In the wake of more than a month of tension on campus, a group of roughly 75 people filled the rows of Woodburn 120 on Thursday evening to hear an Israeli-American speaker discuss the evolution of his perspective on Israel and Palestine. A Jewish student asked how to talk to her family about her pro-Palestine views. A man who grew up in Algeria under France’s colonial rule spoke of the connection he felt with Palestinians. A Palestinian-American rested his head on his hand, his wrist encircled with beaded bracelets in the colors of the Palestinian flag.
It was an academic discussion in one of IU’s most iconic buildings, but the event was no ordinary ordeal — despite weeks of planning, the Palestine Solidarity Committee and co-organizer professor Abdulkader Sinno were unable to reserve the room.
Feeling frustrated and silenced, they refused to relent.
Two attempts to reserve a room denied
On Nov. 6, Abdulkader Sinno, an IU political science and Middle Eastern studies professor, submitted a form to reserve Woodburn 120 for an event he decided to co-sponsor with the Palestine Solidarity Committee. The event, set for Nov. 16, would feature writer and activist Miko Peled. A few hours after he submitted the request, the reservation was approved.
On Tuesday, eight days later, Sinno received a phone call from Asaad Alsaleh, chair of the Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures Department, around 10 p.m. Sinno said Alsaleh told him he had made a mistake on the form he submitted. When Sinno listed MELC as his department, it had given the false impression it was a department-sanctioned event. Sinno said it was an honest mistake and that he assumed the “Department” field simply meant he needed to specify his department. As a result, Sinno canceled the reservation and told the PSC to reserve space via the student form, he said.
Alsaleh did not respond to a request for comment by publication.
When the PSC submitted its own form, it was denied by Space Reservations at IU around 6 p.m. Wednesday due to the short notice of the event and IU’s determination that security measures would be necessary, according to emails shared with the IDS. Mary Waggoner, event services coordinator for Space Reservations at IU, wrote in an email to the PSC that the event could still take place — just not Thursday. When the president of the PSC responded saying the organization had already paid for the flight and expenses of the speaker, Mara Dahlgren, director at the Student Involvement and Leadership Center, reiterated the event would have to be canceled.
All public events hosted by student organizations with a large attendance are required to have security measures, Dahlgren wrote in her email. She said IU Public Safety and the IU Police Department could not “accommodate the security and safety needs required for hosting the event safely,” partly because the event information had been made public, requiring additional security measures.
The president of the PSC told the IDS he believed the event was denied because of the fact it involved a speaker who expressed views in support of Palestine and not because of issues with security. IU had been able to provide same-day security measures Oct. 9 when the PSC organized a vigil in front of Sample Gates, he said.
Professor receives conduct violation
Around 1 p.m. Thursday, Nick Cullather, interim dean of the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, sent a notice of “conduct violation” to Sinno via email.
In the letter, Cullather claimed Sinno falsely or incorrectly indicated the room reservation was for an academic event and not for a student organization. He writes Sinno listed the MELC as his department even though the chair of the MELC department declined to sponsor the event. He said the department reserves the right to determine which events it would like to sponsor.
“Arrogating that privilege for one's own convenience is simply selfish and uncollegial,” he wrote. “Further, violating university procedures by falsifying a form is actionable, with consequences that could affect your career.”
Cullather referenced an IU policy that prohibits “forgery or unauthorized alteration of university documents, records, or databases, or knowingly submitting false information for an official university purpose,” and wrote he is putting a copy of his letter in Sinno’s personnel file. Any further misconduct, Cullather wrote, may lead to a conduct investigation, which could result in an official sanction according to IU policy.
Neither Cullather nor IU responded to a request for comment by publication.
In an email response to the letter, Sinno reiterated the mistake with the form was a misunderstanding and said his apology to the department chair was not an acknowledgement of intentional falsification.
He further argued the room was for an academic event because he was a co-sponsor with the PSC.
“If I decide, as a qualified faculty member, that it is of academic interest, then it is an academic event,” he wrote. “The fact that student organization Palestine Solidarity Committee also sponsors it does not negate its academic value.”
Sinno wrote he believed administrators were only making this an issue because of pressure from “politically motivated pro-Israel activists” due to the nature of the event.
“Please allow the talk to take place. Please stop punishing Arab, Muslim and Palestinian students and community members,” he wrote. “Please be ethical.”
The dispute follows a week rife with controversy, which began when members of IU Student Government resigned Nov. 13, accusing the IUSG president of failing to address antisemitism on campus. The resignations prompted a letter from U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana on Nov. 15 where he said IU could lose federal funding if administrators “condone or tolerate” antisemitism.
Students and faculty have told the IDS they’ve seen an increase in both antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, which killed more than 1,400 Israelis, and Israel’s retaliation, which has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians as of Nov. 16.
The PSC and Sinno host the event
Despite being denied the room reservation, the event took place as scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Woodburn 120. The event organizers said they saw IU employees with keys trying to lock the room, which they viewed as a further attempt to prevent the event from taking place.
The speaker, Miko Peled, is a proponent of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — a movement launched in 2005 aiming to push Israel to recognize the rights of Palestinians through political and economic pressure. In 2016, Indiana passed a law requiring the Indiana Public Retirment System to divest from companies engaged in the BDS campaign. Dozens of states have passed similar laws, which organizations such as the ACLU have criticized as threats to citizens’ right to boycott.
Peled grew up in Jerusalem and is the grandson of one of the signers of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the son of an Israeli general. At the event, Peled said he even served in the Israel Defense Forces himself, though he now regrets it. After his sister lost her daughter in a suicide bombing in 1997, Peled said he was driven to reexamine the assumptions that guided his life from his Zionist upbringing.
“The only time we are actually forced to change the way we view the world, to question our own beliefs deeply, is when something terrible happens,” he said.
Peled said the violence people are experiencing in Gaza has been going on for decades, and nothing has changed. The issue now is the violence has become normalized, he said.
“There is nothing normal about this,” he said. “How can we possibly see something like this and then move on to something else?”
A proponent of a single-state solution, Peled said the only possibility of peace is a future with Israelis and Palestinians living with equal rights under one democratic Palestine. Peled’s view contrasts with the two-state solution, which has seen dwindling support among both Palestinians and Israelis but is still the prevailing policy goal of the U.S., according to a recent statement from President Joe Biden.
Living in Jerusalem, he said he saw stark differences between the Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods because of the unequal distribution of water. A 2021 report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found Israel’s discriminatory practices and exploitation of natural resources severely harmed Palestinian communities and infringed upon their human rights.
People do not learn this side of the story in school or see it in the media, he said. There is a void, Peled said, that can only be filled by raising the level of conversation on Palestine.
Peled thanked the pro-Palestinian organizations on campus for showing up to Thursday’s event despite the room reservation cancellation. With events like this, he said, the organizations were forcing the campus to have a conversation about Palestine.
“This is part of the resistance,” he said. “This is standing shoulder to shoulder with the people in Palestine who are resisting every single moment of every single day of their lives. The variety of the different forms of resistance — from just getting up in the morning to going to school to getting a degree to raising children to teaching to operating a hospital — the very things we take for granted, they’re all acts of resistance for Palestinians.”
Despite its name, Peled argued the Palestine Solidarity Committee was not merely engaging in acts of solidarity. They were standing up and resisting.
“Solidarity is when you see someone dying on the street and you say, ‘hang in there buddy,’ and you walk away,” Peled said. “Resistance is going down and saving this person from dying – stopping the bleeding. That’s what we’re doing. Palestine is bleeding to death. And we haven’t seen the worst yet.”