Students expressed concern over the Institute of Freedom and Community’s (IFC) decision to host controversial pro-Israel journalist Bari Weiss during Palestine Liberation week. Weiss spoke virtually on Wednesday, March 31, the day after Land Day — an important commemorative day for Palestinians.
Students believe that this decision reflects an intentional attempt to silence voices on campus. “It’s not a coincidence that Weiss was presenting on March 31, the day after Land Day,” said Political Awareness Committee (PAC) Coordinator Danely Quiroz. “Land Day is a commemoration in Palestine [of an event] where Palestinians were shot by the Israeli Defense Force. It was intentional. St. Olaf College was heavily promoting Bari Weiss on their Instagram stories yet they refused to acknowledge us in their emails. This was another attempt to silence student advocacy and Palestinian voices.”
PAC Executive Assistant Monique Geronimo ’21 believes that this decision reflects a larger, recurring issue with the administration and IFC. “The Institute and the administration have a history of push-and-pull with students. It’s no coincidence that they scheduled a Zionist speaker on [Land Day]. Last year they also allowed a Zionist to come when we had the Palestinian event, as a counter to that,” Geronimo said. “They allowed an anti-immigration, racist speaker to come on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. There’s this relationship of us, students, always pushing against the administration.”
Edmund Santurri, Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community, wrote in an email to the Messenger that the date of the speaker was coincidental: “As far as we knew, Palestine Liberation Week was announced publicly after the Institute announced publicly that it had rescheduled Bari Weiss’s talk from the original date of March 11 to March 31.” He noted that March 31 was the only day available considering the schedules of both the speaker and the IFC.
Students raised concerns about Weiss’ visit to campus months before she arrived. In an email to the St. Olaf Extra email alias on Feb. 24, members of the Jewish Student Organization — Elizabeth Strauss ’22, Hannah Goldner Niederman ’23 and Leo Libet ’24 — expressed their dissatisfaction with the choice of bringing Weiss to campus. “She advocates for many inflammatory stances that accuse anti-Zionist Jews of being themselves anti-Semitic, or tools of leftist anti-Semites, comparing anti-Zionist Jews to the Yevsektsiya (a Soviet committee made up of Jewish people who controlled and terrorized other Jews). She even goes as far as to propose that all people who oppose Israel’s power in the region are anti-Semites,” the group wrote in an email.
Santurri responded to the Jewish Student Organization’s email by saying that Weiss’ voice is not meant to speak for all Jewish experiences on campus. “The point of having these Institute guest speakers is to generate civil debate about controversial matters,” Santurri wrote in the response email.
Besides saying it was not announced, Santurri’s email did not include mention of the close proximity of Weiss’ rescheduled talk to Land Day, an internationally recognized day of commemoration on March 30.
According to the student organizers, the goal of Palestine Liberation week was to provide education, resources and spaces to discuss what the liberation of Palestine looks like.
“We need to stop treating [Palestine] as a controversial topic,” Quiroz said.