"Evil Israelis are detaining poor, innocent Palestinians for no good reason."
"Stupid liberals actually have anti-Semitic secret selves for proposing divesting Yale’s funds from Israel."
This is the level of political discourse on the Arab-Israeli conflict on campus right now. It is utterly disgraceful. Both the Left and the Right have ceded the moral high ground on the issue. The Left has distorted the facts and ignored the reason for Israel’s actions, thereby making Israelis look completely irrational. In the meantime, the Right has adopted Leftist rhetoric by denouncing a philosophical position on the grounds that its true motivations stem from internal racism by those who hold it. Both sides have undermined the very ideas of political discourse and intellectual honesty.
The Students for Justice in Palestine have been clamoring for the divestment of funds by Yale from Israel. To this end, they performed some guerilla theatre at Noah Porter gate by detaining students on their way to class and claiming that this is the treatment received by Palestinians every day. Unfortunately, they failed to inform us that the reason Israel has check points in Palestinian-controlled areas is that there are Palestinians who believe that it is just dandy to strap on a bag full of explosives, board a bus full of children on their way to school, and proceed to detonate themselves. The kind of rhetoric used by SJP is willfully dishonest.
SJP has created the illusion that Israelis have set up checkpoints just for fun – because Ariel Sharon is a racist warmonger who has nothing better to do than make Palestinian lives miserable. Furthermore, anyone who defends Israel is equivalent to those who defend the racist South African apartheid regime, which kept black people oppressed. Last time I checked, South African apartheid was not the result of blacks blowing up buses full of white South African children. The shrill rhetoric emanating from the likes of Sammy Mansoor, Ross Anderson, and the rest of their SJP comrades undermines civilized discourse on a touchy subject. They are unwilling to even consider the idea that those defending Israel might just have some rational reasons for doing so. SJP and their leaders do not have to believe that those reasons are good enough. They, however, are not even willing to admit that Zionists and others who do not want to see the destruction of the Israeli state have any reason to hold the positions that they do.
The activists demand that the University divest funds from Israel in order to attain “peace, justice and reconciliation for Israelis and Palestinians alike.” That’s odd; I thought that Palestinian terror organizations Fattah and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade were the ones sponsoring acts of mass murder of Israeli women and children. Yet, for some reason, SJP does not demand that Yale divest from European Union nations or businesses that have dealings with the EU because the EU funds Arafat and his murderous cronies.
What’s worse, in their stated goals for the Middle East peace process in a YDN op-ed from November 21, SJP only demands that Israel immediately end its military occupation, that the US immediate end its political and economic support of Israel, that universities divest funds from Israeli corporations and corporations who do business with Israel, and the creation of a secular democratic state with equal rights for all, with the right of return for all Palestinian refugees. Nowhere does the group even suggest that militant Palestinian groups and the PLO cease to kill innocent children. SJP is not concerned about “justice in Palestine.” Rather, they want Israel to cede to all Palestinian demands and leave themselves open to whatever heinous acts Palestinian murderers wish to perform within Israeli borders. Any coherent notion of justice would at least ask that the PLO and its associated groups stop murdering innocent civilians.
The SJP’s willful ignorance of the obvious at best, and distortion of the facts at worst, is astounding. Yet, they continue to be the standard-bearers for the campus Left on this issue. This perfectly illustrates the demise of the Left on America’s college campuses, which readers will get a glimpse of in this issue (pg. 8).
The Right, however, has been not much better. Jamie Kirchik and Justin Zaremby, in their numerous op-eds in the Voice and the Yale Daily News, have taken a rather silly position of attacking SJP as anti-Semitic. This attack smacks of Leftists who call those on the Right racist for opposing affirmative action or welfare (never mind that many of these people happen to be racial minorities themselves). The SJP has denied being anti- Semitic, and those on the Right should take their word for it, move on, and actually find real arguments to combat the ludicrous position of the group. Resorting to arguments about anti-Semitic secret selves does nothing but lower the level of discourse by denying that those in SJP may have reasons – beyond hatred for the Jewish race – for the positions they hold. Again, these reasons might not be good ones – and surely they are not – but they certainly have them and we should attack them rather than search for nefarious motivations by those who believe in them.
Political discourse requires a respect for one’s opponents. Otherwise, debate must shut down. If the reason those on the Right support checkpoints is because they are racists and just hate Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular, why even talk to them about the topic given that they are just so irrational? If Students for Justice in Palestine are anti-Semites, why engage them and argue against divestment, for clearly SJP’s members have no non-racist reasons for their views?
It is rare in a philosophical debate that the other side is so wrong that it gets absolutely nothing right. It is true that Israel does not have the cleanest human rights record. It is also true, however, that neither does the PLO, which has tortured homosexuals, executed merchants who do business with Jews, and broken the Oslo accords on numerous occasions. Furthermore, it is certainly true that there are people in Palestine who are willing to kill innocent civilians on a daily basis. Each side needs to stop portraying the other as completely irrational and without reason. As we have seen, such a discussion will lead as far away from peace as possible.
Yevgeny Vilensky is Editor-in-Chief.