Last Wednesday, the Israel Student Association (ISA) at George Mason organized a fundraiser to support refugees effected by the Syrian conflict. The proceeds go directly to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which would provide food, shelter, and clothing to refugees in Turkey and Jordan. At the event, the ISA managed to raise over $350 within three and a half hours. The fundraiser, a large-scale event, was well-received for the most part. However, the surprise from the fundraiser didn’t come from the support it gained, but rather from the disgusting opposition that it faced.
At George Mason, there is a group on campus called the Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA). Their stated goals call for the global campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, the freeing of all Palestinian and Arab political prisoners, and a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that does not recognize Israel as a legitimate nation. SAIA has had an increasingly conspicuous presence on campus. When the Syrian refugee fundraiser was posted on social media, it was a SAIA member that was the first to comment on the event, stating sarcastically that he was “always down to whitewash apartheid!”
Despite being well aware of their lack of respect for the Israel Student Association, it was still surprising to see members of SAIA handing out flyers and waving the PLO flag in the exact area that we advertised our fundraiser would take place, at the exact time that we planned our event. They originally didn’t interact with us, and we managed to set up our area without any conflict. So, while we as the Israel Student Association were attempting to raise funds for Syrian refugees, SAIA was handing out flyers for an event that documented “the torture of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.” It was quite a convenient time and place to be advertising for such an event.
The first verbal encounter with SAIA during the fundraiser occurred without much notice, when a member stomped over to our area of collecting donations and yelled, “You know how you can help Syria? You can get out of the Golan Heights!” before storming back over to SAIA’s space within the plaza. As an organization, we chose not to respond to any political questions and debates during our time collecting donations, because the purpose of our event was to aid Syrian refugees, not to engage in political discussion or controversy.
We aimed to bring the community together on this issue, seeing that Syria’s conflict effects all of the Middle East, as refugees in Jordan and Turkey have created economic and social problems for both nations. Knowing this, we reached out to the Arab Student Association on campus to co-sponsor the event with us. They responded by saying that the group “decided that this fundraiser is not something that ASA will be involved in for various reasons.” Despite the setback, the event continued without the ASA’s backing. It was powerful to see that, even without another cultural group joining in, people from all different kinds of backgrounds came out, showed support, and donated to our cause.
The last interaction with SAIA occurred towards the end of our fundraiser. I was approached by a woman who asked how our funds were used. After explaining how the funds supported the various needs of refugees, she asked why we didn’t hold a fundraiser to support Palestinian refugees. I answered her question by saying that our event is non-political, it is meant to bring people together for a common cause, and is not meant to incite controversy. I was then asked why Palestinian refugees were controversial, because according to her, it is a proven fact that Israel has openly killed thousands of Palestinians. I reiterated that I would not have this discussion with her at that time, and that if she was unwilling to participate positively in our cause, then it would be best for her to not impede on our ability to raise money. She walked away after that, apparently disappointed that she couldn’t record a response that would add more fuel to their cause of inciting hatred for Israel.
As we worked hard to raise money for Syrian refuges, SAIA, far from helping us in our cause, proved itself highly disrespectful with its desperate acts of attention. To try to publicly humiliate Israel and members of the ISA while we are holding a humanitarian fundraiser is disturbing and tasteless. The community of George Mason is strong, however, and it showed when many came out to donate money for such an important cause. At the end of the day, although it is disheartening to see SAIA stand against our fundraiser and the ISA, it is good to know that they don’t represent the majority of our community, and that our values of compassion, positive activism, and initiative resonate with the students at George Mason.
This piece has been republished here in The Algemeiner.