Students Seek More Education on Israel and Palestine

More than 75 percent of Andover students do not feel the school has adequately educated them about Israel and Palestine, according to The Phillipian’s 2024 State of the Academy (SOTA). 


SOTA is the annual anonymous survey sent out to Andover’s student body containing 146 questions regarding aspects of student life on campus, politics and worldview, education, and more. 


After Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, The Phillipian published an editorial on October 13 calling for the school to provide education on the matter. Later that morning during All-School Meeting, Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington spoke briefly on conflict in the Middle East, noting that educational programming would be available soon. Seven weeks later, on December 6, Frank Tipton, former Instructor in History at Andover, delivered a 75-minute introduction to the history of Israel and Palestine, entitled “Israel-Palestine 101.” Now, over 5 months later, the school has not organized another educational opportunity intended for the full campus community.


Sami Tokat ’26, Co-Head of the Muslim Student Association (MSU) and upcoming Co-President of Southwest Asian and North African Society (SWANA), viewed Tipton’s presentation as a relatively neutral explanation of the history between Israel and Palestine. However, he noted the pause in Andover’s efforts to bring light to the situation, despite the conflict’s continued development. 


“We wanted something more unbiased, and that’s what we got with [Tipton’s presentation]. But after that, nothing really came afterward, and that’s really important because this situation is changing, it’s an active situation. The attacks happened on October 7th. This conflict didn’t end on October 8th, it’s still going on, and it’s still ever-changing, and it’s still dynamic,” said Tokat. 


Prior to Tipton’s talk, the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CaMD) hosted a conversation between the members of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), Southwest Asian and North African Society (SWANA), and Jewish Student Union (JSU) to better understand how the conflict was affecting students, according to an email statement to The Phillipian from Raynard Kington, Head of School. Subsequently, Co-Heads of MSA, JSU, and SWANA published a Letter to the Editor on November 3 declaring their unity and mutual solidarity. CaMD also invited educators from the Fig Tree Alliance to meet with members from the chaplaincy and students from the JSU, MSA, and SWANA. 


Ella Kowal ’25, President of the JSU, commended these initial efforts but spoke on the importance of having continued efforts that address the ongoing conflict, noting the risks of having it fall into the background.


“We started off really strong, having Tipton come speak, and then we kind of just forgot about it. Obviously, the conflict is still going on and obviously, anti-semitism in the United States is rising, so there needs to be more to address both, whether that’s consistently bringing speakers in talking about anti-semitism in our institution [or] understanding what’s going on recently. It’s definitely something that’s going on. It seems like other things have just taken precedence and we’ve just stopped having these conversations. That’s the danger,” said Kowal.


Regarding the SOTA statistic, Rabbi Joshua Greenberg, Andover’s Jewish Chaplain, applauded students for recognizing their incomplete knowledge, noting that Andover is the place to learn.


“Specifically for our community here, based on the resources that have been available, while not exhaustive and not perfect, [organizing Tipton’s talk] was better than nothing,” said Greenberg. “I find it very inspiring that students here are humble enough to admit that they don’t know everything, are honest enough about that, and display a sense of curiosity to learn more.”


He continued, “My message to students at Andover, or the 76 percent of students who don’t know enough is, good for you for acknowledging that you don’t know enough. That’s not on the students. In fact, I mean, obviously, it’s cliche, but we’re a school. This is a high school. What’s a better place to learn about something?


Kington confirmed future initiatives to continue conversations on the campus both this and next year. He connected this programming to the broader goal of fostering civil discourse for difficult topics.


“Looking ahead, CaMD, the Dean of Students Office, College Counseling, and Sykes Wellness Center are planning an opportunity for seniors to discuss the protests on college campuses and the impact this will have on their entrance into college. And for all of us returning to campus in the fall, I look forward to introducing programming aimed at building our capacity for civil discourse and respectful discussions. This initiative will be broadly framed and not only applicable to discussion around the Middle East conflict,” wrote Kington in an email to The Phillipian on May 22, 2024.


Tokat concluded by speaking on how he hopes students will be able to maintain respectful conversations, even though the topics of these conversations are difficult and often polarizing. 


“Though there may be Israeli sides, Israeli perspectives, and Palestinian perspectives, it should not lead to any anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. In an educational environment, this is the most important thing, that in our discussions of these topics, these important questions, that it does not lead to anti-Semitism, it does not lead to Islamophobia or any hatred of any kind,” said Tokat.