Questions Arise Over Israeli/Palestinian Event at Rutgers

By on February 1, 2011

Rutgers University student newspaper The Daily Targum reported yesterday on the Saturday night dustup between the organizers and prospective attendees of an event called "Never Again for Anyone," which was described by one of its organizers as an event "intended to shed light on Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and Palestinian suffering in the 1948 ethnic cleansing known as ‘Nakba’ in order to show that all suffering affect[s] all humans." Outraged over this comparison of the Holocaust to the creation of the state of Israel, a group of between 150 and 400 supporters of Israel showed up to attend the event, which had evidently been advertised on Facebook and Craigslist as "free and open to the public."

As might have been predicted, this proved a volatile situation. Supporters of Israel who arrived at the event have a number of different complaints about their treatment at the hands of organizers. One source claims that organizers asked the police to bar students wearing kippas (yarmulkes) and eventually limited attendance to members of groups that supported the event. Another said that Israel supporters were "huddled into separate lines away from the other attendees." But one thing that everyone seems to agree upon is that once at the event, organizers stated that the entrance fee would be "five to twenty dollars," as can be seen in this YouTube video at 59 seconds in.

As can be seen in that video and in many other videos collected here, this pronouncement was very upsetting to many of those in line for the event, who claimed (apparently accuratelysee screenshots above) that the event was advertised as being free. The Daily Targum presents an explanation for this change in the event plans:

American Muslims for Palestine, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) and the Middle East Children’s Alliance, who sponsored the event, initially advised that it be advertised as free and open to the public, said Sami Jitan, BAKA event coordinator.

But on the day of the event, Sara Kershnar, founder of the IJAN, changed the price of admission to $5 because of changes within the contract.

"The contract with BAKA was canceled and a new contract was created with American Muslims for Palestine because the University felt that it was not a student event, but it was an event by outside organizations," she said.

The University instead needed to charge a private room rate, which Kershnar said was three times the original rate.

"Combined with the fact that these different Zionists organizations put out a call for protest, we then also had to pay for two additional security guards," she said. "When we were on site we decided to charge everyone a minimum of $5 to $20 because we had to pass on some of the costs to participants which is not unusual. That was true for anyone who came in."

Because it was no longer a BAKA event, the student group did not know anything about the change and found out at the same time everyone else did, Kershnar said.

"We made that decision on site and then they were there and we let them know that it was our decision," Kershnar said.

Unfortunately, this story of events does not make a lot of sense when considered in light of what Kershnar said on video during the event. Starting at 59 seconds in, she says that the event cost is "five to twenty dollars," and when challenged on this by the crowd, at 1 minute 5 seconds in she says "it did not say free, open to the public." At 1 minute 38 seconds, after someone hollers "Facebook says it’s free," she replies "then that’s a mistake, doll." And at 1 minute 46 seconds in, someone appears to show Kershnar an advertisement saying the event is free, to which Kershnar responds only with an eye roll.

As the screenshots of Facebook and Craigslist show, the event was indeed advertised as being free. The question then becomes this: Why did Kershnar claim that it was not advertised as such, or that it was a mistake? The Daily Targum article presents a plausible if convoluted explanation of why the event, which was intended to be free to the public, ended up having higher costs than before, and Kershnar seems to say in that article that they raised the price to the event once they got there. So, why did she say that the event was never listed as free while addressing the crowd? And if you’re facing an angry crowd, why would you try to tell them that the event was never free rather than place the blame on Rutgers (where it would seem to belong, according to The Daily Targum article) for raising the price?

A university is intended to be a marketplace of ideas. While the organizers and speakers at the event have the right to express their opinions and viewpoints, it follows that if an event is open to all students or the general public, they must have the right to attend on an equal basis regardless of their viewpoints. While there is no direct evidence that the event went from free to paying attendance only after a large contingent of supporters of Israel showed up, the conflicting stories told by the event’s organizer suggest that there may be more to the price change than a simple effort to defray the increased costs of the event. Rutgers would be wise to look further into the claims of those who say they were discriminated against in their effort to attend the event.