Ben Duchan’s letter to the editor (Anti-Muslim Sentiments in Israel is Exaggerated, 2/14/11) labels University alum Hamdan Azhar ( A Palestinian-Israeli approach, 02/03/2011) a “coward” who refuses to admit his “anti-Semitism.” We openly reject such a label. This isn’t a J Street UMICH issue. This isn’t a Jewish issue. This is an issue of respect and civil discourse. As an organization that is pro-Israel and predominantly Jewish, we have the responsibility to raise our voices when such a charge is leveled without merit. Duchan clearly falls into the latter category.

This isn’t to say that we agree with the entirety of Azhar’s viewpoint. While J Street UMICH enthusiastically supports the Michigan Student Assembly resolution for a joint study abroad program in Israel and the West Bank, we aren’t in agreement with Azhar in his opposition to study abroad programs in Israel. We believe that providing a variety of avenues for students to engage with the region is important and appropriate for campus.

However, the issues raised by Azhar regarding the conditions under which Palestinians live in occupation and the discrimination they face in Israel aren’t only crucial to address and recognize, but factually not up for debate.

Duchan dismisses these critical issues by dismissing the messenger as “anti-Semitic.” In doing so, he and others like him only solidify the opposing views on either side and make the work of building a broad coalition for peace all the more difficult.

Dismissing those who raise such criticisms, however, doesn’t serve Israel or the peace process. Moreover, when charges of anti-Semitism are leveled carelessly, the word is drained of its power and meaning. We must challenge anti-Semitism when it arises and where it exists instead of using the accusation as a tool with which to silence those with whom we disagree. We must respect those with real concerns if we’re ever going to reach a compromise on important and difficult issues.

This letter was written on behalf of J Street UMICH by LSA junior Dafna Eisbruch. J Street UMICH is a pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-Peace organization.

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