I’m a Jewish, pro-Israel student, and I spent this week angry and concerned. On Tuesday, the Israeli elections resulted in yet another blow to supporters of peace and justice. Netanyahu, who will remain Israel’s Prime Minister for a fifth term, plans to establish the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. His political allies include ultra-right, extremist racists who advocate for the annexation of the West Bank and the expulsion of Palestinians. A few days before the elections, Netanyahu pledged that if he were re-elected, he would begin annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Annexation is a red line with serious and irreversible consequences: it would legitimize illegal settlements, make the Israeli occupation permanent, and end hope for the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. If the annexation of the West Bank happens, Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state will be destroyed. But, Netanyahu didn’t conjure this annexation plan alone or out of thin air. One of the loudest and earliest voices in favor of annexation was Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, who is speaking at UChicago on Sunday.
A member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, Danon has repeatedly opposed the two-state solution, claiming that “a viable Palestinian state is unacceptable.” He has advocated for extreme violence against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. He has called African refugees living in Israel “infiltrators” and “a plague” and wants to expel them. Moreover, he wants to annex much of the West Bank without providing Palestinians the opportunity to become Israeli citizens with voting rights. In his own words, “Our goal should be to annex the maximum land with the minimum Arab population.” Danon wants permanent Israeli occupation with no Palestinian independence or rights. These views are abhorrent, whether they’re coming from your racist grandpa, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, or the Israeli prime minister.
UChicago students, especially pro-Israel students like me, must take a stand against annexation and reject the extremist politics of Danon and Netanyahu. For that reason, my organization, J Street UChicago, is refusing to sit by and allow advocates of annexation and other far-right policies to speak on campus unchallenged. It is an absolute shame that UChicago Friends of Israel (UCFI) chose to invite Danon to speak at their Israel Summit, an event cosponsored by UChicago Hillel and other Jewish organizations on campus. It’s extremely disappointing that UChicago Hillel has no issue sponsoring an event featuring a far-right speaker but declined to collaborate with us earlier this year when we invited Breaking the Silence, an Israeli human rights organization, to campus. They told us it was too political, but it seems as though it was simply too left-wing. There is nothing wrong with presenting Israeli technological innovation and humanitarian achievements at the Israel Summit, but this message is irreparably marred by Danon’s presence. If UCFI and UChicago Hillel truly wanted to expose students to an Israel to aspire to, they would reject Danon and condemn the far-right politics he represents. As it stands, his annexationist, racist views will overshadow the laudable objectives of the Israel Summit.
Danon’s presence will reinforce the fallacious notion that the only way to support Israel is to oppose Palestinian rights. Danon has adopted a combative posture against J Street, saying that my organization “is pro-Palestinian...not pro-Israeli.” He is completely and obviously wrong: there is no contradiction in advocating for a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians. That’s why J Street UChicago has organized to stop demolitions in Palestinian communities, brought progressive Israeli activists to speak on campus, and organized a free trip for students this summer to meet Israelis and Palestinians. Ironically, Danon’s annexationist vision is what will truly endanger Israel’s future.
Danon’s attacks on Palestinians, refugees, and even pro-Israel students should be rejected by all of us. J Street UChicago members will show up to the Israel Summit in order to educate our peers and highlight the racism and xenophobia that Ambassador Danon brings with him when he walks onto our campus. It is imperative that UChicago students do not attend this event without understanding the stakes of annexation.