Dozens of students, faculty and community members gathered last Friday to hear a lecture discussing “The Dome of the Rock,” an exhibit that was on display in Paresky last week. Presenting his “Khud’aa Lecture,” Dov Khenin ’82 was to speak about the relationship between aesthetics and politics. On the wall in Griffin 6 hung a composite image of a golden dome where Stetson is currently located.
An influential Israeli political scientist and lawyer, Khenin has been a leading member of the Israeli Communist Party since 1990. Abdullah Awad ’13, who organized the event, explained that Khenin graduated from the College in 1982 and joined the Board of Trustees in 2004.
When the lecture was supposed to begin, Awad approached the audience, explaining that the lecturer had been delayed. He then went on to provide background on Khenin and to explain the divestment campaign around which Khenin’s Dome of the Rock project was centered.
“The divestment campaign, called Boycott Divestment Sanctions [BDS], is an ongoing campaign focusing on military, academic and cultural boycotts of institutions that support or profit from Israeli occupation,” Awad said. “This movement attempts to highlight the complexity of an occupation situation in its complex approach to a solution.”
Awad continued to speak for Khenin, commenting on his 2006 proposal for the construction of a replica of the Dome of the Rock, a shrine in Jerusalem, on campus. Since 1967, the Dome of the Rock has been open to all, although regulations restrict full access to non-Muslims. The project was coupled with a movement advocating divesting funding from companies that profit from Israeli occupation. Khenin hoped that this project would act as a symbol of support of Jews and non-Jews against occupation and apartheid.
Awad explained that it is impossible to remain apolitical in our stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Complacency is a political choice because our political system supports occupation and apartheid by doing nothing to change it.
At the end of his speech, Awad revealed that Khenin never planned to come to the College. In fact, the entire event was a fabricated replication of the exhibit, created entirely by Awad. Khenin did not graduate from the College and did not serve on the Board of Trustees, nor was the Dome’s construction on campus ever proposed.
Like the picture of the Dome, the event was an aesthetic of its own, a performance meant “to create a space for various members of the Williams community to think about what a just and equitable solution to the Israeli/Palestinian issue might look like,” Awad said. He related the theatrical nature of his project to politics in its vernacular, goal of convincing an audience and manipulation of how we appear in the world before others.
“The lecture component had two aims. The first was to explain the ways in which various groups – and particularly Palestinians and progressive Jews – have come together to resist Israeli occupation by divesting from Israeli militarism, as well as by supporting a boycott of the occupation,” Awad said. “The second aim was to open things up for a discussion about the exhibit, the relationship between politics and aesthetics and the roles we have to play in academia.”
Awad also responded to criticism about his methods, “integral to the project’s completion is this discussion … the lying component collapses because we are talking about it openly,” he said. Audience members believed that the Dome of the Rock project was a true possibility. “There is a shared symbol in that possibility, and that possibility is my hope in life,” Galit Hasan-Rokem, the Croghan bicentennial visiting professor in Jewish studies, said in the discussion following the lecture.
“The outcome of the lecture was an organic discussion about the prejudices of history, and the importance of critically interrogating our political complacency,” Awad continued. “There was plenty of healthy disagreement, which highlighted the necessity of this sort of event.”