Students and members of the community rallied outside the Cathedral of Learning earlier this… Students and members of the community rallied outside the Cathedral of Learning earlier this evening to show their support for Israel.
Pitt student group Panthers for Israel organized the event because its members thought Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that protests the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, was going to rally as well — but it didn’t.
The rally comes at a time when college campuses across the nation and the world have become a stage for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine hold events for what they call Israeli Apartheid Week, while pro-Israel groups respond with events for Israel Peace Week.
Jonas Moffat, president of Students for Justice in Palestine, said in a phone interview that the group usually has a monthly vigil called “Stand for Palestine” on Thursdays but decided to cancel because of spring break and midterms.
“It wasn’t like we didn’t have it because [members of Panthers for Israel] were there,” Moffat said.
Micah Toll, a junior and the business chair of Panthers for Israel, said he was there to show that students on campus support Israel and its right to exist.
“We just think that Israel as a country has a right to defend its borders, like any other country under attack, and live peacefully,” Toll said.
He said he “didn’t really understand” the pro-Palestinian side of the issue and that visiting Israel influenced his views.
“I’ve always been pro-Israel,” he said. “But I feel like until you go there, you don’t have the same perspective … It was very different to actually go there and talk to the people.”
Rebecca Yasner, a Carnegie Mellon student who attended the event, said she wanted to emphasize Israel’s status as a democracy.
“To say that is an apartheid state makes no sense,” she said.
She said people can be misled by “random bits of information that are taken out of context,” referring to some arguments made by those who are pro-Palestinian.
“I think a lot of times, people at college campuses get caught up with being liberal and proactive,” Yasner said. “They need to look at the facts.”
Moffat said that after spending time in Israel and the West Bank, he has seen policies that make Israel seem to him like an apartheid. For instance, some roads in the West Bank can only be traveled by Jewish drivers, and it’s difficult for Palestinians to pass through Israeli checkpoints to get to and from the West Bank, he said.
He said Palestinians have one license plate color while Israelis have another.
“If that isn’t apartheid, I don’t know what is,” Moffat said.
Another issue, he said, is that Israelis are moving Palestinians from East Jerusalem, which is located beyond the West Bank border. The government has encouraged Israeli settlers to move into that part of the city, he said.
At the rally, Yasner said that Israeli parliament has representatives from many different races and that such a democracy is not an apartheid state.
She said she doesn’t agree with everything Israel does and thought it was fair to criticize decisions made by countries.
“I sympathize with the Palestinian people in the sense that they need to pick themselves up and get good leadership,” Yasner said.
Moffat said he believed that Palestinians had good leadership, despite in-fighting within Palestinian political entities.
“There is great leadership that’s going on there,” he said. “Nonviolent demonstrations are happening all throughout the West Bank and Gaza.”