Our campus conversation about the Arab-Israeli conflict lacks context

Harrison Thorn, Senior Staff Writer

Through all the debate over Israel that happens on Tulane’s campus, it seems that one crucial idea consistently slips through the cracks: criticizing Israel isn’t anti-Semitic. The trouble comes when criticism turns to demonization of Israel and the Jewish people who reside there, or when inadequate or misleading context is used to back up arguments.  

The Hullabaloo has frequently covered issues related to Israeli politics this semester, with debate going between opinion articles and Letters to the Editor. They lack true context of the debate and have been rooted in the narrative of Palestinian oppression, which is one-sided and drives anti-Semitism. 

Go ahead and criticize Israel. But please, try to be educated when you do. This debate students are engaging in on campus is rich in evidence supporting both sides. Have an opinion, but if that opinion is that the Jewish people don’t have a right to live in Israel, think again.

The conflict today is largely centered on who has the right to live on the land that comprises present-day Israel. 

How far back in history is it reasonable to go in search of the answer to this question?  

Jerusalem has been captured and recaptured 44 times. It has bounced back and forth between Jewish control, control by Arabian nations, control by Christian crusaders, and other regimes. That area was first settled circa 3500 B.C.E, and it changed hands for the first time around 1200 B.C.E. 

Every 75 years on average since then, something akin to the ethnic cleansing that pro-Palestine groups claim is happening daily in Israel has likely occurred. This is not to say that the current treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government is fair or acceptable but that geographical area has been at war for millenia, and through it all, Jews have been kicked out and let back into the holiest city in their religion. 

Given all of this information, it is clear that Arab Muslims and the Jewish people both have clear claims over the land. It is wrong for either to be denied access to this land. This common realization led to the proposal of a two-state solution, which was rejected by Palestinian authorities in 1947.  

Those interested in learning some more Middle Eastern history should consider some of the classes being offered next semester that may help, such as Mark Gasiorowski’s “Politics of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” and Yigit Akin’s “Modern Middle East’ class. 

Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and members of Tulane’s branch of Students for Justice in Palestine argue that Palestinian Muslims have the right to live in Israel. This view stems from events that occurred surrounding the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Upon Israel’s declaration of independence, war ensued between Israel and several of the surrounding Arab nations. Many Palestinians lost their homes as Israel struggled to earn its existence.

It is false to say that this loss is due solely to Israel, however. In 1947, the United Nations put forward a plan to split Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Palestinian. The Arab Jews in the area were ecstatic. The Arab Muslims were outraged. The Arab nations surrounding Israel waged war immediately following the Israeli declaration of independence and lost.  

Arguments that blame the self-inflicted Palestinian refugee crisis and the current plight of Palestinians living in Gaza solely on Israeli actions are therefore contextually inaccurate. 

Protests against Israel often appeal strongly to emotion. One common tactic is to label Zionists as Nazis. To compare Zionists to Nazis is flagrant anti-Semitism and simultaneously misrepresents the mission of Zionism and Israeli actions towards Palestinians. 

One similarity, though, is clear: both groups have been systematic in their approaches. 

The differences are many and important. The Nazis acted in lands that were clearly across foreign borders, to scrub the world of the Jewish people. Israel acts largely from within or on their borders to protect from violent terrorism. 

The Nazis used propaganda to demonize Jews and make them an enemy. They went on to systematically murder millions of innocent people. Nazi Germany was aggressive, whereas Israel is defensive until necessary. Supporters of the Palestinian people have time and time again declared a desire to destroy Israel. There is a clear, non-manufactured need for Israel to defend itself.

With all of the student organizations on Tulane’s campus on both sides of the debate and increasing coverage in student media, it is only a matter of time before the conflict boils over the way it did on Ohio University’s campus in 2014

If peace is to be achieved on campus, Tulane students must talk face to face, not to reach an agreement, but so that knowledge of the conflict can be enriched on both sides. There is room for growth everywhere in this discussion. Zionists should learn of the troubles of Palestinians. Supporters of Palestinians should be advised that the Israel Defence Force is not actively trying to kill every Palestinian

A conversation is long overdue. The Tulane community deserves more context than any number of articles in The Hullabaloo could conceivably provide. 

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