We study at a university scarred by emotion. The recitation of the Statement on Freedom of Speech and Artistic Freedom is not a formality, but a necessity before any speaker with even a tincture of controversy. Slurs and insults are hurled with little thought or concern. The New Tribalism is alive and well at the University.
The one debate that is perpetually mired in rancor is the future of Israel and Palestine. A partial explanation for why Samuel P. Huntington’s oft-criticized “Clash of Civilizations,” even for those who disagree with it, is a useful tool for generating support for your political causes. Too often questions of Middle East politics are portrayed as existential struggles for the survival of a way of life, a religion, a culture or a people. As a result of this desperation, there was a fair share of nastiness and stupidity on both sides relating to this weekend’s Second Nation Conference on the Palestinian Solidarity Movement. To wit:
From his bully pulpit as editorial page editor and columnist for The Detroit News Nolan Finley was the most prominent critic of the conference. In two columns on the conference, Finley went through the laundry list of the checkered pasts of some of the conference’s speakers. Finley’s attempts to expose the conference as a conclave of anti-Semites were misplaced. Anti-Semitism is a red herring. If the idea of divestment is just, it doesn’t matter if it comes from a virulent anti-Semite or your synagogue’s rabbi.
Hussein Ibish’s categorization of divestment opponents as enemies of intellectual freedom was as silly and counterproductive as the claims that divestment supporters are terrorists. Holding the entire anti-divestment movement responsible for the actions of a few disaffected and irresponsible individuals is a rhetorical conceit that you would expect a man of Ibish’s intelligence to reject. His arguments were particularly laughable when remembering that Snehal “Conservatives Need Not Enroll” Shingavi would be speaking later in the day.
Playing into Ibish’s position were the actions of Adi Neuman and Richard Dorfman. Their frivolous and Constitutionally baseless lawsuit would not even be worth mentioning, except for the great harm it has done to pro-Israel groups. Fortunately, most pro-Israel forces on campus were willing to stand up against the small cadre of intellectual thugs.
One more incident merits mention. On the second floor of the Michigan League, Al-Adwa Chicago were hawking T-shirts with a stylized “Intifada!” sketching and the words, “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea” were emblazoned on the shirt. To be fair, the shirts weren’t big sellers, but everyone should recognize that not all members of the pro-divestment bloc seek an amicable resolution.
In our little corner of Southeast Michigan these tensions have generated a situation, which, despite its acrimony, cannot even approach the level of distrust and enmity between Israelis and Palestinians.
Perpetual peace will not be the result of diplomatic maneuverings between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, but will require a groundswell of mutual understanding between Palestinians and Israelis. To generate amity, there must be more efforts to increase interactions between Palestinian and Israeli youth and to encourage collaboration between the civil services of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. When a peace agreement is brokered, both people must be ready to abide by its tenets.
To return to the Divestment Conference, Hatem Bazian delivered a speech Saturday morning that unintentionally exposed the failures of divestment. Bazian quoted George Washington’s Farewell Address in an effort to bolster support for divestment. Washington’s isolationist policies are both a contemporary impossibility and morally degenerate. Outlining areas where divestment could occur, Bazian called for the cessation of collaborative academic programs between the United States and Israel. Bazian seeks to construct barriers between people and limit the exchange of ideas and cultural practices.
That is the essence of divestment, a measure to arrest interaction between the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. If divestment ever becomes a genuine possibility, the people of Israel will be forced to look within their borders to survive and a siege mentality will reign. This is not a road to reconciliation.
Divestment is a sham. I urge “progressives” to reject it with the same urgency with which they reject the U.N.’s sanctions against Iraq. The effects of divestment from Israel may not be the same as the Iraqi sanctions, but the intentions are equivalent. And until that moment when they are willing to speak against divestment, their cowardice speaks volumes.
Zac Peskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.