On the day I saw the first shirt I saw a problem.
Last winter, Jewish students on our campus surfaced in blue T-shirts that read, “Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel.” The shirts also displayed an Israeli flag.
I am Jewish, and was asked by both Jews and non-Jews why I not only refused to wear one, but why I was adamantly opposed to such an effort of solidarity.
My response, quite simply, is that the “effort of solidarity” supported on college campuses by Hillel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other Jewish organizations, is counterproductive, hypocritical and propagandizing.
Am I apathetic? Anti-Zionist? Anti-Semitic?
No, no and no.
But these shirts exemplify the current state of Jewish (and Palestinian) thinking in this country, which is irrational, frustrated, and reactionary. A campus like ours should be invigorated by bilateralism, cooperation and dialogue. Instead it is infected by anger and stubbornness on both sides of the Israel-Palestine debate.
The shirt should be a neutral color. It should display both an Israeli and a Palestinian flag. It should read, “Wherever we stand, we stand together.”
And where do we stand now? We stand in Ann Arbor, on a liberal campus and in a shared community. Standing together should be easy – at least easier than it is in Jerusalem. But how do we stand? We stand opposed and irate, with swords drawn and ears deaf. We should be ashamed.
I believe that our campus has reached this discouraging nadir because campus leaders too quickly and easily follow the examples of their respective political leaders. Yasser Arafat’s stubbornness and hawkish policies do not excuse or justify the same from pro-Palestinian leaders here at Michigan. Ariel Sharon’s stubbornness and hawkish policies do not excuse or justify the same from pro-Israeli and Zionist student leaders. The men in control in the Middle East are desperate politicians, and neither Arafat nor Sharon is a worthy role model for anyone interested in peace. Their actions are deplorable; ours do not have to be.
The divestment conference has come and gone, and the opposition to it has delivered its message. Was the conference motivated by anti-Semitism? I do not know. The arguments I have heard from divestment supporters sound inconsistent and poorly developed. What I do know is that both sides feel they are being suppressed, discriminated against and bullied. The New York Times printed a statement by the AJC this week condemning the growing number of instances of discrimination and intimidation toward Jewish students on college campuses. You know what? Arab students in particular, and Palestinian students specifically, have faced that for years, and face it still.
The language of cooperation and dialogue – of acknowledging differences and recognizing similarities – seems like a forgotten memory. The worst thing that happened at Camp David was not that the Palestinians were insulted or that the peace process was fatally impaired. The worst thing that happened at Camp David was the culture of distrust and frustration that grew out of it among the entire Jewish and Palestinian communities.
The few of us left in the peace camp know that Sharon needs to halt and reverse his settlement policy, and that both sides need to elect leadership that is serious about peace. We know that President Bush (or, if he fails to do so, a future President) needs to stop appeasing the American Jewish community with his blind support of a dreadful Israeli regime. We know that Hamas and Islamic Jihad (or their kin) are not going away, but that sanctions need to be imposed if the Palestinian Authority cannot curb the Intifada for the sake of the peace process.
That’s what we know. What we hope for now and in the future, in our own community – is a commitment to dialogue and an end to accusatory propaganda. The divestment conference was a waste of resources – resources that would have been better spent creating a forum for building trust and fostering cooperation. I have heard extremists on both sides suggest that such efforts are tired and futile, sprung from Rabin-era idealism and naivet