Deputy Consul General Shahar Arieli of Israel began his speech Monday night at Purdue University by telling his audience that the Israel/Palestine conflict was the least of the Middle East’s problems and that it was fruitless to debate and wage war over the past.
But the moment his presentation finished and an open forum between Arieli and an audience of more than 30 listeners — comprised primarily of Palestinian students — began, that age-old conflict took center stage. And both sides took turns defending the actions of their ancestors.
“I’m glad that people got a little offended. Offended enough to speak their minds,” said Matt Cunningham, president of the Purdue University College Republicans, the group that organized Monday’s event. “That’s what’s it’s all about. The battle of ideas.”
The focus of Arieli’s talk was what he called the “real problem” in the Middle East, stating that when compared to the larger issues, the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians doesn’t measure up.
“That conflict is not the reason for the instability and the unrest the Middle East is so famous for,” he said. “In fact, it’s being used as a smoke screen for the Middle East’s real problem.”
Arieli said he believes that the tribal nature of the Middle East is the real problem, stating that the area is made up of multiple minority groups with little in common, and when leadership comes in to question, the possibility of war among the groups increases.
When discussing the fight between Israelis and Palestinians, he proposed that an agreement in which both sides made concessions and attempted to co-exist would be the most beneficial.
But Mohammad Abdo, a Purdue sophomore and a member of the Purdue University Students for Justice in Palestine, said unfair treatment of Palestinian people living in the area makes Arieli’s proposal unlikely.
“I’ve heard it all before. They’ve been using the same arguments for decades,” he said. “I’m just in favor of justice and equality for everyone.”
Other members of the Students for Justice in Palestine showed their opposition to Arieli’s visit by attending the speech and wearing tape with the word “silenced” over their mouths. They did not speak during the event, but they carried paper stating that the tape represented the silencing of the Palestinian people.
Arieli’s speech was part of a two-day event organized by the Purdue University College Republicans called Stand Up for Israel. According to the event’s Facebook page, the purpose is to “show support for America’s strongest ally in the Middle East, and to exploit the inflammatory nature of anti-Israelis protests and sentiments.”
But as a student who is both a Republican and a Palestinian, senior Salma Qaddourah said organizing this type of event was in poor taste.
“I thought it was very biased,” she said. “They basically targeted the Palestinian people, and the speaker was very rude.”