Letter to the Editor: Gaza vigil response

To see Professor Weinberger’s letter, click here.

Professor Weinberger:


I was approached last Tuesday by a representative of The Trail in regards to some concerns and criticisms you had about an event that J Street U, an organization that I am involved in, was co-sponsoring. I would like to begin with where we agree; which is that academic and political growth stem from places of discomfort and challenge.

At J Street U, we are constantly placing ourselves in uncomfortable situations where we are routinely confronted with political beliefs that differ from our own, and we encourage everyone involved with us to seek out challenging conversations.

During our weekly meetings we engage a variety of difficult topics and themes, and have members whose political beliefs span across a large spectrum.

Where we disagree, however, is the type of space that allows for productive discomfort.

What I mean by this is I do not believe there would have been any academic merit in having polarized political speeches during a vigil for those who have died this past summer.

Instead, that necessary challenging dialogue needs to occur in a space that is conducive to just that – dialogue. An open mic does not provide that space, and instead polarizes the conversation. That was the idea behind having a political discussion immediately following the vigil the day after.

We held a conversation in the Student Diversity Center so that students could come to challenge and learn from each other. We chose this discussion-based format for the same reason why classes are held in a discussion-based format, rather than an open mic format – because creating a space where students can openly disagree with each other creates the individual discomfort that is absolutely necessary for academic growth.

Turning to your point that was specific to how the Israel-Palestine conflict is discussed as either ‘pro-Israel or pro-Palestine’, it is relevant to bring in J Street U’s positioning in relation to why we framed the vigil the way we did.

We are an organization that, at our core, stands for both Israel and the future state of Palestine. We advocate for a two-state solution, and are deeply concerned for the political and social welfare of both Israel and Palestine.

I, personally, feel that polarized conversation leads to stagnation, not growth. Refusing to acknowledge the inherent legitimacy of both narratives of the conflict does not lead to challenging and stimulating conversation. It leads to unproductive arguments. I firmly believe that it is always possible to find middle ground between people; and that is what we did while planning the vigil. J Street U, Hillel and Muslim Student Association held the vigil under an inherently political statement that still allowed for challenging conversation; namely, that the occupation of the Palestinian Territories needs to end so that the violence stops. We framed the vigil as a space for students to come and share difficult narratives as a way to create understanding on a deeply personal level that could then translate into more meaningful discussions, including discussions of different political stances.

It is also worth noting that these narratives did create substantial discomfort, but a productive discomfort. Both Jewish and Arab students spoke about how their own friends and family had been affected by the conflict; we had Jewish students praying for Palestinians and Muslim students praying for Jewish Israelis; we also had people present who considered themselves Palestinian activists, Israel supporters, and both. This was not a space of political silencing, but rather a space built on the commonalities of all of our political ideologies and personal backgrounds.

I’m disappointed that you did not reach out to anyone involved in J Street U, Hillel or Muslim Student Association prior to the vigil, nor did you attend, because we would have welcomed a space where we could have discussed any concerns you might have had with the vigil, or with J Street U.

We strive to offer students an outlet where they can examine and challenge their political ideologies, as well as grow academically, and I would have appreciated your input in our event.




Lindsey Conrad

North West Regional Co-Chair

J Street U