The treasurer of the Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) at IUPUI maligned me and The Collegiate Commons with demonstrably false accusations in front of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) at IUPUI on Friday, during an open forum. These regular meetings of the USG aim to foster an environment of open discussion about ideas to improve life on campus for students, and personal attacks are against the standards of the group.
“Jacob here claims we support Hamas,” exclaimed the treasurer after advertising for a pro-Palestinian protest MESA was hosting in downtown Indianapolis that afternoon, out of nowhere. He was referencing an article from earlier this week. The treasurer is also the USG senator for the University College Student Council, who he was representing at the meeting.
I will quote the portion of the article where his group was mentioned.
“Resistance is justified when people are occupied,” chanted Yaquob Saadeh, president of the Middle Eastern Student Association at IUPUI at the protest, leading the rest of the group.
The Collegiate Commons asked Saadeh if the chant referred to the actions of Hamas, but Saadeh claimed it referred to Palestinians in general. When asked about the end goal of the movement, Saadeh said it was to “hold Israel accountable” and “if you want to learn more, you can listen to the speakers.”
Nowhere did this article state their group supported Hamas. The group’s endorsement on social media of the event itself, whose organizers specifically praised Hamas as “Palestinian fighters” and “Palestinian resistance,” however, was noted.
You can read those statements made by the event organizers, which called the massacres of Jewish civilians by Hamas “a historic win” and said they have the “right to resist colonization” here and here. The national Party for Socialism and Liberation released an even more direct statement here.
(Notably, Jewish Voice for Peace was the only organization present to explicitly state that there is no justification for the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, although if they truly believe that, their choice of partnerships was unwise.)
Asking the president of MESA if his chant referred to Hamas, then, was clearly not unfair. He was given the chance to clarify MESA’s position and did so. The facts were clearly laid out in the article, making it hard to believe the accusations made by the treasurer during the meeting were anything but intentional falsehoods to turn the senate against a student organization and publication whose coverage he did not like.
The treasurer continued for about thirty seconds in front of the entire group. I attempted to refute him from across the room, until the leaders of the senate shut down the meeting to stop a full argument from breaking out in the chamber. The treasurer then went up to me afterwards to show me every time I mentioned Hamas in the article (which did not prove his point), and said “don’t say stupid sh*t like that, dog.”
As a journalist, I try to act in the public good. One aspect of the public good is “preventing the public from being misled by some statement or action of an individual or organization,” according to the British Press Complaints Commission. I did not expect to have to do that on behalf of my own organization.
Since it was an officer of MESA attacking me at an official USG meeting, I have no choice but to assume he was speaking for his organization. Evidently I have been a topic of discussion among them, as I have never talked to the treasurer before, nor was he referenced in the article that was written.
I do want to make something clear. We at The Collegiate Commons are supporters of free speech. If the executive board of MESA disliked our coverage of an event they were part of, they could have written a letter to the editor and we would have been glad to publish it.
Or, they could have written us an email pointing out anything they perceived as poorly-worded, as I told the treasurer. A pro-Palestinian friend of mine did so and we addressed what he pointed out. We just want to cover the news accurately and are glad to receive the input of the student body on how to do that better.
The Collegiate Commons is independent, but does not provoke controversy for controversy’s sake.
We would like reconciliation with the officers and members of MESA, but not at the expense of truth, especially not in response to attempts to embarrass and malign us in public settings. That goes for any group that tries to sway our coverage, whether that be through financial incentive or popular pressure campaigns against our staff.
We are all just students, trying to get our degrees and better ourselves. We can afford to be respectful of each other.
Lastly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is something I have studied for a long time. The longer I study it, the more I am convinced that my opinion is like carrying water to the sea. There is nothing I could say that has not already been said by people with far more education and knowledge than me. That is why the only public stances I have taken on the matter have not explicitly supported either side. I support peace, I want innocent people to be protected, and I want conflict de-escalated. I do not think praising, justifying, or “providing nuance” to the actions of terrorists does any of those things, and I hope that my fellow students, MESA officers, USG senators, and members of the Indianapolis community can understand and respect this perspective and the continued independence of The Collegiate Commons.