add_theme_support( 'post-thumbnails' );Openness and Empathy: Boisi Center Talks Israel-Palestine - BANG.

Openness and Empathy: Boisi Center Talks Israel-Palestine

Even before the Boisi Center's "Can We Talk About Israel/Palestine?" event started, the overwhelming interest in the panel was apparent. Four days leading up to it, the event underwent some changes: it was relocated from Gasson 305 to the Heights Room to accommodate the unanticipated audience size, and newly incorporated a chance for audience participation in a field Q&A from the audience of students and BC community members. It was clear that many were longing for a space of discussion and insight into the highly contentious conflict. 

The Boisi Center for Religion & American Public Life embodies a critical mission of fostering connection and conversation in civil and scholarly spaces in pursuit of the common good of a religiously diverse society. The Center hosts numerous lecture series and events featuring scholars, policymakers, and religious leaders from around the nation. Event topics from Spring 2024 alone span from the U.S. Catholic history in light of clerical sex abuse cases to examining spiritual connection and artificial intelligence. For the Israel-Palestine event in particular, the Center highlighted that it was "an internal conversation" about "strategies for having respectful conversations about difficult topics." 

In the month following the October 7th attack by Hamas, the Boisi Center had prepared a resource guide for contextualizing the Israel-Hamas War. It features both Israel and  Palestine-centered voices, and other historical contexts. As preparations for this panel had been under review for months, it was clear that the Center and the panelists had been constantly gauging BC students' interest in the conflict and debating approaches to best facilitate this panel. To start the conversation, the panel moderator relayed a message of respect, honoring diverse viewpoints and understanding that disagreements are natural and can actually foster complex and advanced dialogue. 

For this event in particular, the panelists were four BC faculty members and professors: Professor Marsin Alshamary, Dr. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, Professor Peter Krause, and Professor Jonathan Laurence. Professor Alshamary is an assistant professor of political science and a scholar of Middle Eastern politics. Dr. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski is the Kraft Family Professor of the Theology Department and Director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning. Professor Krause is an Associate Professor of Political Science specializing in international security and political violence. Finally, Professor Jonathan Laurence is a Professor of Political Science and Director of the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy. Each panelist brought in their expertise and personal takes on how to perceive and contextualize the Israel-Palestine history and aspects of contention. 

To start the discussion, each panelist was asked to deliver a 3-minute presentation on what they chose to highlight about the war and their choice of best frameworks from which to conceive the conflict. Professor Alshamary began with various statistics and facts about casualties and grievances in both the Palestinian and Israeli populations, humanizing the conflict, especially within civilian populations. She acknowledged her choice in removing much of her academic lens in her dialogue as she felt compelled to focus on the devastation and value of life of those affected most. Envisioning a viable end to the conflict, Professor Alshamary noted that ceasefire and the release of hostages will not be sufficient in ensuring continued peace and generational rebuilding. Therefore, she called for continuous conversation and compromises on both sides. Similarly, Professor Joslyn-Siemiatkoski discussed the importance of knowing that generational amelioration and immediate relief are necessary in conflict resolution. As a scholar of Jewish-Christian relations, he presented comparative theology of the Israel-Palestine conflict and addressed single-identity misconceptions of both Palestinian and Jewish communities. Civil societies are never of one single ground, he shared, citing examples such as non-Jewish Israeli peoples and Christian Palestinian communities. 

Articulating a framework beyond a conflict of religion, Professor Krause and Professor Laurence offered political and historical viewpoints of the conflict. Professor Laurence pointed out the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians fell victim to European occupation, calling it a "terrible and tragic irony." Professor Krause offered frames of nationalism, political violence, and contested sacred sites as points of conflict beyond Jewish vs. Muslim narratives that dominate the media. 

The room was filled with students, faculty, and other members of the BC community. Following the questions asked by the moderator, undergraduate students and community members were given a chance to present their questions to the panelists. Students asked panelists questions such as: What is your envisionment of peace efforts and treaties? What has the U.S. press gotten right, and what have they missed in covering the conflict? What are the contexts for using the word "genocide," and why have the panelists not used the word "genocide"? These questions brought forth insight on the complexities in global response to the conflict, such as discussion on Germany's promise of "never again" and supporting Israeli forces, but navigating this commitment in light of rising tolls in Gaza. Another critical point made in response to the question about the U.S. press was how American sources tend to use misleading and eye-catching headlines and choose to underrepresent many aspects of the conflict. Panelists encouraged the audience to step outside of only US-centric coverage of the conflict and to seek humanized sources. 

As the event sought to incorporate diverse viewpoints and thorough contextualization of the conflict, a tip-toeing, tense environment was evident at times. The goal of the Boisi Center is not one of indoctrination nor debate but to foster respect and understanding in an increasingly polarized and diverse society of intersectionality on identities such as religion. It made sense then that even with some pointing questions proposed by audience members, panelists maintained a broad, scholarly response to those difficult questions. They encouraged the audience to refuse "either-or" mentalities and single-source narratives. Most of all, they emphasized empathy as a powerful force in facilitating these conversations. 

As Boston College students and faculty grapple with the ongoing war, questions of freedom of speech and expression have arisen. Just across the Charles River, Harvard University had faced various challenges, from the controversy and resignation of its former president, Claudia Gay, to the infamous doxxing truck. Here at Boston College, frustrations have arisen about the relative silence of the campus community and administrators– individuals and groups have argued that vigils and prayer sessions were insufficient in facilitating open dialogue about the conflict. At the event, several individuals were seen wearing black-and-white keffiyehs on their shoulders as an expression of support for the Palestinian movement. In a broader context, a petition condemning the BC administration's choice to place two BC graduate students in disciplinary action has been circulating. The graduate students were part of a multiracial, interfaith group that engaged in a silent demonstration in support of Palestine. This all brings attention to questions of the state of free speech and expression on BC's campus and among the BC community, regardless of the polarity of people's individual views on the Israel-Palestine conflict or any contentious issue overall. 

The panelists themselves have articulated that as a higher education institution, Boston College has the obligation to take on challenging and contentious issues despite fear, despite complexity, and despite consequences. Thus is the heightened interest shown in the opportunity spearheaded by the Boisi Center that allowed a space for such conversations. Regardless of personal beliefs, it is clear that the BC community longs for engagement in intellectual spaces whilst upholding the values of empathy, respect, and differences.