Disclaimer: My opinion is just that: my opinion. I am writing this as an independent faculty member at CSU Fullerton, not as an official voice for Hillel or any other group.
During the last week of classes prior to Thanksgiving break, the Students for Justice in Palestine displayed a wall in the middle of campus, painted with provocative criticisms of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, which the Daily Titan reported on Nov. 19.
While I applaud these students’ earnest efforts to raise campus awareness of the difficult plight of Palestinians, I also wanted to voice the concerns of Jewish students, faculty and administrators at Cal State Fullerton who feel that this display is misinformed and hurtful.
The conflict between Israel, her Arab neighbors generally and Palestinians, more specifically, extends back to the early part of the 20th century, and is deeply complex. The club’s protest may have the positive effect of heightening campus interest in this important issue, but in offering gross exaggerations and launching false accusations against Israel, it will also make it less likely that students, faculty and administrators who have different views and personal connections to Israel and Palestine will find ways to build bridges and to seek peaceful solutions for the conflict.
The large and imposing exhibit was placed in the middle of campus, and had graphic text accusing Israel of being an Apartheid state, of starving citizens of Gaza of drinkable water, of walling off Palestinians from their homeland and, most disturbingly, proclaiming in a boldly painted statement that “Zionism = Racism.”
While there are many violations of the rights of Palestinians in and around Israel, the Jewish faculty, administrators and students I know are opposed to these acts of oppression and have consistently criticized the government for such policies, while holding out hope for a peaceful and just end to the conflict.
We are not “racists,” but we are Zionists – committed to the one and only Jewish state and to a just and sustainable future for her… and for her Arab neighbors, including and especially the Palestinian people.
While there are some extremist and racist Zionists, that does not make all Zionists racist.
Likewise, Israel is not an apartheid state, even when there are highly visible extremists in and abroad Isreal who wish to deny Palestinians any right to national self-determination. Israel has a system of government that provides its Arab citizens the right to form political parties, run for office, to serve at all levels of government, and to vote: this is patently not an apartheid system.
Gaza citizens face the unenviable position of being governed by Hamas, which is openly and officially dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Since Israel left the Gaza strip in 2005, the Palestinians living there were given full control over their land.
Unfortunately, Hamas was elected to power, and has engaged in repeated efforts to wage war against Israel by launching missiles and rockets at neighboring innocent civilians. Although the plight of Gaza citizens is a humanitarian crisis, Hamas’s continued use of violence to address their people’s suffering does little to create the possibility for effectively addressing this heartbreaking situation.
Lastly, the wall that the SJP protest is intended to signify was not built by Israel to purposefully keep out Palestinians from their ancestral homes. After the West Bank came under Israeli occupation, following the 1967 war between Israel and all of her Arab neighbors, there was no physical barrier between Israel and the occupied West Bank.
But with the second intifada, Arabic for uprising, there were hundreds of suicide bombings on Israeli buses, restaurants and other public areas, killing thousands of innocent citizens. Israel responded by building a barrier and policing it to prevent further terrorism.
In some ways, this was enormously successful, nearly eliminating suicide bombings in Israel. But in other ways it created new problems, as checkpoints between Palestinian areas and Israel became new sites for tensions and, all too often, abuses of Palestinian civil rights.
Rather than facilitating a meaningful discussion of the very difficult issues that flow from two groups of people with conflicting claims to the same land, the club’s exhibit has become the very thing it is protesting: a wall of separation.
Many Jewish faculty, administrators and students stay away from the controversial wall entirely, hoping to avoid it and waiting for it to “just go away.” University administrators seeking to prevent a conflict, seek to prevent any direct confrontation between pro-Israel students and protesters.
This is not a productive situation: there are no meaningful exchanges of ideas or discussions of issues. In future semesters, I hope that the commendable and engaged club members can work with Hillel, with Jewish faculty and administrators, and with other interested members of the CSUF community to begin the difficult and necessary work of educating each other on our respective experiences of this conflict.
By moving in that direction, CSUF has an opportunity to provide national leadership for how to productively engage a diverse campus in directly addressing one of the most contentious political issues in the world.
Associate Professor of Political Science
Faculty Advisor to Hillel