OPINION: We need to change the way we talk about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A photo of the University of Haifa in Israel
The University of Haifa, Israel is the subject of controversy at Pitzer College. (Courtesy of Zvi Roger)

In the wake of the contentious decision on whether to suspend Pitzer College’s study abroad program in Haifa, Israel, tensions among the student body and 5C faculty have been running high. No matter one’s views on the situation in Israel and Palestine, one must agree that conversation surrounding the issue has been particularly fraught and unproductive lately.

Perhaps mostly due to the fact that extremist voices often take up a disproportionately large space in debates, it has felt recently as though opinion on Israel and Palestine on campus is divided into two ideological camps completely at odds with one another.

One side calls for, among other things, the end of “Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” as well as “promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.” This latter point, called “the right of return,” is the most recent point of contention, as the implications of this demand are as unclear as they are variable.

The other side, at least on mostly liberal college campuses like ours, calls for … what exactly? It’s safe to say that most do not agree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist policies at the expense of Palestinian autonomy.

However, many are uncomfortable with the extreme anti-Zionist rhetoric of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, and are confused at the extreme polarization of discourse.

This is a climate in which it has suddenly become radical to believe in a two-state solution, in which you cannot support the rights of Palestinian refugees and citizens and also believe in the state of Israel.

In this climate, Zionism, the belief in Jewish self-determination born, in part, as a response to actual racism, is itself a dirty word with racist connotations.  

For the record, I, like many young Americans and most Israelis, support an independent Palestinian state and oppose Jewish settlement in the West Bank. I regard Israeli aggression and demolition of Palestinian and Israeli Bedouin houses as untenable, unacceptable and most of all at odds with the values a Jewish state should hold.

I am discouraged by the conversation as it stands today, full of rhetoric without nuance, which works to the detriment of a practical or complete understanding of the region’s history and people.

I am discouraged by the conversation as it stands today, full of rhetoric without nuance, which works to the detriment of a practical or complete understanding of the region’s history and people. — Talia Ivry

To Americans who value liberty and equality, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can seem like an obvious narrative of European colonialism against indigenous Arab populations. To those who hear buzzwords like “apartheid state” and “racism,” it can seem like there is no nuance to the conflict.

When you wade through the propaganda on both sides, however, you see that the story of the conflict has more dimensions than fits on a flyer. Empty rhetoric ignores the history of Arab and Jewish immigration to the area predating British colonial influences.

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Equating Israel to apartheid-era South Africa is unfair and erases the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are non-Jewish Arabs and have equal protection under the law. It disregards the forced expulsion of Arab Jews from countries such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, who then settled in Israel.

Most of all, it exchanges hollow slogans for a thoughtful discussion on the merits of action plans, like boycotting the University of Haifa.

As college students, it is not our job to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves on issues like this, to talk with one another respectfully with the knowledge that it is possible to disagree on complicated political matters without being hateful.

A more productive discourse might include debating various peace plans (like Ehud Olmert’s, Barack Obama’s or Ariel Sharon’s, to name a few); discussing how to invest in an independent Palestinian state and pressuring Arab governments like that of Lebanon to grant their Palestinian residents basic civil liberties.

I encourage you to form your own opinion instead of hopping on a well-meaning bandwagon. Attend talks by speakers sponsored by SJP, J-Street, the Claremont Colleges Hillel and the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance; do not limit your exposure to a single perspective.

We are not so divided on this issue as it seems. If we cannot foster productive discourse on a college campus about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we surely cannot expect our political leaders to do so.

Talia Ivry PO ’21 is a psychology and religious studies double major from Madison, Wisconsin. This summer she will be studying at the Fuchsberg conservative yeshiva in Jerusalem.

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