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Baker Institute must cancel ‘Israel at 75’ conference

Photos courtesy Alizay Akeem and Anna Rajagopal

By Alizay Azeem and Anna Rajagopal     4/18/23 9:38pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

This year marks the 75th year since the horrific events of the Nakba began. Al-Nakba, an Arabic phrase meaning ‘The Catastrophe,’ refers to Israel’s ethnic cleansing and violent dispossession of the Palestinian people and the establishment of the Zionist settler-colony. Between 1947 and 1949, 15,000 Palestinians were killed and over 750,000 were forcefully displaced by Zionist military forces to create the state of Israel. These events, cumulatively with the current violence perpetrated by the Zionist entity, have been characterized as genocide by Palestinian organizers, journalists, and activists working towards the liberation of their people from colonial rule.   

But the Nakba isn’t over — it’s ongoing. 75 years later, Israel continues its brutal oppression of the Palestinian people. Just last week, during the holy month of Ramadan, Israeli forces beat Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque bloody, injuring at least 31 and detaining over 400 —a violent attack condemned by the United Nations as “reckless and lawless.”

At a time when global support for Palestinian liberation is increasing, Rice University’s Baker Institute has not only turned a blind eye to the atrocities being committed by Israel but also has chosen to endorse them by hosting perpetrators of such violence on our campus. While Palestinians grieve 75 years of ongoing genocide, the Baker Institute’s “Israel at 75” conference — set to take place on April 27 — celebrates 75 years of Israeli colonization and aggression. We refuse to allow Rice University to engage in the normalization of Israeli aggression and demand the university cancel the conference.

Among the Zionists that the Baker Institute has invited are men who decorate their careers with the state-sanctioned murder of Palestinian men, women, and children. 

Rice plans on hosting Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister of Israel, who previously faced a war crimes arrest warrant for the murders of 1400 Palestinians during his role as Operation Cast Lead as the Defense Minister of Israel. While he acted as Defense Minister, it was found that the Israel Defense Forces violated international humanitarian law by using white phosphorus that created a ‘rain of fire,’ killing and injuring Palestinian civilians, as well as destroying schools and hospitals. Barak has also maintained a steady siege on Gaza, expanded the apartheid wall and ordered the assassinations of Palestinian political leaders. Institutions such as Yale University have faced criticism for hosting him in past years, as he is recognized by many as a war criminal.  

Also invited to Rice University is Isaac Herzog, the current President of Israel, who further entrenches fascism into the lives of Palestinians; since his election, hundreds of Zionists have burned Palestinian homes and cars to the ground. Instead of actively working to counter this violence from his position of authority, Herzog has simply offered platitudes. 

Michael Herzog is also set to appear, a former military strategist for Israel who is an indicted war criminal. Herzog faced proceedings in Spain for his 2002 ‘al-Daraj’ bombings of civilians in Gaza, Palestine, killing nine children.   

But we, as Rice University students, committed to justice for all peoples on our campus, don’t have to idly stand by while Rice spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on catering to men who are recognized to have engaged in the most brutal of war acts against civilians and families. We must refuse to allow the normalization of colonialism and apartheid on our campus. Rice, an institution that claims to  “contribute to the betterment of the world,” should lead by action and immediately cancel “Israel at 75.” 

Our campus is home to Palestinian students, organizations and community; what is Rice saying to them when our university hosts men who have massacred Palestinian villages? Rice University Students for Justice Palestine, in collaboration with Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Houston, Palestinian Youth Movement Houston and Jewish Voice for Peace Houston, have invited us to sign a petition demanding better from and for our home.

When we demonstrate principled solidarity towards freedom — when we refuse the comforting insularity of staying behind Rice’s hedges and instead push for more — we decide who we are. Are we going to be a student body that is okay with war criminals coming to our campus? Or are we going to make a stand? All oppression is interconnected, and, so too, is all liberation; from standing with the peoples of the Philippines to supporting Indigenous rights movements here on Turtle Island — nobody’s free until everybody’s free. 

Editor’s Note: Anna Rajagopal is the Thresher’s social media manager.

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