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Photo provided courtesy of The University of Texas at Austin

Annual Israel Block Party sparks protest

Texans for Israel and Texas Hillel were met with protest from the Palestine Solidarity Committee on Wednesday as they held the 15th annual Israel Block Party on the South Mall. The block party is meant to celebrate the accomplishments of Israel.
Photo provided courtesy of The University of Texas at Austin

Student protest over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict surfaced on campus again Wednesday, as the Palestine Solidarity Committee protested against the 15th annual Israel Block Party.

Texans for Israel and Texas Hillel hold the block party annually to celebrate the accomplishments of Israel, according to unspecified business and plan II freshman Daley Epstein and government and plan I junior Ben Mendelson, presidents of Texans for Israel. They said this year the event, which was held on the South Mall, celebrated the food, multiculturalism, entertainment and scientific achievements of Israel, along with the bipartisan strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship and the democratic strength of Israel.

The six-hour block party consisted of more than a dozen activities including tabling, giveaways and Israeli food sales.

In response to the event, Palestine Solidarity Committee set up tables across the street from the block party to educate people about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began in the mid-20th century and consists of a disagreement between the Israeli and Palestinian people over citizenship, borders, security and rights to natural resources. The conflict included a spike in violence in late 2012, at which time U.S. President Barack Obama voiced his support of Israel’s “right to defend itself.” Several protests took place on campus over the conflict during the spike in violence.

Latin American studies senior Jonathon Orta, an authority for the Palestine Solidarity Committee, said the Israel Block Party is annually used to paint an incorrect picture of Israel.

“[The block party] reinforces the idea that Israel is a democratic, progressive
state, while ignoring or glossing over very real human rights violations,” Orta said.

Mendelson said Texans for Israel supports the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s right to speak out, a view in line with that of the State of Israel.

“We value freedom of speech, just like the State of Israel,” Mendelson said.

Palestine Solidarity Committee typically makes appearances at events hosted by campus organizations promoting Israel advocacy.

With approximately 50 active members, Texans for Israel is the largest Israel student organization at the university that arranges events such as guest lectures, cultural movie nights and dances and pro-Israel lobbying on the West Mall to promote discussion and interest in Israel.

It is part of Texas Hillel, a student organization that works to promote Jewish life on campus.

Orta said that Palestine Solidarity Committee has protested the Israel Block party in the past, and it never escalates to violence, but is purely symbolic.

“We are here and we disagree,” Orta said.

Still, several University of Texas Police Department officers monitored the events.

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