Georgetown Students for Justice in Palestine hosted the fifth annual Palestine Solidarity Movement Conference this past weekend, drawing about 600 people from across the country to the school’s campus.
Contributing members and organizations support the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, obtaining equality under the law for Palestinians living in Israel and gaining the right of return for Palestinian refugees. They also oppose all forms of oppression and use divestment as their tactic of resistance.
Georgetown University officials have taken criticism for hosting the conference, which has been previously held at Duke University, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and the University of California at Berkeley.
“Georgetown prizes its commitment to allowing for the free and open exchange of ideas, even ideas that may be difficult or objectionable to some. As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, Georgetown University has a longstanding speech and expression policy that governs the University’s response to controversial speech,” read a news statement from Georgetown’s Communications Office.
The conference, which organizers said is the largest North American coalition of its kind, held this year’s event to bring awareness to divestment activities and developing existing Palestine solidarity organizations.
“I look forward to the day when Israeli apartheid will be history too,” said Sue Blackwell, a speaker from the University of Birmingham in Britain, who led a boycott of Israeli academic institutions last spring.
Divestment is considered by the Palestine Solidarity Movement to be a peaceful political tool used to pressure the withdrawal of investments in Israel. Another goal of the conference was “to teach skills from how to write (opinion articles), resolutions and how to advocate on campus,” said Nadeem Muaddi, a spokesperson for the Palestine Solidarity Movement.
“We have done a poor job in training new activists on college campuses, which we can hopefully change through this conference,” said Noura Erekat, a national grassroots organizer and legal advocate for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, who attended the conference.
Security was a concern at this conference; Georgetown officials did not release their security plans until days before the conference. Campus police were present at a security checkpoint that participants had to clear before entering the building. A rabbi from the West Bank was escorted out of the panel discussion on Saturday after his exchange with the panelists about Jewish assimilation.
Opposition to the conference, however, is also found on college campuses across the nation, including GW.
“People should be aware that the innocuous-sounding ‘divestment’ is really masking some truly vile ‘speech.’ Speech such as a refusal to condemn the disgusting terrorist violence perpetrated against Israel and refusal of the state’s right to even exist,” said Laura Graham, public affairs director for the GW chapter of Student Alliance for Israel.
The GW chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine officially endorsed the conference, and some members attended the event over the weekend.
“The purpose of the conference is to mobilize student organizations in their efforts to demand their universities’ divestment from Israel … divestment from Israel is crucial to forcing it to comply with international law (and) end its brutal policies of apartheid against the Palestinian people,” said Leila Taha, president of the GW chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.
The weekend conference included roundtable discussions focusing not only on divestment and activism but also on the use of the media and networking techniques.