Letters to the Editor

Letter: Why I protested

Thursday, April 3, 2014

To the Editor:

This is a letter to everyone comparing the protest against Brown/RISD Hillel hosting an invite-only talk with Israel Defense Forces Sgt. Benjamin Anthony to the incident with Ray Kelly. This is a letter for anyone whose reaction upon hearing of the protest was: “We’re at an Ivy League institution, guys. Get with the free speech and intellectual dialogue already.” This is a letter for you.

This is not a letter to tell you about the war crimes committed by Anthony or the relatives of mine who have been killed by the IDF’s tactics, but a letter to paint you a picture of intellectual dialogue and spell out propaganda and hope that you understand the difference.

Here’s what ‘intellectual’ dialogue looks like: inviting a speaker who possibly theoretically believes in the use of white phosphorous against Palestinian civilians to engage with a group of people who may or may not agree. Real intellectual dialogue could perhaps be inviting a former Israeli solider who left the army after having trouble sleeping at night to ask about what he or she saw. Or even asking Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist for Haaretz who wrote a compelling letter to the soldier who killed a 14-year-old boy last month, what her take on the IDF is. Intellectual dialogue stimulates all to think about what they believe in and, more importantly, why they believe in something. Intellectual dialogue does not encompass a stage for a war criminal to tell you — or not even you, but only ‘political leaders who will be the future’ — why he kills children. Intellectual dialogue involves talking with another person, not being talked at.

Which leads me to the definition of propaganda: inviting a former Israeli sergeant and oppressor to speak to — almost secretly and definitely selectively — a group of ‘impressionable’ leaders in an attempt to influence their attitudes on why and how oppressing and ethnically cleansing a people is justifiable. Propaganda is free speech, correct, but you, reader, need to understand that this dinner was a political agenda that is trying, and succeeding, to be fulfilled. It is another method of persuading the world that the ethnic cleansing that is occurring is right and for a cause.

I, and many other students, did not attend the protest to revolt against free speech. I did not attend it because I am half-Palestinian and patriotic and biased. I did not attend it to show Brown University that controversy should not be allowed onto campus. I protested because I want the campus to discuss who and what the IDF is and why Hillel thought to bring him of all speakers. I protested not to hear many dismiss it as Brown kids taking liberalism the wrong way, but to see students feel a little bit out of place when some angry Palestinian student explains to them what birthright really is and what it means. I protested because I want Brown students to wake up from this cowardly coma that inhibits them from discussing what is really going on when “that Palestine-Israel thing” is mentioned.

I protested because I do not believe in giving the power of a platform for oppression to explain itself.


Sara Al-Salem ’17


  1. PREACH!!!!

  2. Pox on Christina Paxson if she allows the Hillel access to Brown facilities in future. Brown cannot claim to be following Civil Rights Equal Access laws when it allows the Hillel to target minority students for exclusion in a supposedly non-member event.

    The KKK cannot use Brown facilities because the discriminate on their facilities. So does the Hilllel.

    Shame on you Ms. Paxson for supporting racism.

  3. This!!!

  4. ThisIsPalestine says:

    Sara, let’s not be disingenuous. Everyone who is capable of Googling knows that Students for Just Us in Palestine types like yourself don’t go for that whole “intellectual dialogue” thing. If Hillel had opened the lecture up to everyone, you and your friends would have packed the hall to scream insults at Sgt. Anthony, shout down anyone who felt differently from you, and then marched out pompously waving terrorist keffiyehs and Pan-Arab flags. Is that what you call “intellectual dialogue.”

    How do I know that? Because it happens the vast majority of times IDF soldiers dare to speak the truth on campuses where SJP has a presence. And Hillel didn’t want to deal with it this time, as is their right.

    Save the crocodile tears.

  5. Just want to point something out that no one seems to be aware of: Hillel is not a university supported student group. Hillel is an affiliate of the university, but it functions independently. As such, it can invite whatever speakers and whatever students it wants to. This was not a university event that was closed off to students, it was a Hillel event. And as an independent international organization, they are first of all listening to other higher powers, and second of all not obligated to invite the whole Brown student body.

    • Except they use Brown facilities all the time. Brown is obligated to ensure that such organizations follow Civil Rights laws.

  6. Dear Sara, no Brown institution is obligated to host an “intellectual dialogue.” The vast majority of speakers come to Brown, speak their peace, and leave. When Malcolm X spoke at Brown in 1961, he alone was on stage to speak. Ditto with Thomas Friedman and Ron Paul. They all took questions from the audience, but there were no other speakers at their events, the way you demand speakers like Amira Hass to be present at Anthony’s talk. Are you saying that Israelis and only Israelis are required to have opposing speakers on stage with them whenever they are allowed to speak?

    Brown’s black student organizations aren’t required to have white supremacist speakers present whenever they have a black speaker in the name of “intellectual dialogue”, or else face protests from Sara Al-Salem. You don’t demand Muslim student organizations have people like Pamela Gellar or Geert Wilders at all of their events. Only Hillel needs to do that. What’s with the double standards?

    Hillel is allowed to invite whoever they want to speak at their events, and no one they don’t. If you want Amira Hass to speak on campus, invite her yourself (oh, and make sure to also invite a far right Zionist to have ‘intellectual dialogue’ with her!) In this country we have academic freedom, which means yes, “controversy should be allowed onto campus”. If you don’t like it, if you want to go to a country or university where there is no controversy allowed, where everyone thinks the same, there are plenty in the Middle East. Go attend one there.

    • By “intellectual dialogue,” Sara is also referring to the dialogue that would be stimulated by the students who attended the event. As very few students were actually invited to attend, she is claiming that this dialogue is stifled. In this sense, every Brown institution is obligated to host an “intellectual dialogue,” because non-independent Brown institutions have no right to bar certain students from attending.

      Controversy should absolutely be allowed on campus- but its presence should not be limited to a homogeneous subpopulation.

      • Dear Smith, I’m sure Sara appreciates the attempt at damage control, but the cat is out of the bag.

        Her problem is not that the event was invite only. Her problem is that an IDF soldier who doesn’t share her political opinions was allowed to speak on campus. Did you read the article?

        “I did not attend [the protest] to show Brown University that controversy should not be allowed onto campus….I protested because I do not believe in giving the power of a platform for oppression to explain itself.”

        Sara considers Sgt. Anthony to be not a human with rights like freedom of speech, but the embodiment of “oppression,” and she doesn’t believe oppression should be allowed to speak: at Brown, on college campuses, or at all. Because even if there was “intellectual dialogue,” even if all students were allowed into the event, “oppression” would still be given a platform to explain itself, and Sara has a big problem with that.

        The problem isn’t that all students couldn’t come to the event. It’s that the event happened at all.

        • My apologies- I should have read more carefully before commenting. I think we’re in agreement here now.

          Regardless, the above are my reasons for opposing the event.

        • Spot on comprehension skills. Funny how you say dehumanizing a person with no rights or freedom like it were a BAD thing! hahah kind of like how Sgt. Anthony thinks all Palestinians are just things in his way for Israeli happiness haha but dehumanizing is totally okay when it’s used for political reasons am I right

      • What a twisted argument. So much xenophobia in your comment. “If you don’t like it, if you want to go to a country or university where there is no controversy allowed, where everyone thinks the same, there are plenty in the Middle East. Go attend one there.” Yeah, this is Amerikkka, right?

        How dare you use Malcolm X to make an argument to defend a war criminal coming to speak at Brown with a racist and violent discourse… SMH.

        Malcolm X was only brought to Brown after much effort from the students, because the University’s administration has had a long tradition of supporting racist and genocidal regimes, like the one we live under in Amerika. For that same reason the administration thinks it is alright to bring a speaker who tries to give incentives to human rights violations, breaches of international law, and ethnic cleansing.

        • Dear X, please put the race card away. Sara (and you, apparently) doesn’t like that in America, we have academic freedom and different points of view (even points of view some of us don’t like) heard in our university campuses. I simply pointed out that instead of trying to change the entire American education system and destroying some of our most sacred values, she has the choice of attending a university where academic freedom is NOT valued and opposing points of view are NOT heard. I understand there are a number of universities in Gaza that fit that bill.

  7. i didn't know that says:

    So it’s only intellectual dialogue when you agree with the person?

    • Very simplistic of you, good job. She said intellectual dialogue can involve discussing tactics against Palestinians as a THEORY but not as an actual CRIME you’ve committed.

  8. Sara, what a wonderful piece. I respect and admire you so much for standing up for justice and dignity. Sending so much love on your way.

  9. Grayson Sullivan, Esq. says:

    You’re certainly entitled to your beliefs, but the ones that you espouse here are based upon the lies, propaganda, and indoctrination that you–like so many Arab children–have been manipulated with by the ideologues in your culture for decades. These are indisputable and proven FACTS:

    1) There is no denying that until June 1967 every single Arab living west of the Jordan River, and not an Israeli citizen, was a Jordanian citizen, with a Jordanian passport. In that first week of June, 1967, Jordan launched an invasive war, via sneak attack, upon Israel in conjunction with the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and contingents from other Arab nations. Israel reacted, responded, and succeeded in repulsing and expelling the Jordanian Army to the eastern side of the Jordan River. At that point the Jordanians left behind were suddenly recast as “Palestinian” citizens–purely for political purposes. There was no nation called Palestine previously–it’s an INVENTED citizenry. In fact, every non-Israeli Arab living west of the Jordan River REMAINED a Jordanian citizen, with a Jordanian passport until August 1988, when King Hussein revoked their passports and citizenship because of a PLO/PFLP military action against Jordan begun and directed by–an Egyptian, born in Cairo in 1929.

    2) With the exception of the Bedouins–who were nomadic–almost every single Arab family living west of the Jordan River is of recent immigrant origins–since 1880–from Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia (Iraq did not exist until created by Britain in 1921,) or another Arab nation that was under Ottoman Turkish occupation for over 400 years. The Ottomans encouraged, and sometimes even FORCED this emigration to the area to provide laborers for their administrative and other employment needs. A certain portion of the immigrants also came on their own, to make a better life for their family because there were little or no opportunities in their native lands. They came looking to find jobs working for the various Jewish communities in the Ottoman occupied areas west of the Jordan River. They went to many areas, including Jerusalem–which despite multiple “ethnic cleansings” of Jews by Crusader and Arab invaders for centuries–has had a majority Jewish population since 1887 that has remained so. There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the area known as Israel today for the past 3,000 years–despite massacres, enslavements, forced emigrations, genocidal invaders. As the Qur’an (and every single religious tradition in Islam, Christianity, Judaism and others) clearly states: Israel is the land of the Jews.

    3) Under international law: San Remo Concord, League of Nations, UN, residual Ottoman Law–in fact EVERY source–no “settlement” of Jews ANYWHERE in the country is illegal. Those who say otherwise are, quite simply, wrong about the law. They are victims of a phenomenon known as “The Big Lie,” where improper facts and conclusions are repeated over and over, louder and louder, until people actually accept the lie and reject the truth. Do your homework. The truth is out there waiting for those who seek it. Seek it humbly, without agenda, and you might be surprised at what you learn. Set yourself free from the ideologically deranged, who have been abusing Arab children in support of their OWN agenda.

    4) Israel has no schools where the curriculum denies the very humanity of Arabs; no camps where even toddlers are taught that Arabs are subhumans worthy only of death and abuse; No training camps where children are taught to love guns, bombs and murder–and to direct those things at Arabs as a righteous path, making them a proper citizen. The PA/Fatah does ALL of that and more regarding JEWS–NOT just ISRAELIS, but ALL JEWS. That is prima facie racist, criminal, and child abusive behavior. It is sick beyond justification.

    I could go on in ever-deeper detail, but you are a student at an Ivy League University, planning to graduate in 2017. It would be a waste–and an unpardonable lost opportunity–should you do so without challenging the lies with which you’ve been inculcated by people with their own perverse agenda. Don’t continue to be their victim willingly–it makes you complicit. Disown them, and empower yourself.

  10. How do we move forward without hearing other perspectives on the Middle East? Isn’t that what dialogue is all about? Engaging and exploring what people have to say, whether you agree with them or not? How else is constructive peace brought to the Israeli and Palestinian peoples?

  11. So it would only be intellectual dialogue if we hear from someone who’s not pro-Israel or at least unsure about it? By that logic only moderates would ever be allowed to speak.

  12. Ray kelly all over again…. peeps wanna play the race and victim card.

  13. The problem with a place like Brown, and other schools where the Hillel is so powerful and sensitive, is that people like ThisIsPalestine think that anyone who opposes Israel is a total jew-hater. They think that the anti-Israelis are the racists and anti-semites, when actually the Israelis are the ones that are racist.

  14. Punto Ason says:

    Welcome to Brown University, run by Chris Paxson, multiply comatose, on arrival.

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