Despite initial controversy, tensions between some supporters of Israel and the UCSB Lebanese Club appeared mostly quelled yesterday after the organization decided to provide American Students for Israel with a table at its first annual fair.
The First Annual Middle Eastern Fair, hosted by the Lebanese Club, began at 11 a.m. and included desserts, belly dancers and various tables representing the cultures of seven different countries such as Syria and Jordan. However, in the weeks prior to the event, tensions rose when members of UCSB’s ASI discovered the event on Facebook.com and felt excluded.
ASI Co-President Courtney Toretto said she was originally shocked by the Lebanese Club’s omission of a booth for Israel.
“I was very surprised there was going to be a Middle Eastern fair on campus, but no Israel,” she said. “Their goal was to educate and they can’t do that without including Israel.”
According to members of both the ASI and Lebanese clubs, comments made on the popular networking site regarding the event, which were eventually deleted, polarized the situation. Toretto said some of the comments on the event’s Facebook group exacerbated the issue.
“There were already hostilities on Facebook,” Toretto, a fourth-year political science major said. “Because you don’t have a conversation face to face, you don’t realize how words have consequences. People don’t censor themselves.”
Lebanese Club President Alexander Baradei said the situation went too far and that the two groups could have easily resolved the matter sooner.
“There was no reason not to grant Israel a table, someone just needed to ask [the club’s administration],” Baradei said.
Toretto said she eventually approached the Associated Students Legislative Council with the issue, referencing a $4,146 allocation made to the Middle Eastern Fair on April 24 by A.S. Finance Board.
“What we ask[ed] is not to withhold funding from events that promote diversity, but to make sure there is no discrimination in such events,” she said.
Lebanese Club Vice President for Administration Aymen Ramlaoui, a first-year business economics major, said the group was not initially aware of the conflict, nor was he contacted by ASI members. He said the countries chosen for representation at the event were based upon the nationalities of his club’s members.
“The leadership of the Lebanese club didn’t know about the controversy,” Ramlaoui said. “This is not a political event. There are no Israelis in the Lebanese club. We didn’t invite everybody. [For example,] we didn’t invite the Assyrian Club.”
However, Toretto, said ASI members felt slighted because Israel is often excluded at the international level and also faces global opposition.
“Any other club it wouldn’t be as big of a deal, but because Israel is de-legitimized as a country, it does feel like discrimination,” she said.
Lebanese Club member June Hamad, a freshman biopsychology major, said the group did not intend to offend ASI.
“Unfortunately and surprisingly, ASI thought the Lebanese Club was making a political statement because we did not think to put a table for Israel initially,” Hamad said. “I can’t imagine what the political statement would be, and now I am very worried for the reputation of the Lebanese Club.”
Following the disputes, the Lebanese Club agreed to include ASI at its event. Toretto said the fair turned out well and that the relations between the two clubs are now improving.
“It was a very lovely affair, everything I’d hoped for,” she said. “We’re hoping it will open channels in organizations.”