Controversy demands discourse, not dismissal: the case with Israel and Palestine

Chicago’s millennials have trail blazed civic activism through progressive dialogue. University students especially have demonstrated a generational goal of promoting civil discourse not only in their community, but in the world.

Across city campuses, effective discourse has taken place on socially relevant issues, pulling them out of the “taboo drawer” and placing them into the limelight. From gender equality to immigration, today’s student approach has consistently been “let’s talk about it.”

And then there’s Israel and Palestine.

Individuals and institutions alike continue to shy away from facing the issue head-on, and little transparent dialogue has occurred. Take DePaul University’s recent Sabra brand hummus debate and referendum, a local turned nation-wide issue which ended with little to no discussion and instead was dismissed by an official university response.

Case closed. But should it be?

The debate over the sale of Sabra brand humus began when student political group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) called for the removal of all Sabra products from DePaul’s cafeteria shelves on the grounds that Sabra’s co-owner, the Strauss group, has funded Israeli Defense Force brigades accused of human rights violations by Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Watch.

SJP went on to claim that the two brigades funded by the Strauss Group, the Golani and the Givati brigades, were also accused of using white phosphorous pellets against children.

Those are serious claims worth discussing on the grounds of consumer responsibility, if nothing else. However, instead of facilitating discussion on the controversial claims, the university was transformed into a rhetorical battlefield of sorts, SJP on one side, student Jewish group Hillel on the other.

The university allowed for a student-run referendum on either the banning or continued sale of Sabra products.

Walking into the university’s Lincoln Park student center days prior to the referendum’s ruling, students were greeted by two tables; one sporting signs reading “Vote Yes on Human Rights, Boycott Sabra,” the other side was handing out free Sabra samples.

At a university that prides itself on open-minded dialogue, experiencing such a starkly divided campus was not only alarming, but representative of a larger issue at hand; when it comes to Israel and Palestine, mums the word, but go grab your picket signs!

Peaceful protesting is a constitutional right and ought to be implemented when necessary, but should occur after effective discourse has taken place and proved ineffective.

DePaul’s former vice president of SPJ Trent Carl commented on the lack of open dialogue on the matter, urging universities and individuals alike to focus on the issues, not the emotions inspired by them.

“SJP has stated to Hillel itself that we will dialogue about the conflict itself, about political stances, etc. We have made that clear. We have also made clear to administrators in both sectors that we do not want to get bogged down in talks that focus on how people feel. We already understand that people have feelings and feelings get hurt when people’s principles seem to conflict. We want to talk about those principles, not just about how taking a principled stance is controversial; we [already] understand that.” Carl said.

Hillel’s response to the referendum insisted that the university be contacted for an official statement. Not exactly a candid or personal reaction suggesting the willingness to dialogue.

The referendum required 1,500 total votes to pass, and while SJP’s efforts mobilized a staggering majority favor with 1,127 votes supporting of the ban and only 332 against it, the referendum did not pass due to the fact that the measure only received 1,467 votes in total.

33 votes stood between DePaul taking a stance against proven human rights violations. Disappointing to say the least. Yet the larger issue at hand is not that SJP’s concerns were left largely invalidated, but that Hillel and DePaul limited their vocal response to “official statements” and “university responses,” when an open, frank dialogue was in order.

Carl also mentioned several opponents of the referendum referring to SJP and it’s supporters as anti-Semites. “We often heard that if we vote in favor of boycotting that we are anti-Semitic,” he recalled.

DePaul is one of  too many academic and professional institutions that has made apparent by its actions that anything Pro-Palestine or Anti-IDF will be automatically construed as Anti-Semitic, and thus be labeled as “taboo.”

Let us not forget what occurred in 2004 when an outspoken De Paul professor lost tenure for refusing to silence the discussion.

SEE: Norman Finklestein

We cannot let responses to controversy continued to be handled in this manner.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not ceased to exist; neither should our constructive discourse on the topic.



Amnesty International, “Lebanon: Deliberate destruction or‘collateral damage’? Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure,”August 21, 2006,

“Human Rights Council decides to dispatch Fact-Finding Mission toinvestigate violations against Palestinians in Occupied Territory,”United Nations Human Rights Council, January 12, 2002,

Amnesty International, “Israel/Lebanon: End attacks againstcivilians immediately,” Israel/Lebanon, July 13, 2006

Human Rights Watch, “Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon”

Fatal Strikes, Vol. 18, No. 3 (2006), 4-5.

Israeli Defense Forces,  “Golani Brigade,” 2011,

Israeli Defense Forces,  “Givati Brigade,” 2001, ault.htm.