Pushed to Extremes

Arguments about divestment on campus have shut out all but the loudest voices.

By Ezer Smith

As I observe the increasingly heated debate over BDS and Israel/Palestine on this campus, I feel as though I’m being torn in two.

I am a Jew, an identification I feel so deep in my bones it is a part of my marrow. I have a strong, spiritual connection to the land of Israel: to me, as to many Jews, Eretz Yisrael is far more than just a geographical location. It is a goal to strive for, a powerful symbol, and a prayer all at once. I believe that Israel should be a homeland for Jews.

I fervently believe, too, in the necessity of civil and human rights for all, and I am appalled by the way the Israeli government has strayed from what I believe to be fundamental Jewish values. Tolerating injustice is not Jewish, and perpetuating it is anathema to the themes at the very core of Jewish existence.

I find it impossible to ignore the virulent anti-Semitism exhibited by Hamas, a hateful and vicious ideology that I believe has permeated parts of Palestinian society and which terrifies me to the core. I am certain that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have contributed to the poor and worsening quality of life for many Palestinians. But I am also profoundly angry at the grave injustices the Israeli government has perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Security concerns cannot possibly justify what has happened in Gaza and the West Bank—people there are desperate, devoid of options, and actively discriminated against by the Israeli government. Thousands of civilians have died, many more have been displaced from their homes, and Israel has done little to remedy it.

I say these things not to establish some new creed but to express my frustration at the degree to which hesitation has become worthy of scorn in this battle on campus. I am deeply, deeply conflicted about which “side” to choose and my convictions often seem at odds. I have a laundry list of questions and am troubled that this debate seems to have devolved into a shouting match where one side flings “apartheid” and the other “anti-Semite” as though they were stones.

I am sure that there are many students on this campus who have questions, who are uncertain, who seek not to derail a social justice movement or delegitimize a state but to simply figure out where they stand. The climate surrounding this debate makes it profoundly difficult to do so. I am uncomfortable discussing this with my “pro-Israel” friends out of fear that they may ostracize me for my criticisms of Israel. I am uncomfortable discussing this with my “pro-Palestine” friends out of fear that they may ostracize me for my criticisms of Palestine. I am uncomfortable discussing this with friends whose opinions I do not know out of fear that they may be either “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine.”  Where is the space for people like me who have far more questions than answers?

Ezer Smith is a third-year in the College majoring in political science.