BYU professor teaches class on Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Protestors at the Utah County Stands with Palestine Ceasefire Protest hold signs outside the Provo Library on Nov. 4, 2023. Protests have been held throughout Utah over the past year in protest of terrorist attacks and conflict in Palestine. (Alice Gubler)

As attention has been focused on U.S. college protests concerning the Israel-Hamas war, BYU political science professor David Romney said a key step to helping those affected by the conflict is first learning more about other peoples’ narratives.

Romney taught several political science classes during winter semester 2024, including a class called POLI 474: Arab-Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. POLI 474 had around 30 students and was reasonably popular among political science students, Romney said.

“We spent a lot of time talking about narratives and talking about the frames that people use to incorporate new information into their worldview,” Romney said. “That’s really where a lot of the differentiation happens between the two sides. … Each of them has a different narrative.”

Students in POLI 474 come to the class with a variety of reasons for being there, Romney said. While some come to class with a lot of background knowledge on the conflict, others do not have a strong opinion.

“BYU students are really great and the students taking that class are no exception to that,” Romney said. “By and large, all of the students in that class have really engaged with the narratives from both sides of the conflict, which is my main goal in the class.”

Students should leave class not with a specific viewpoint, but able to articulate the viewpoints of people they disagree with in a respectful and intelligent manner, Romney said. 

Political science major Tyler Moore took POLI 474 Winter Semester 2024. The class did a good job at focusing on what the viewpoints of those affected by the conflict are, he said.

“I think (POLI 474) did a really good job of like, trying not to impose normative truths or normative ideas, and more like, ‘This is exactly what happened and this is what people said about what happened,'” Moore said. “So we got a lot of different perspectives.”

Although BYU students are separated from the Israel-Hamas war by geography, seeking to understand the viewpoints of those affected is a good first step to take that will make any efforts to bring relief or awareness more effective and helpful, Romney said.

In addition to POLI 474, Romney has taken part in panels on campus, with a main goal being dispelling misconceptions about the conflict and those involved.

“This is really a conflict that’s based in nationalist ideologies,” he said. “Zionism on the part of the Jewish community and then eventually Palestinian nationalism on the part of the Palestinian community.”

Romney, who studies intragroup attitudes and norms in situations of conflict, first became interested in narratives people view conflict through when he was serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Malaysia in 2007. During hostilities between Israel and Hamas during that time, Romney saw the way people with different backgrounds viewed the conflict.

“It was interesting to see a different narrative, one in which the Muslim community of (Malaysia) felt great sympathy toward the Palestinian side of the conflict,” Romney said. “(They) saw them as fellow Muslims that were being mistreated by a country they associated with the West and with their own experience with colonialism. … It was really interesting to me.”

Provo resident and member of the Armistad Collective B. Propo leads protestors in pro-Palestine chants at Utah County Stands with Palestine protest in 2023. Protests have been held throughout Utah over the past year in protest of terrorist attacks and conflict in Palestine. (Alice Gubler)

There were no large-scale protests on BYU campus concerning the Israel-Hamas war during graduation in April, although the larger Provo area has seen peaceful protests like The Utah County Stands with Palestine Ceasefire protest on November 4, 2023.

Students wanting to hold a protest on BYU campus are required by BYU policy to fill out an application to demonstrate. There were no applications to demonstrate submitted concerning the war, according to the dean of students

A demonstration is defined as “an event that occurs on University Property that is not sponsored by the university or any university unit in which two or more people gather to raise awareness about, or express a viewpoint on, an issue or cause,” according to the Dean of Students office.

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