The Executive Editors and News Editors of The Olaf Messenger decided to dedicate this week’s news section to coverage of community reaction to the Israel-Hamas War. Our coverage’s aim is not to explain the Israel-Hamas War in detail, but to recount reactions and events in our community. Our objective is to provide unbiased reporting that accurately reflects thoughts and opinions of various members and organizations of our community, its also important to note that St. Olaf responses have predominantly supported Palestine. We acknowledge that there are many different perspectives on the conflict, as our community is made up of a diverse group of individuals. The Olaf Messenger extends our condolences to those who are directly affected by these recent events. Campus resources and information about bias reporting can be found here.
In response to the onset of the Israel-Hamas war, the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) hosted a teach-in panel on Oct. 28 about the issue, inviting three St. Olaf faculty members, Associate Professor of Political Science Anthony Lott, Visiting Assistant Professor of History Sara Halpern, and Associate Professor of Religion Jamie Schillinger to explain the various theoretical perspectives used to understand the conflict.
“The motivation behind this event was to provide a space to learn more about the current situation in Palestine and Israel,” PAC Coordinator Jana Kraleva ’25 said in an email to the Olaf Messenger. “The aspects discussed by the Professors covered parts of the historical context, the application of international humanitarian law, as well as its limitations and flaws, and the intersection between politics, religion, and morality.”
In the email, Kraleva said that PAC invited the speakers for the event because they were either part of the Middle East Studies Department or they were identified by students as good speakers for the topic.
“The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a complicated one marked by a lot of disagreement, which makes dialogue very challenging,” said Schillinger in an email to The Olaf Messenger. “For students who are starting with very little background knowledge, this situation can seem extremely daunting and overwhelming.”
In the PAC presentation, Schillinger said that he focused on encouraging students to analyze how the various moral arguments surrounding the issue are built and to examine the religious frameworks used by the different groups involved in the conflict.
“My view is that first things first…we’re not called to endorse or condemn these things; we’re called to try to understand how they function and how different people and groups think from within those frameworks,” said Schillinger in an email to The Olaf Messenger.
One of the questions raised at the event asked about addressing claims of moral equivalence — the idea that a moral comparison can be made between sides of a conflict. “I would reject moral equivalence between the actors as just lazy thinking,” Schillinger said in an email to The Olaf Messenger. “I think that Israel has had a lot more power and it has abused its power in egregious ways. I also think that Hamas-related actions on Oct. 7 are morally inexcusable, but I reject the dehumanizing and absolutist language used to characterize them, and I reject the claim that trying to explain and contextualize their actions amounts to a kind of moral excuse. I also think these topics should be the topic of debate.”
The ongoing Israel-Hamas war is a deeply sensitive issue that raised many questions and discussions, which the PAC event sought to address. The event received many different responses from the audience. “For some, it was a good opportunity to start learning, or it was a chance to challenge what they already knew,” Kraleva said in an email to the Olaf Messenger. “For others, it was not exactly what needed to be said and done, and [they] would like to see an event that is more proactive.”