Anybody who is interested in student politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict knows what happened when Hen Mazzig was invited to speak at UCL recently. Similar to his visit last year, pro-Palestinian students aggressively and loudly protested against somebody whom they falsely characterised to be a demonic war criminal. Their accusations derived not from the specific nature of Mazzig’s service in the IDF, not because of crimes he is known to have committed, no – their smear campaign against Mazzig derived from the simple fact that he has served in the IDF at all. Never mind that his work revolved around the provision of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, work that involved close levels of cooperation and coordination with the Palestinian Authority and numerous international organisations. I myself served in the same unit as Mazzig, and can personally attest to the incredible work that the Civil Administration carries out: humanitarian projects, economic and infrastructural development, medical assistance, and so much more. None of this mattered to the pro-Palestinian protesters: Mazzig was Israeli, and therefore unwelcome.
Unfortunately, we can only expect to see many more attempts to defame the State of Israel and to intimidate and no-platform Israeli speakers. ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ is fast approaching. Central to the revisionist narrative of these pro-BDS, pro-Palestinian activists is a fundamental opposition to the concepts of constructive dialogue and debate. They steadfastly advance the idea that campaigns to build bridges and foster dialogue are a far less viable solution to the struggles faced by the Palestinians than the campaign to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction the State of Israel. Hosting Israeli speakers to discuss the many complex issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a step towards promoting peace within their paradigm, but rather one of the many ways that Israel’s undemocratic rule of Palestinians is accepted and normalised. Pro-BDS activists are opposed even to liberal Zionist rhetoric, for they believe that their refusal to endorse BDS constitutes a failure to face up to the material reality of the Palestinians. Indeed, they posit that even engaging in the culture of dialogue renders the basic human rights of Palestinians up for theoretical discussion and reasoned debate. Liberal Zionist rhetoric, although similarly opposed to the occupation and deeply critical of the Israeli government, keeps people safely enclosed within a hypothetical debate about a future two-state solution, instead of confronting the harsh realities on the ground. Friends of Palestine societies across the globe believe themselves to be fighting for the rights of Palestinians through educational talks, protests, and calls for BDS as a method of political protest designed to pressure Israel into ending its oppressive policies.
These are the fundamental assertions and guiding principles of today’s pro-Palestinian activists in the diaspora, whose voice is becoming increasingly more loud and intimidating on university campuses. It is interesting how the very people opposed to the principles of dialogue and discussion on Israel-Palestine proudly endorse their hosting of educational events on the injustices experienced by Palestinians as one legitimate method of advancing the rights of the people with whom they stand in solidarity with. However, should anybody who is even slightly sympathetic to the Israeli perspective on the conflict dare to host an event with similar intent – to educate and discuss – then this is unacceptable. There is only one legitimate point of view according to pro-Palestinian activists, and that is boycott and absolute rejection of anything Israeli. Any discussion which does not endorse a boycott of Israel constitutes a whitewashing of the struggles and injustices faced by Palestinians, thus meaning that the only people with grounds to discuss their perspective on the conflict are Friends of Palestine societies. This however sets a dangerous precedent which materially discriminates against Jewish students, the vast majority of whom agree that Zionism and Israel comprise a central part of their identity. Perhaps the pro-BDS community should consider just why it is that Friends of Israel societies and Jewish students so adamantly adhere to the principles of free speech and dialogue: it is not because they mindlessly seek to defend Israel from any form of criticism, but because they feel that the rhetoric that BDS endorses fundamentally threatens their very existence, and more often than not frightens, intimidates, and discriminates against them. The pro-BDS community urgently needs to stop ignoring the consensus of the majority of Jewish communities in the diaspora who are deeply offended by their vilification of Zionism. They desperately need to face up to the material reality of their anti-Judaism and intimidation of Jewish students on campuses.
The pro-BDS camp is correct in demanding that the basic human rights of Palestinians should not be up for reasoned debate. But the intent of endorsing dialogue as opposed to boycott is never to deny the right of the Palestinians for statehood, their ongoing suffering, or the injustices that they have endured. The intent of dialogue is to open up a space for listening, learning, and understanding of different perspectives. Dialogue is about respect, which the pro-BDS community apparently lacks for the Jewish community. Moreover, there is absolutely space for the deeply frustrated pro-Palestinian activists to voice their point of view in the culture of dialogue and to be heard. In a culture of boycott however, which shuns the Israeli perspective as illegitimate, there is only space for the Palestinian perspective. When students who identify as pro-Israel – which, let’s remember, is not antagonistic to the principles of self-determination and human rights for Palestinians – host Israeli speakers or events discussing the conflict, does this really render the rights of Palestinians merely theoretical? Does a left-leaning Israeli speaker openly criticising and debating the policies of her government on campus really legitimise Israel’s occupation in the West Bank? No: engaging in these discussions simply manifests the material consequence of the right of pro-Israel and Jewish students to express their political convictions.
Now that it has been established that the human rights of Palestinians are not up for ‘reasoned debate’, we must establish another fundamental point: the right of the Jewish people for self determination and political sovereignty in their historical and religious homeland is not up for debate. Zionism is not up for debate, and is not up for defamation as an illegitimate or racist ideology. The right of Israel to exist is not up for debate. The right for all Israelis to feel safe in their homes is not up for debate. These fundamental rights of Jewish people are not up for debate, let alone for denial, vilification, or boycott. This is why the way in which the pro-BDS camp so vehemently decries Zionism and slanders even the left-leaning, liberal form of Zionism, is so deeply concerning. It implicates that the move to boycott Israel is fundamentally embedded in the idea that Jewish people in Israel should not exist. It denies the essential human right of self-determination for one side of the conflict. Indeed, one of the most intimidating catchcries of Friends of Palestine societies is “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. If pro-Palestinians lament the reasoned debate on Israel-Palestine that Friends of Israel societies engage in for being safely fixed within the hypothetical two-state solution, then what hypothetical scenario is this phrase embedded in? If they call for Palestine to be ‘free’ from the ‘river to the sea’, it implicates that their entire ideology is founded on the idea that Israel should not exist as a state. The implications of these kinds of catchcries are obvious, and deeply concerning. I find it utterly dumbfounding that more people are not outraged by the extremism of their rejectionist stance of the very idea of Jewish nationalism.
Yes, mainstream discussion and dialogue about Israel-Palestine is very much embedded within the hypothetical concept and aspiration for a two-state solution. However, for the entire duration of this conflict, a two-state solution has been the only hypothetical resolution of the issues faced by Israelis and Palestinians, a solution which policy-makers, diplomats, world leaders and the international community as a whole has tirelessly worked towards for decades. Engaging in discussion therefore does not keep people safely enclosed within the hypothetical concept of a two-state solution, failing to face up to the material realities experienced by the Palestinians: it is the only paradigm of thinking that is known to us people who abide by the concept of two states for two peoples. Perhaps those who slander the culture of dialogue for being embedded within the two-state solution should explain why they are so critical of this hypothetical resolution of the conflict. If not a two-state solution, then what? Logic dictates that their opposition implicates that they endorse a one-state solution, which is in and of itself still a hypothetical suggestion – only, one that denies the right to self-determination of the Jewish side in this conflict. The hypocrisy of a movement that claims the moral high ground in their pursuit of justice and statehood for Palestinians, while simultaneously denying the right to self-determination of the other side, is simply mind-boggling. Their claim that dialogue is counter-productive to achieving statehood and justice for the Palestinians is simply absurd, and I would ask the BDS community to consider how productive it really is for them to persistently ignore the fears and concerns of the Jewish community, who have openly stated how deeply offensive they find their calls for the destruction of Israel to be. In the face of absurdity, rejectionism and extremism, those of us who abide by the right of both the Israelis and the Palestinians to exist and prosper, and who long for a brighter future, must continue to engage in dialogue and foster a culture of mutual respect in the diaspora.