I am not Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, or Muslim. I have no personal stake in the Israel-Palestine conflict. I did not get involved with the State Oppression Awareness committee in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) until I had done extensive research on both sides. In the end, I picked a side: the side of the oppressed.
SDS has hosted Palestine Awareness Month for the past seven years. From cultural expos to Noam Chomsky’s Q&A session, members of the club consistently try their best to balance events focused on the historical background of Palestine with the ever-so-controversial conflict. Despite the backlash from many Zionists across campus who suggest that we focus solely on Palestinian culture, Israel cannot be left out of the conversation. Without Israel, Palestine Awareness Month would not have to exist.
Our effort to address the injustice occurring in Palestine periodically results in accusations of anti-Semitism and one-sidedness, and this year was no different.
Two days before our film screening of “The Occupation of the American Mind” and Q&A session with Israeli and Palestinian panelists, a self-described “progressive Zionist Jewish woman” wrote a purely speculative op-ed for the Campus Times, in which she characterized our event as “anti-Israel” and full of “shouting and blaming.” The author of that piece has never been a member of SDS. Through misinformation, she has created an uncomfortable, tense environment that spiraled out of control and fueled the hate that she so ardently hoped to avoid.
We faced criticism for focusing on the lives of our panelists rather than accepting questions regarding the conflict, so let me address those questions—and some points made in last week’s op-ed.
“All Palestinians living in the state of Israel are full Israeli citizens with full equal rights.”
According to the 50 discriminatory laws against Palestinians—which any person with Internet access can find, in both Hebrew and English—the equality that you speak of does not exist. Legally, four distinctions are made: Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, Palestinians living in Israeli territory with no Israeli citizenship, Palestinians in Gaza, and Palestinians in the West Bank. Yet even if the laws were equitable, would that guarantee equal treatment? Even in the U.S., such institutional racism exists.
Why highlight Israeli oppression and not Hamas?
Bringing up Hamas to downplay the role of the Israeli government in Palestinian genocide and oppression does no good for either side. Equating a supposedly democratic government with a terrorist organization—one that arose as a counter-revolutionary movement under Israeli oppression—and mentioning them in the same sentence as if they were supposed to be held to equal standards is absolutely outrageous and illogical. Hamas rockets in Israel have killed fewer than 50 people since 2001, compared to Israeli rockets killing roughly 2,100 Palestinians within a month in the Gaza Strip.
“And what of Hamas’ violent and theocratic police state?”
The Israelis voted for Benjamin Netanyahu four separate times. They voted for Ariel Sharon even after he was found personally responsible for the massacre of civilians in Sabra and Shatila and was forced to resign from his position as minister of defense (on top of his role in the Qibya massacre). They voted for Menachim Begin, a notorious terrorist who slaughtered Palestinian civilians in the ethnic cleansing operation carried out to found the Israeli state; for Yitzhak Rabin, who ordered massacres of entire villages; and for numerous other Israeli leaders involved in massacres against Palestinians.
Between them, they have murdered more innocent civilians than Hamas could ever hope to. And yet, they have gone on to become lauded and esteemed leaders of Israel, loved around the world, in some cases serving multiple terms. The authoritarian leadership of Hamas is undoubtedly problematic, but does not detract from the oppression committed by the Israelis.
SDS does care about other war-torn countries, as we have demonstrated with previous events and co-sponsorships, but why should that prompt us to exclude this one? Why is your first response to Palestinian suffering “Yes, that’s horrible, but what about Syria?” Ask the members of our club that participate in Education for a Peaceful Syria.
A reasonable critique of the Israeli government and its actions is as anti-Semitic as dissatisfaction with the U.S. government is anti-American. We are allowed—obligated, even—to hold governments, especially “the only democracy in the Middle East,” to high standards.
SDS is not sorry if acknowledging genocide makes you uncomfortable. SDS is not sorry if discussing the suffering of others makes you feel attacked. SDS is not sorry if these events make close-minded people angry. They should be angry. They should feel wrath. They should be burning with rage toward the Israeli government, the government that they consider theirs, for thinking it can manipulate them into believing lies and half-truths.
In the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily—move it in the right direction.”
Do you want to be moved like a chess piece in a game of injustice, or make up your own mind?