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Viewpoint: A wolf in sheep's clothing

BY JONATHAN HERSHAFF

Published December 20, 2013

Boom! Crash! 6 a.m. You wake up in your dorm room to loud explosions up and down the hallway. You have no idea what’s going on, and naturally begin to panic. As you rush to the front door, you notice a large flyer has been slipped underneath. It reads:
#MOCKROCKETFIRE. The explosions you’ve heard are not real and are not dangerous. They have been set up to raise awareness about what life is like under the threat of thousands of rockets being fired into Israel on a regular basis.

Later, you receive an e-mail from a member of the group responsible for the fake explosions, listing a host of statistics and describing a one-sided, hero-versus-villain battle in the Middle East: 12,000 rockets and mortar shells fired into heavily populated urban centers in recent years, suicide bombers blowing up public buses and shopping malls, kidnappings, bombers from Gaza using children as human shields to avoid counter-attacks and more.

Understandably, groups with ties to the Palestinian people and, more generally, fair-minded people would consider this demonstration to be disingenuous and unfair at best, and hateful propaganda at worst. The demonstration and subsequent communications depict one side as evil warmongers while the other side is simply the victim.

A group called Students Allied for Freedom and Equality — a euphemistic name that would make George Orwell proud — sent out mock eviction notices to hundreds of University students living in dorms and emailed just about every mailing list they could find to cite statistics on the demolition of housing in the West Bank by Israeli forces. They provide the count of demolitions since 1967 as well as inflammatory economic “reasons” for them, compare Israel to the era of apartheid in South Africa, and depict Israelis as war criminals. All this, while conveniently neglecting to mention the hundreds of suicide bombers and thousands of rockets fired into Israel by Palestinians over the same time period, as well as the recurring attacks on Israel’s UN-defined borders in 1948, 1957 and again in 1967 leading up to the current occupation. They call the forced evictions “war crimes” while ignoring that Palestinian targeting of civilian population centers for rocket fire and use of children as human shields by those firing the rockets have also been labeled war crimes.

Reasonable observers of the conflict do not deny Palestinian suffering and hardship during the post-1967 occupation. Many individuals have grown up during that time period facing checkpoints, poverty and near-constant war without ever having been alive during the pre-1967 wars. It is grossly unfair and one-sided, however, to highlight Israeli acts of war that have affected Palestinians while completely ignoring Palestinian acts of war that have affected Israelis. Both Palestinian supporters and, I hope, objective observers would be absolutely correct to condemn the hypothetical demonstration mentioned at the beginning of this piece; likewise, I call on the University community to similarly condemn the demonstration carried out by the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.

Hate needs to be called out whenever it is present. Is the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality a hate group, despite their euphemistic name, or did they simply go too far in this demonstration? Let’s look at their actions. This group is willing to distort a conflict completely in order to create the perception that the only Jewish state in the entire world is the sole villain in a conflict that is, at a minimum, over 65 years old and has been subject to countless wars, nearly perpetual violence, under constant threat of attack and subject to its neighbors continuing cry for its annihilation. Do Palestinian refugees face hardships? Absolutely. But, one might ask, how was this conflict chosen among others? If SAFE cares so much about refugees worldwide, where are the demonstrations for the 2 million refugees from Syria or the more than 300,000 people displaced in Darfur between January and May 2013 alone?

I absolutely do not claim that Israel has been an innocent bystander in this conflict and do not make claims that one side is “more innocent” or “more guilty” than another in aggregate. Given the endless cycle of violence and retaliation, it’s easy for both sides to claim that their actions are only responses to injustices imposed upon them by the other side. What I do claim is that organizations seeking to depict this decades-long conflict as one-sided, with one hero and one villain, are disingenuous at best, and at worst, purveyors of hate-filled propaganda. We are privileged to live in a country where everyone — including the members of SAFE — has a right to free speech. However, we also have a right to call these groups out for what they truly are: a hateful wolf hiding behind a sheep’s name.

Jonathan Hershaff is a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics.