Israel Block Party sparks annual protest

Samantha Ketterer

While more than a thousand students came to celebrate Israeli culture at the Israel Block Party on the East Mall, dozens protested the party from feet away.

Texas Hillel and Texans for Israel held their 17th annual block party, where students stopped to enjoy Israeli food, participate in discussion and take selfies with camels.

From across the street, the Palestine Solidarity Committee held a protest, as they have done almost every year the event has occurred. 

Moriah Sonsino, Israel Block Party co-chair and international relations and global studies sophomore, said the party is not a political statement.

“We don’t expect them to take away from any of our activities — we just do our own thing [and] make this as much as a cultural celebration as it is,” Sonsino said. “We try to focus on our own stuff and not focus on what anyone else is doing because this is a topic that we really, really care about.”

Ali Khan, an economics and computer science senior who helped organize the protest, said he believes the party adheres to a pro-Israeli political agenda.

“Our biggest goal is to send a specific message [and] express exactly what we feel the block party is doing, which is a propaganda event which hides a very heinous reality of cultural appropriation and genocide,” Khan said.

A group of students from the Palestinian Solidarity Committee held a protest across the street from the Israel Block Party. The committee believes that the party is a propaganda event. 

Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

For the first time, Israel Block Party organizers set up discussion tables in the East Mall so students could talk to others and express their opinions. The event also had multiple booths on different topics, including human rights, diversity, politics and innovation.

“Especially this year, we just want to make sure people have a good idea of what Israel is,” said Joshua Posner, Israel Block Party co-chair and undeclared junior. “We’re not trying to politicize the issue and make anyone have a certain opinion. We want people to form their own opinion based on what they see and the facts that are given to them.”

Khan said crimes committed against Palestinians are depicted in the media as “normal,” but that doesn’t make them acceptable.

“I think the resistance has to continue,” Khan said. “The struggle continues for Palestinians every day, whether or not there is military presence within Palestine. I think it’s important to point out that these are persistent issues.”

In the days leading up to Israel’s national elections last week, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would never support the establishment of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu, who is now working to form a new coalition government, had previously said he supported a two-state solution.

Since the election, Netanyahu has retracted his statement, but Mohammed Nabulsi, a law student who helped organize the protest, said he believes as long as Netanyahu is prime minister, unrest will only continue.

“Before, there was room within the Zionist movement to say, ‘No, no, no, we still want peace, and we still want a Palestinian state,’” Nabulsi said. “But, now that the right wing party in Israel has shown its teeth, there’s no denial that all the State of Israel cares to do is expand, to build settlements and continue to violate international law.”

Posner said the intention is still to celebrate Israel and its culture despite the political protest.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on in the region and a lot of unrest,” Posner said. “We just want people to understand that beyond all the politics of it, there’s a group of people, and there’s a worthwhile culture to understand.”