When UR President Seligman released a statement concerning Arun Gandhi’s controversial opinion piece in the Washington Post blog, “On Faith,” he wrote that Gandhi’s apology, which explained that he does “not believe and should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people,” inadequately explains his stated views, which seem “fundamentally inconsistent with the core values of the University of Rochester.” I agree with Seligman that Gandhi’s apology does not adequately explain or clarify his ambiguously-stated opinion, which, I infer, is that Israel and those involved in its creation have been and may continue to be responsible for violence.

Also, after such a controversial statement, it is important to remind everyone that the University does not hold any specific political views as a whole and that the opinions of one member of our community do not necessarily reflect a common view. We do not want the general public to think that, just because Arun Gandhi’s organization is now based here, that we automatically agree with his every opinion.

It is logical that Seligman feels obligated to protect the integrity of the UR to ensure its success as an academic and research institution and as a business. However, I found it interesting to hear Seligman very positively and enthusiastically welcome and introduce former Ambassador Andrew Young on Jan. 21 before Young delivered the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address.

My reason for mentioning this is that in August 2006, when asked whether he was concerned that Wal-Mart has put smaller, “mom-and-pop” stores out of business, Young responded with a statement including his opinion that “they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores.” After making this comment, Young received much criticism, issued an apology and resigned from his position with Working Families for Wal-Mart.

Oddly enough, the UR Press Release announcing Young’s visit mentions that his interest in nonviolent resistance was, in part, inspired by “the writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi,” the namesake of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, based here at UR and, until recently, led by Arun Gandhi. It seems a strange coincidence that two prominent men, influenced by the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi and otherwise respected for their work, might create similar controversy over perceived anti-Semitic comments.

However, the coincidence may seem less coincidental upon examining the words of M.K. Gandhi.

When referring to the potential – and eventual – partition of Palestine for the creation of Israel, Gandhi insisted, “The cry for the national home for the Jews [did] not make much appeal to [him].” He called it “wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs” and something that “cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.” Gandhi’s views and the subsequent criticism of these words are widely known.

If the University is so uncomfortable associating with an individual such as Arun Gandhi, who has made controversial statements concerning Jewish people or the state of Israel, then it should have felt obliged to issue a similar disclaimer regarding Andrew Young. It should not have welcomed an institute aimed at promoting the ideals of M.K. Gandhi. I cannot blame Arun Gandhi for expressing views that are “fundamentally inconsistent” with those of the University when UR cannot express views that are fundamentally consistent with themselves.

Arun Gandhi and Andrew Young are well-intentioned individuals. They hope to promote peace and reduce poverty.

However, if they must constantly watch their words out of fear that they be accused of secretly harboring hatred for various ethnic or religious groups, then they, and others like them, may become silent and inactive. They knew that their words were potentially offensive, yet for some reason, they said them anyway.

Maybe they do actually think that all Jewish people are violent or that Koreans and Arabs are dishonest.

It doesn’t matter. It matters that, despite those unfounded generalizations, they believe that all people of any race, religion or opinion should be able to live a life free of violence and poverty in a world of equal opportunities. They have even made an attempt, in the form of action, not just words, to make that happen.

Bridgers is a member of the class of 2008.

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