Maintaining Open Dialogue, Leaning into Tension on Israel-Palestine

A month ago, Pitzer College’s Student Senate denied the group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) approval to
construct an “Israeli Apartheid Wall” on Pitzer’s campus. According to SJP, the
wall was intended to educate passersby and call attention to the impact of the
Israeli occupation on Palestinians. SJP is one of many campus groups invested
in the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We at J Street U Claremont
are a diverse group of 5C students dedicated to education and advocacy for
strong U.S. leadership to help bring about a two-state solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

We strongly condemn the Senate’s decision,
because while we strongly disapprove of SJP’s association of apartheid with the
Israeli occupation, we are compelled to defend SJP’s right to express its views.  

The
substance of SJP’s claim—that Israel and apartheid South Africa are
equivalent—is problematic for several reasons. First, in calling Israel an apartheid state,
SJP ignores the fundamental difference between life inside and outside of the
Green Line. In Israel proper, within the pre-1967 borders, Palestinian citizens
of Israel are citizens and own businesses, vote and hold seats in the
Knesset, Israel’s parliament. While Palestinian citizens of Israel and other
minorities face substantial discrimination within the Green Line, they do not
face exclusion or massive state-sponsored violence from Israel.

However,
outside the Green Line they are under control of the Israeli Defense Forces in
varying capacities, often unable to move freely and subject to arbitrary house
demolition and violence. Failing to make that distinction clear makes the
possibility of a more accepting democracy in Israel seem unrealistic. Moreover,
it trivializes the immense suffering of black South Africans under apartheid. We
shouldn’t need to equate Palestinians with another marginalized group to see
that they deserve justice and sovereignty. To recognize Palestinian dignity, we
need to recognize that their claims are legitimate in their own right. 

Although we firmly disagree
with SJP’s choice of tactics for addressing the Occupation of Palestinian
territories on campus, we stand firmly behind the power of dialogue and
discussion. Although we disagree with the comparison between occupied
Palestine and apartheid, we believe that the immense suffering and restricted
rights of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank must be addressed on campus.

As an organization, we had
misgivings about last week. Those of us who are Jewish weren’t sure what kind
of reaction our own community would have. The Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is a hard topic for the Jewish community. However, we saw how
the wall, despite being controversial, sparked vigorous debate and discussion within our community. The wall was put up with the intention to garner emotional
reactions, and it did. There were difficult truths embedded in inflammatory
statements, and while some students chose not to engage, many others leaned into
the tension. 

J Street was honored by the many students, Jewish and non-Jewish, who
approached us to engage around the occupation despite their discomfort with
many of the statements on the wall. One student raised in the conservative Jewish community said, “I want to ask questions about the wall but
I am afraid to know the answers.” She spoke about how it made her want to cry
to know that her community in any way played a role in the suffering
represented by the wall. She talked about how she saw conversation and Tikkun
Olam (repairing the world) as the foundation of her Judaism and felt she should
lean into the intellectual tension. 

The Jewish community should
follow the example of the student who leaned into her discomfort—we must
invest the time in holding tough and open conversations about our ability to
create change. These past weeks the 5C Jewish community jump-started important
conversations that must continue. Students must take
responsibility in ending the occupation. Even though that may mean
painful emotional discussions, perhaps arguments, for the Jewish community to
truly embody our values of Tikkun Olam, we must ask the
questions with answers that scare us.

J Street U at the Claremont Colleges invites all
students to attend our information session in the fall and engage with us on these
questions.

Jordan Wilson-Dalzell PZ ’15 is studying creative writing. She is on the board for J Street U Claremont. 

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