James Brennan: Israel, BDS and fake balance

By James Brennan, Columnist
Published March 19, 2014

I’d like to give a round of applause to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, University of Michigan Hillel and all the other organizations that have so masterfully done their job of killing any and all real debate about Israel. From college campuses to the U.S. Congress, we should all give a big “bravo” to the Israel lobby for its wonderful work. These organizations have turned human rights activists into anti-Semites, and one-sided forums and panels into “open and honest discussions.”

James Brennan

Tuesday, despite a letter signed by 36 student groups and what, I would imagine, is the biggest turnout for a Central Student Government meeting in years, representatives from CSG refused to even debate a resolution. The resolution was simple: it asked the University to investigate and remove its investments in companies benefiting from possible Israeli abuses of Palestinians. Yes, this was part of the wider, controversial Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, but it did not demand condemnation of the existence of Israel or Zionism as a whole. How good are Israel’s lobbyists and PR people? Well, even a university’s student government — which has no apparent functions other than philanthropy, fighting ticket policies and doling out money to organizations — can’t pass a simple resolution that asks critical questions.

Much like the hit job that Hillel students did on Students Allied for Freedom and Equality after the #UMMockEviction, CSG representatives continuously demanded a “fair debate” on the measure, ignoring the fact that the very action they took prevented a debate from happening. The idea of fairness presented by many pro-Israel groups seems to only apply to themselves.

Hundreds of students show up in support of a BDS-related resolution? “We need to have an open and fair debate, not something so one-sided.”

A person asserts that Israel commits human rights violations? “There have been atrocities on both sides.”

Students alienated from returning to their homeland write viewpoints attacking Israel’s treatment of them? “I feel attacked for supporting Israel.”

But try to get Hillel to host pro-Palestinian speakers who criticize Israel? Well, that’s against their policies.

Fair, right?

As I’ve repeated to Zionist, BDS and even moderate friends countless times, and as I’ve written in this very publication, I can’t take a side on this issue simply because I don’t know enough about it. I feel that way about a lot of issues, and I’d be willing to bet other people do, too. One thing I cannot stand though is a skewed, one-sided debate, especially when one side has far more resources and influence. CSG had an opportunity last night to contribute to a very meaningful, open, campuswide dialogue on one of the most divisive and important issues of our generation. They skirted that opportunity and further suppressed debate and dissent at the University. I don’t care what side of the issue you come down on, you should feel shame for your representatives for what they chose to do.

Malcolm X once said, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against.” These are principles that most of us (at least I’d hope) try to live our lives by. Truth over bias, justice over politics, fairness over unfairness. One of the easiest ways to achieve the goals of truth, justice and fairness is to fight for open and free exchanges of ideas. Pushing them aside, whether through CSG votes, misleading newspaper articles or loaded panel discussions, is a disservice to the universal goals of fairness and truth.

Pro-Israel groups who condemn so-called one-sided BDSers and Palestinian groups: this is what you get. Militant, angry, one-sided rhetoric is met with other militant, angry, one-sided rhetoric. The difference is of course that groups like SAFE are fighting for their spot at the table, while you’ve already taken yours and condemned them for trying to do the same. Stop with the fake demands for fair treatment and honesty. Stop with the laughable idea of sitting down for an honest discussion with all sides when all the action you take is to the contrary. Instead, let your actions speak.

Students certainly heard them Tuesday night.

James Brennan can be reached at jmbthree@umich.edu.