“Good riddance,” cried out a member of the audience as more than 70 students left the event hosted by UNC Christians United for Israel on Tuesday night.
Guest speaker, Dumisani Washington, stood speechless at the podium. The room was quiet, but he heard the message loud and clear.
“You could cut this tension with a knife,” Washington said.
Christians United for Israel, an organization that aims to combat anti-Semitism at UNC, invited Washington to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically the controversial topic of Martin Luther King Jr.’s opinion of Israel.
The event was associated with a message of black solidarity with the Israel — a campaign supported by Washington. But with this stance came opposition from students who do not share the same views.
“As a black student, I wanted to make it clear that I did not agree with something like this,” sophomore Gabrielle Franklin said.
Senior Olivia Byrd, president of Christians United for Israel, said she thinks race might not play the role people think it does.
“Not everything is about race,” Byrd said. “A lot of people think that because they are people of color, they have to be anti-Zionism. But you can’t decide something because of your race.”
The students who organized a walk-out of Washington’s speech did so with the goal of showing their disapproval of his views.
“Martin Luther King stood for all oppressed people, regardless of race or creed,” Franklin said. “We feel that his words are being twisted to gain support from the black community.”
UNC Students for Justice in Palestine is a group comprised of students of various races and religious backgrounds. The group participated in the walk-out and led participants to the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for a screening of the movie “Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine,” which focused on King’s support of the Palestinian people.
“King had a dream. We have our American dream, but what is the Palestinian dream?” Franklin said. “What can the Palestinian dream be if they are forced to live in an oppressive state?”
But Tuesday’s event became another discussion that never was. Byrd said both sides of the conflict are polarized in their views, but across-the-table discussions rarely happen between the two sides due to their drastic differences.
“The issue is pretty much divided like this room is divided right now,” Washington said, before those participating in the walk-out left his speech.