A more just dialogue

Op-ed by Students for Justice in Palestine perpetuates radicalization of Israel-Palestine debate.

By Stephen Lurie

In a November 27 Viewpoints contribution (“Students must work for justice in Palestine), three of my peers put forth a moving argument for student activism in support of Gaza and in opposition to what they call “Israeli Occupation.” I commend them for contributing to campus discourse on an issue that is important to many of us. Yet, just like past submissions from both “sides” of the debate, the piece is more likely to be counterproductive to efforts to change the status quo rather than inspirational to efforts for justice.

As both a Jew who supports Israel, and a liberal who demands respect for human rights, I write from a position that is often at odds with Israeli policy—particularly as it relates to Gaza. Yet, despite my personal alienation from the substance of statements provided by the op-ed’s authors (as well as their pro-Israel counterparts), I am not ambivalent to the manner in which they present their claims. In short, the type of case presented by Tineh, Haseeb, and Kishawi is not sympathetic to the notion of fair representation for both sides of the conflict and thus displays a tendency that lessens the likelihood of justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.

While the authors rail against the “entrenched system of oppression and injustice that is perpetuated by skewed information and unyielding material support” as it relates to U.S.-Israel relations, we ought to consider this claim in the context of the debate itself. How often are accounts backed by “skewed information?” This piece, like so many accounts, chooses its facts selectively and skews perception accordingly. To give a face and context to the 13-year old boy killed by Israelis but leaving dead Israelis as nothing more than a number; to speak of “indiscriminate attacks” as an Israeli creation but never once mention the word Hamas; to speak of Israeli society and American support as unwaveringly unitary and to disregard those who stand against Netanyahu and Neo-Con control: None of these presentations give just credence to the intricacies of the Middle East.

Even as the authors criticize those “refusing to mention” essential facts, they too refuse to recognize the very legitimate concerns of Israelis, as well as any counterevidence suggesting there is no existential threat posed to Palestine and Israel that will no doubt be presented in an equally one-sided op-ed in another newspaper. Just as those “few in number” at the University “who have experienced firsthand the destructive humanitarian impact of Israel’s siege” deserve consideration, so too do other minority (and moderate) views merit inclusion in a discourse that the authors seem to radicalize.

My peers have called for student action that supports a weaker voice (Gazans), but their one-sided presentation of this case will simply embolden the strongest voices, left and right, toward their respective ends. My strongest pro-Israel friends will have read their editorial and cast it aside as just another case of anti-Israeli vitriol, and move farther from engaging in the discourse. Friends who most ardently support the Palestinians will hear, yet again, the case they already support and will be reenergized against a campaign viewed as “beating the Palestinian people into submission.” Just like professional partisans read on a much wider scale, the work of Tineh, Haseeb, and Kishawi will not provide for the collaboration essential for “justice”—it will foster more discord. If we are to truly “engage our campuses and communities” in a way that authentically “raise[s] awareness,” our own pundits must consider it their responsibility to provide for a constructive and balanced discourse. Unfortunately, the submission made earlier this week did not do so. Part of the authors’ argument is that we have a unique opportunity as students at the University of Chicago to pressure our institution to the end of “a resolute and just end to the occupation of Palestine.” Instead, I suggest, as students at an institution uniquely committed to rigorous and just intellectual debate there is a larger opportunity at stake as well.

On this campus we need to be committed to justice in dialogue if we want justice in politics, and we have a greater opportunity than the cynics and alienators outside our realm to make that commitment. Changing our stance to include, instead of exclude, the possibility of a moderate and compromise-ready environment is possible on this campus. Who knows? Perhaps affecting the way our future thought-leaders engage on Israel and Palestine could have a real impact on political agreement down the line.

If nothing else, though, those like me, who support Israel’s existence and human rights for the Palestinian people, will find our own contribution to the discourse met by open ears and minds, rather than left in a middle vacated by a more and more polarized campus. Particularly on the heels of a UN vote bound to further entrench ideologues, the need to build a collaborative discourse is both pressing and accessible to many on campus. For those here that are largely in charge of our Middle Eastern debate, such as Students for Justice in Palestine, Chicago Friends of Israel, and the relatively new J-Street chapter, the onus is on you to work for justice in dialogue as an essential component to justice in Palestine and Israel.

Stephen Lurie is a fourth-year in the College majoring in political science.