our community, and that our values of compassion, positive activism, and initiative resonate with the students at George Mason.