We, the American Movement for Israel and the Israel IDEA, want constructive and positive discourse on one of the most convoluted issues of modern times. We are eager to learn about our faults, understand opposing beliefs and analyze the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from varying perspectives.
We look to promote education by conveying an honest portrayal of the situation while recognizing that there may be a sharp dichotomy between our respective perceptions of honesty. Regardless of this disagreement, it is our obligation to constantly strive for sophisticated and intellectual conversation committed to understanding the past, present and future of the Israeli and Palestinian people.
By inviting Bard College Prof. Joel Kovel to speak at the University on Monday, the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality shattered the principal safeguard of academic freedom: intellectual responsibility.
Kovel is the author of “Overcoming Zionism,” a book advocating the destruction of the state of Israel that is being distributed by the University of Michigan Press. He spoke Monday evening with deceitful rhetoric virtually absent of factual or historical information. Calling Israel a “historical mistake” and urging the destruction of Israel by saying, “many states have been replaced, there is nothing sacred about a state” will never give way to anything productive.
In his book, Kovel writes, “What is wrong with the Jewish State is the fact of being a Jewish State.” Think about this comment for a second. What if the statement read: “What is wrong with the Muslim State is the fact of being a Muslim State.” Is that acceptable? Is that conducive to productive dialogue on this campus? Would it be considered hate speech?
This is the exact double standard that embodies the essence of anti-Semitism. In another part of the book, Kovel writes, “Zionism is Jewish power – worldly and state power: military, economic, and ideological, too.” This statement is eerily similar to anti-Semitic propaganda expressed over hundreds of years – including from “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Stalinist Russia and Adolph Hitler – through claims of Jewish world dominance.
You, the students of the University, are the ultimate jury. Can you condone such remarks? Can the University be directly responsible for disseminating these claims, as it is right now?
Kovel has expressed his views in a published book, and no one has prevented that from happening. The University Press distributing this book is not a matter of academic freedom but rather one of intellectual responsibility – an obligation to uphold a premier level of academic integrity. The University has proclaimed a commitment to sustaining its reputation as an institution for higher learning. Distributing “Overcoming Zionism” jeopardizes this reputation.
Zionism, an ideology founded by Theodore Herzl, is a political movement that upholds the belief that the Jewish people have the right to a national homeland. Israel functions as a home for Jews from all over the world, free of persecution and anti-Semitism. Israel was created as a platform for the Jewish people, vis-a-vis statehood, to participate in the international political world. It exists to solidify a future for a nation that has overcome countless threats to its existence for the past 4,000 years.
In no way is Zionism a racist ideology. In Israel, Israeli-Arabs exercise full democratic privileges and have representatives in parliament. The country is rich with active civil society and a cantankerous press, constantly critical of the government.
Admittedly, Israel is far from perfect. Its various governments have made grave mistakes, just like any other country, and Israel should be held accountable for its actions. However, criticizing Israel’s government is far different from denying Israel’s fundamental right to exist.
Yesterday, President Bush met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, in hopes of restarting a peace process that has been dormant for the past decade. International leaders are calling for a two-state solution with two independent nations living side by side in peaceful coexistence. Kovel rejects this vision. At a time when peace seems within our grasp, it is regrettable that such a monumental moment has been undermined by SAFE’s decision to bring Kovel to speak at our University.
Today, Israel seeks a partner for peace. Today, we seek a partner in dialogue. Is there one?
Eitan Ingall is an LSA sophomore and the vice president of the Israel IDEA. Sasha Gribov is a Business sophomore and the vice chair of the American Movement for Israel.