The Israel Block Party celebrated its 20-year anniversary Wednesday afternoon, bringing with it a community celebration to learn about Israel — the good and the bad.
Organized by Texas Hillel and Texans for Israel, the event celebrates the culture of Israel through food, activities and education. People of all backgrounds gathered in the East Mall for the annual celebration after a delayed start due to weather.
“The event is celebrating the culture and diversity of Israel and how amazing of a country it is,” event organizer Rachel Sasiene said. “We celebrate Israel for being a leader in investment capital and innovation and technology. We have over 20 vendors and booths here to explain any aspect of Israel to anyone passing by.”
Another 20-year anniversary was the annual protest of the event by the Palestine Solidarity Committee and pro-Palestine students. About 30 students gathered outside of the Block Party handing out flyers about Palestine, holding anti-Israel signs and chanting “Free Palestine.”
In a statement, the Palestine Solidarity Committee said it protests this event every year to speak out against what they say is an ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people in Israel.
“The Block Party portrays Israel as a fun and carefree place, one where Palestinians and the daily violence committed against them does not exist,” the statement said. “By whitewashing Israel’s crimes and disseminating false propaganda about Israel, Zionist organizations that host the party seek to normalize the genocide and forced removal of Palestinians from their lands. … An apartheid state should not be celebrated on this campus.”
Members of the committee and several protesters declined to individually comment on this story.
Sasiene, a Jewish studies and history senior, said the event makes an effort to educate the community about the issues that exist in Israel.
“To us, it’s really important to not only celebrate Israel for all of its great aspects but to also address the problematic aspects,” Sasiene said. “Over the last 20 years, we have added lots of forms of dialogue to address the good and the bad.”
Sasiene said many students working the block party have been to Israel and seen the country firsthand. She hopes students coming to the block party will look at Israel as a whole and not focus on one particular issue as defining the whole country.
“We have our own Jewish center off campus where we talk and debate Israel and talk about Jewish culture,” Sasiene said. “To really educate people who may not know, we bring this event to campus to educate the masses.”
Attendees of the Block Party were able to visit educational booths to learn about the Israeli government, politics and Jewish culture. Vendors sold Jewish foods and items including hamsa necklaces, burekas, shawarma and falafel. Two camels even made an appearance and were available for photos. The event welcomed Jewish and non-Jewish members alike from the UT and Austin community.
“Israel is the only country in the world where it’s not only normal to be Jewish, but where Jews control our own political future,” said Jason Taper, campus relations for Texas Hillel. “I am very passionate about celebrating the culture and celebrating its existence.”