A dialogue event on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Syracuse University was nixed last week, allegedly over concerns about its political leanings.
The event — organized as a capstone project by senior Alanna Sadler — was meant to take place on Dec. 3, with the help of the school's Department of Jewish Studies, the Muslim Student Association, and the interfaith Hendricks Chapel.
A Hanukkah candle lighting was scheduled for 15 minutes prior to the event, which would open with introductory remarks by Hendricks Dean Brian Konkol, followed by a brief lecture by Professor Miriam Elman, who teaches a course on the conflict. Students would then break up into groups to discuss some of the contentious issues that contribute to tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, like the status of Jerusalem and refugees.
Closing remarks would be delivered by Imam Amir Duric and Rabbi Leah Fein — the latter of whom had to back out in late November due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict, Sadler said.
More withdrawals would shortly follow, ultimately prompting the event's cancellation.
In a presentation on her project last week, Sadler said Konkol pulled out of the event on Dec. 1, at which point some 50 people were expected to attend. The dean told her in a phone call that "he received numerous calls from concerned students who felt that he was endorsing an pro-Israeli event," and that "these students felt that it was a biased event," she recalled.
Konkol further shared that Imam Duric was uncomfortable speaking at the event without Rabbi Fein, Sadler said. Facing the withdrawal of three speakers, she ultimately had to call off the dialogue a day before it was set to take place.
When asked for an explanation regarding the event's cancellation, a representative for Syracuse only said that one of its chaplains "had a scheduling conflict with the December 3rd date."
"When we offered to reschedule the event, the organizer declined," spokeswoman Sarah Scalese added. "We hope the event organizer will work with us to reschedule this critical conversation."
Sadler expressed disappointment over the scrapped dialogue, saying in her presentation that it was organized to be "as objective as an event on this conflict could be."
"Of course people are nervous to talk about it — it is a high emotions type of thing, so that obviously was expected," she acknowledged. "But that's nothing to turn away [from]. We shouldn't stop dialogue because it's something that might feel uncomfortable."
"It showed me more that this is a big, big problem on campus," added Sadler, who had earlier pointed to the disruption of a speech by an Israeli ambassador at Syracuse in April. "It spoke volumes, and maybe said more than the event probably would have."
While Konkol offered to ask the students who shared their concerns with him whether they would speak with her, she had not yet heard back about the outcomes of his inquiries, Sadler said.
Elman — an associate professor of political science at Syracuse — told the The Algemeiner in a statement that she was "disheartened to learn that a group of disgruntled students succeeded in derailing what would have been a worthwhile educational opportunity for the rest of the SU community."
"College is a place where students are supposed to confront ideas and viewpoints that they may oppose and even find offensive and it's unfortunate that this essential aspect of campus life was so undermined in this instance," she noted, before commending Sadler for "reaching out to those who effectively shut down her event, and for wanting to learn more about their positions."
"I hope they agree to meet with her," Elman said.