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Viewpoint: A ploy for attention


Published December 12, 2013

I can’t pretend that I don’t have a bias. I’m not religious, but I carry my Jewish heritage with pride and that affects the way I see the Arab-Israeli conflict. But that’s just it — I know I have a bias. I embrace it. And because I understand my own shortcomings when it comes to interpreting information, I’ve withheld from forming an opinion about the issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians for so long. Until now.

The student organization Students Allied for Freedom and Equality posted over a thousand phony eviction notices in six dorms across campus. It was a brilliant ploy for attention, but it didn’t create much sympathy within me. SAFE decided to ignore the concept of fair and equal discourse, so I had to verify their statements myself. That’s what happens when someone ignores the University’s mission statement of “communicating” knowledge and instead turns to shoving propaganda under doors in the dead of night and making it out to be “The One and Only Truth.” The rest of us have to either trust blindly like sheep or seek out the opposing argument. And what SAFE forgot is that we are University of Michigan students, not farm animals.

It breaks my heart, but it’s true that families who identify as Palestinian are, in fact, being forcibly evicted. Anyone would be upset by the idea of a family being removed from their home. But like anything else that involves humans, the issue is much more complicated than this sentence alone. The phony eviction notice calls the new settlements “illegal,” and yet according to an article by Human Rights Watch, that’s in fact against Israel’s appropriation of the settlements, “Israel demolishes Bedouin homes in the Negev on the basis that they were built without permits, often in unauthorized communities.” While Israel probably chooses not to recognize a community as a tactical decision, the fact that these communities were built without permits means that, by definition, it is the old settlements that are illegal.

Then comes the use of “apartheid” as a description for the removal of the Arab peoples. The definition of apartheid, according to a quick Google search, is “a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.” According to an article by world-renowned and amazingly impartial professor Benny Morris, “Israel today has five million Jews and more than a million Arabs” living legally in the country. Furthermore, Arab-Israeli citizens have full rights in Israel. In fact, Arab Israelis have held positions in government such as deputy minister, and it's in Israel’s Declaration of Independence that everyone is equal under the law regardless of religion, race or sex. And according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (admittedly, not an unbiased source) "Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel with equal rights." The Ministry states that “the only legal distinction between Arab and Jewish citizens is not one of rights, but rather of civic duty. Since Israel's establishment, Arab citizens have been exempted from compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces.” This is not only an exemption to protect Israel from potentially dangerous situations, but also to prevent Arab citizens from being forced into a conflict of interest.

Yes, there are currently between three and four million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, and the idea of so many people without a home sickens me. However, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are over two million refugees displaced by the war in Syria. Only recently have about six million people found their homes again in Afghanistan, and almost three million are still displaced. Why are these refugees not part of SAFE’s discussion? Are they any less deserving of a home? No. This isn’t apartheid; it’s a conflict between people whose majorities are of different ethnic backgrounds. To group what’s going on in Israel with the gross injustices in Africa with the title of “apartheid” is not only negligent; it’s offensive and potentially dangerous.

What really pushed me over the edge were the students using the #UMMockEviction who equated what's going on in Israel with genocide. I will be the first person to admit that Israel has committed some terrible injustices against the Palestinian people, but that's not what genocide is.