Maintain Civil Discussion on Israel/Palestine

Last week, I was asked by the Justice to write a piece on the Palestine-Israel conflict. I said no. I was asked because the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee was already due to submit a piece on the conflict, specifically focused on the war in Gaza this past summer, and the Justice wanted to showcase a “point/counter-point” section. Seems like a great idea, showcasing an important and complicated conflict, and allowing the reader to decide for themselves with whom they most agree. But still, I said no.

I don’t try to hide my beliefs; I fully support Palestine. I share plenty of op-eds from other news outlets on Facebook and am fully willing to discuss the issue with anyone who asks me. Still, I did not want to write the article.

My discomfort is housed, maybe, in the polarization and distortion of the issue on campus. It is polarized because the same people who are generally open-minded and compassionate vehemently oppose any Palestine-Israel viewpoint that is not exactly the same as their own. It is distorted because the issues of the conflict have been muddled with issues of prejudice and discrimination. I have been told verbatim, “Most people who support Palestine are actually anti-Semetic” and “If you don’t support Israel you hate Jews.”

To hear people accuse me of hating much of my family was maybe laughable at first, but by now is nothing short of sickening. I love the Jewish people as I love the Christian people, the Muslim people and all other peoples. But I take issue with the State of Israel. Israel and Judaism are not the same thing; one is a religion, philosophy and way of life, while the other is a political entity. The two should not be confused.

Though I’ve been more personally affected by it, the extreme pro-Israel camp is not the only one to grossly oversimplify. The extreme pro-Palestinian camp will often allege that the entire pro-Israel camp is Islamaphobic and tyrannical, which is, of course, not true.

A good friend of mine who supports Israel has told me he feels that extremely uncomfortable in more liberal circles. When they blame Israel entirely for the numerous deaths in Gaza, he does not feel comfortable voicing his opinion that it may be more complicated than that, fearing he will be judged personally and stereotyped as “a Jew doing his duty” for his opinions on the issue. 

I asked him about it while writing this article and he said, “I think of myself as pretty moderate…but a lot of people feel very strongly that anyone who shows any sympathy toward Israel is intentionally marginalizing an oppressed people.”

Imagine if instead of questioning character, discussions were composed of constructive Palestine-Israel peace plans or historical discussions of the Palestinian and Israeli people. Imagine if both parties were willing to compromise.

But instead, the over-simplified pro-Palestine argument assumes that any who are pro-Israel hate peace, oppressed people and Islam. And the over-simplified pro-Israel argument assumes that any who are pro-Palestine hate peace, oppressed people, and Judaism.

This is all completely ludicrous. Both sides want the same thing: peace. But the discussions veer far from civil because of deep emotional attachment to the issue. This sort of attachment often results in conversations fueled by emotion and not reason. We see the other side as an enemy, not as a person.

In fact, this lack of etiquette is not just localized to Brandeis. Last July, television host Sean Hannity invited Yousef Munayyer—a Palestinian American who is the executive director of the Jurusalem Fund, a nonprofit working to raise funds in aid of the Palestinian people—onto Fox News for an interview. But “interview” is a generous description of what occurred. Hannity bombarded Munayyer with screams throughout the entire interview—“Is Hamas a terrorist organization? What part of this can’t you get through your thick head?” The interview speaks for itself and I strongly recommend looking it up.

But even if the rest of the world is being intolerant and ridiculous, why are we? We’re a community that values “social justice” and “truth unto its innermost parts.” We have such powerful and constructive discussions about sensitive topics that much of the rest of the world still struggles with—sexual assault, gender discrimination and racism. Why can we not have such discussions about the Palestine-Israel conflict?

This is not about my opinions on the issue; this is about people not feeling comfortable enough to voice their opinions. This is about students and professors alike being lauded as inhumane and racist for speaking up. This is about a discussion housed in intimidation, assumption of character and dehumanization. And it’s time for that to change.


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