Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Biden Institute event seeks to bridge information gaps regarding Israeli-Palestinian conflict

NewsCampus NewsBiden Institute event seeks to bridge information gaps regarding Israeli-Palestinian conflict

BY
Staff Reporter

As the complex geopolitical crisis in Israel and Gaza continues to unfold, university students are left not only to process their own intense feelings, but also to navigate a storm of devastating headlines, misinformation and hate speech. That storm consumes both social media feeds and social atmospheres on campus. 

On Oct. 17, the Biden Institute invited Kamran Bokhari, an adjunct political science professor at the university, to share insight with students and community members struggling to comprehend the situation. The event, titled “History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” was just that: a history lesson and a conversation. 

Bokhari, an expert in geopolitical analysis of the Middle East, reiterated throughout the evening that the event’s purpose was not to debate or share opinions but rather an opportunity to learn. 

“I know this is a very confusing time,” Bokhari said. “It’s confusing for me as well because even though I have studied this for a long time, it gets overwhelming … This conversation that we are going to have is going to help you, not just this evening, but moving forward, in terms of being able to process and make sense of things that you hear.” 

In just 30 minutes, Bokhari recapped over a century of Middle Eastern history to a crowd of 165 university students, faculty, staff and community members. In his lecture, Bokhari mapped out how the territories still being disputed today have shifted since World War I. 

To simplify the history for the audience, Bokhari organized the content of his talk into three topics: the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the intra-Palestinian conflict between Hamas and Fatah. 

In an interview with The Review, Bokhari shared that, when preparing for this presentation, he used the same approach he uses with his course POSC 377: Arab-Israeli Politics. Rather than inundating students with dates and specific details, he wanted to provide a “strategic landscape” of the conflict.

“There’s a disconnect between what they’re hearing in the media and what they’re learning in class, so in both cases I wanted to bridge that gap,” Bokhari said.

The Biden Institute event was organized in less than a week following the unprecedented surge of violence between Hamas-led Palestinian militant groups and Israeli military forces on Oct. 7. 

As a result, the event also fell within National Free Speech Week. Each year, the university participates in the annual celebration of freedom of speech and freedom of the press by sponsoring campus-wide events that promote self-expression and diverse viewpoints. 

This year, the campaign was instead met with a student population hesitant to share their political views considering the tension surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Lourdes Agyemang, a freshman triple major in public policy, political science and public health, regularly participates in her class discussions on global politics. However, she expressed that she was hesitant to converse with her friends about such a “complicated issue” before attending Bokhari’s talk. 

“I feel like [the conflict] has been relevant on campus and in my classes,” Agyemang said. “Most of my friends from home share the same political beliefs as me, so we have been having discussions about it. I have not talked about it with my friends on campus, though, because we are newer, and we don’t really know each other as well yet.” 

Senior Sean Taggart, on the other hand, takes on the role of political correspondent within his friend group on campus. By attending Bokhari’s lecture, Taggart feels more confident to inform his friends, who are less familiar with international politics, on the topic. 

“Before you jump in and share your opinion on certain issues, it is important you do your homework,” Taggart said. “Take the opportunity of being here at UD to get your information from good sources.”

Both Agyemang and Taggart shared that Bokhari’s presentation was successful at bridging the gaps in their knowledge of the crisis. Additionally, they found that the conflict was more “complex” than they realized and expressed that they intend to learn more. 

This is exactly what Bokhari had hoped for.

“Maintain constant situational awareness,” Bokhari advised the audience. “Read. I know time is limited, especially for students in university, but to read and to write, have a diverse set of sources from where you get your information and debate. 

“Do not take anything for granted. Ask questions. It should be a lifelong endeavor. Today it is this conflict, tomorrow there is going to be something else.” 

Across the country, college campuses have observed a rise in anti-Arab and antisemitic hate speech amid the Israel-Hamas war. Despite this fearful reality, Bokhari shared that there were no reservations in the planning of the lecture. Bokhari explained that the presentation was intentionally prepared in a way meant to combat the spread of hate and misinformation with unbiased education. 

That being said, to ensure student safety, two university police officers were present in Trabant Theater throughout the duration of the presentation. In addition, political signs and posters were not permitted at the event. 

“The more you will be informed, the more likely it is that you will be able to understand where the other person is coming from,” Bokhari said. “That really is helpful for the health of our democracy and for social harmony. 

“The only way to move beyond this current state of affairs we find ourselves in nationally and internationally is to know as much as possible and use that knowledge to better yourself and to better others.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. “The Biden Institute event was organized in less than a week following the unprecedented surge of violence between Hamas-led Palestinian militant groups and Israeli military forces on Oct. 7.”

    That is not a valid description of what happened on October 7. Shameful.

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