Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The civil debater
When Fadi Kiblawi created Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a pro-Palestinian student group, in 2001, the group's initial attempts to discuss the contentious Israeli-Palestinian conflict with other campus groups often ended in bickering.
"Back then, around the beginning of the Second Intifada, it was a very emotional issue that often became very personal and ugly - and that affected the discourse," Kiblawi said. "There wasn't that level of civility."
Seven years later, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains as contentious as ever. But campus discourse on the conflict, Kiblawi said, is far more constructive and civil than it was during his days as a leader of SAFE.
Kiblawi attributes much of that change in the dialogue on Middle East issues to LSA sophomore Andrew Dalack, one of SAFE's current co-chairs.
"Andrew has done a great job this year opening up the debate, creating civil discussion on campus," Kiblawi said.
Increased civility in Israeli-Palestinian discourse was unexpected this year, considering the controversy in September over the University Press's distribution of a book called "Overcoming Zionism" that advocates a single-state solution. But under Dalack's leadership, the group organized events that garnered greater attention than SAFE has typically received on campus, like speeches by Joel Kovel, the author of "Overcoming Zionism," and Profs. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, whose lecture drew a capacity crowd at the Natural Science Building earlier this month.
SAFE also hosted Palestinian Awareness Week in February, featuring a week of events focusing on Middle Eastern issues that included a lecture by an Israeli professor who spoke on the occupation of Palestinian territories from Israel's perspective.
By bringing academics, journalists and scholars of varying viewpoints to campus, Dalack said he was trying to "raise the bar" of the debate surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a more academic level.
"We wanted to make sure that anybody who wanted the tit-for-tat, back and forth arguing would be marginalized, and that people who really wanted to engage in a more intellectual discussion could do so," Dalack said.