In the past three weeks, the University has become a hotbed of political activism. In addition to the omnipresent representatives of Defend Affirmative Action Party and the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, the overzealous student activists got another excuse to stand in the middle of the Diag and harass the University community: the impending and now occurring war in Iraq. Last Thursday, hundreds of high school students, imitating to detail the hippie protests of the 1970s, stomped around the Diag, hoping to convince the world that war is bad because “Bush is stupid.” Across from them stood several members of Young Americans for Freedom, hoping that their chant “U-S-A” will convince the world that war is good. The majority just stood around and laughed.
It is crystal clear that this campus became increasingly polarized in the past few weeks. A more radical rhetoric became part of everyday life, especially evident on the pages of The Michigan Daily. Affirmative action, war, budget all find a place in heated debates on campus. The debate on Iraq brought students out of their houses to argue in all corners of the campus.
The pro-Israel community on campus remained largely out of the debate, unwilling to take a stand on this issue because of the diversity of individual opinions within the community. One issue that it stands united behind is its support for Israel and its desire to promote further education about Israel and the Middle East on this campus.
Sadly enough, however, in the past week, the mainstream pro-Israel community has been grossly misrepresented through the publication of campustruth.org ads in the Daily. These ads, which try to represent the conflict as that between good and evil, do a great disservice to the pro-Israel cause on this campus. Through oversimplification of a nuanced and deeply complex conflict, these ads only further polarize the discussion on the Middle East on this campus and intensify emotions between the two sides of the debate. The Daily decided to pull these ads after much negative feedback from the University community. Michigan Student Zionists President Rick Dorfman’s explosive reaction to this decision on Monday only further highlighted what is wrong in the divisive and explosive debate on the Middle East. As leaders of the mainstream pro-Israel student groups on this campus, we recognize that it is important to recognize that the Daily has a right to determine its own editorial position. As a private publication, it can choose not to publish opinions that are offensive, divisive, and counter-productive, such as these ads.
Being a pro-Israel activist is extremely difficult on a campus where the debate is already so polarized, and with the addition of the war in Iraq, it became even more difficult. The pro-Israel groups on campus do not want to advocate or be associated with any type of offensive and extreme speech. That is why we condemn Dorfman’s assertion that “calling for the censorship of advertisements is a flagrant violation of the freedoms of our great nation, and is further indication of the vile hatred of America that exists within the Palestinian community” (Daily business staff’s decision to suspend ads is censorship, 03/26/03) and outright reject this as a position of the pro-Israel community. Like the SAFE divestment conference, which was rejectionist and uncompromising with regards to the dialogue on the Middle East, this type of language is not an acceptable method of political advocacy and should not be tolerated in the future.
This is both ineffective as a tool of education and detrimental to the pro-Israel movement because the campus student body does not identify with irrational, extreme views.
The pro-Israel community now faces a variety of complex problems on this campus, including a divisiveness on the issue of war and a possibility of intensifying anti-Semitic sentiment, evident in the recent physical assault on a Jewish student in Ann Arbor. Now the immediate goal of the pro-Israel community is to understand its role and direction with regard to the war in Iraq, as it seems to be the pervading issue on campus.
Moreover, it is important that the entire campus community does not fall prey to the extremist rhetoric that often finds its place in times of crisis. The best way to achieve our goals is through education, whether political or cultural. We live in an academic environment. It’s time that our behavior complimented it. Let’s learn and educate in an academic manner!
Dernovsky and Jacobson are co-chairs of the American Movement for Israel, Roth is co-chair of the Israel Michigan Public Affairs Committee.