An Israel Independence Day celebration event at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee ended in physical violence and one arrest on Thursday, April 29. The altercation is unusual for the usually quiet UWM campus.
Held on Spaights Plaza on campus, Israelpalooza aimed to celebrate Israel with music, food, candle-making and a climbing wall. But when students from Hillel Milwaukee arrived at the plaza, they found the anti-Israel graffiti written in chalk all over the cement ground.
Students from Muslim Student Association and Students for a Democratic Society took responsibility for the graffiti, which included a swastika.
The physical confrontation began when two students from the MSA ascended the climbing wall and hung a Palestinian flag at its top. The estimated 11 MSA and SDS students then chanted “Free Palestine,” according to MSA president Yamin Masalkhi.
After a Jewish student removed the flag, Hillel affiliated student Simeon Joseph then attempted to throw the flag in a nearby garbage can, eliciting calls of protest from both sides.
According to Ilana Wolgel, Hillel’s director of Jewish Student Life, an MSA member then grabbed Joseph’s neck and punched his face. The attacker was arrested by UWM police.
The violence is unusual for Jewish-Muslim relations on campus, said Hillel director Heidi Rattner. “It’s my sixth year [at Hillel] and this is the first time we’ve had anything like this,” she said. “There is a very different atmosphere.”
MSA’s Masalkhi said that he blames both sides for the confrontation but was “saddened by how things turned out.”
“We don’t condone violence of course but we wanted to make our voice heard that 62 years of Israel is not a celebration to us.”
Masalkhi and Wolgel both expressed interest in creating opportunities for peaceful dialogue and have been talking about holding joint programs, they both said.
“We keep talking and talking and we’re finally getting serious about having a real discussion where both sides can be accurately discussed,” Wolgel said. “You can always find facts to support what you believe but I don’t think that’s the healthiest way to change things.
“I hope in my heart of hearts that something good comes out of this.”