I’m a second year student at McGill University. This past Sunday, with God’s strength, the student body voted down a motion to divest from “companies profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.” I need to share something, as a university student, that I find is pervasive among most pro-Israel university students.
I have noticed that as students surrounded by anti-Israel rhetoric both online and on-campus, we have eased our defenses against anti-Israel language consequentially changing our opinions on issues. Let me demonstrate with a personal experiment.
Two nights ago, my roommate was working on a paper for his law class in our kitchen. As part of my experiment, I decided to take his computer from him because I felt like it. (He was also eating dinner at the time). He yelled and annoyingly and told me to give him back the computer to which I responded, “Ok give me some of your dinner.” Happily, he capitulated.
Does that sound right? It shouldn’t. I, the perpetrator, came in and unlawfully took his computer- something that is illegitimate and ethically wrong. Then, I made him beg for it back and also demanded something from him in return. The appropriate answer from him would have been, “Absolutely not. You took my computer unlawfully and I do not need to appease you once you have already committed a crime, in order to get my possessions back.” But he didn’t. He folded like a house of cards in the wind.
I find this same un-steadfastness is sweeping pro-Israel students across college campuses as a result of the perpetual assailing attacks of anti-Israel propaganda around us. The direct result of pro-Palestinians starting an Israel Apartheid Week, or anti-Israel social events where they distribute false propaganda is a slow erosion of our pro-Israel integrity. The propaganda takes its toll and naturally forces us to loosen our defenses by the mere fact that it exists.
In fact, my theory holds psychological backing. The ‘mere-exposure effect’ suggests that people develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. In the context of social psychology, this explains why we develop positive feeling towards neighbors even though we often have little to do with them. Similarly, we know these claims are ludicrous yet for some reason, we still give them the time of day. In a similar vein, professors lecture both formally in class and as lecturers off campus about the “Occupied Territories” as if it is an undisputed title. Pro-Israel students sit in on these courses, are too embarrassed to speak up in class against the professor and in front of their peers, and then hear no objection to these academics or fellow students. We slowly start to hear the arguments, willingly or not, and allow them to settle in, as outlandish as they may be. And it takes a toll.
Social change for years has worked when one party incrementally challenges the status quo until it builds traction, eventually accumulating an influence and changing the direction of society. This happened with the Feminist Movement and in my life, with equal rights for gays. Those, I agree, are social justice causes. The “occupied territories” and the “open-air prison is Gaza” are not. We cannot flicker in the wind. As hard as it may be either as university students, adults in the office, or politicians in negotiations, we cannot capitulate and lose our integrity. But even more, we must assess if our empathy with opposing arguments is a direct result of our original principles being loosened by the ever-present myths and demonizations. Peer pressure can be uncomfortable and even effective but we need to find the strength in ourselves to combat the fallacies that challenge the blatant facts about Israel.
In conclusion, I fear that the natural human condition–of being both swayed by our surroundings and pursuers of peace– has chipped away at students’ pro-Israel integrity. We cannot respond to a party’s outlandish claims by shifting our opinions to meet them partway, consciously or not. If it is a legitimate claim, then I support the need to compromise. But when it is so inaccurate and erroneous, we have no need to respond to it with capitulation. The solution is to stay on our toes to ensure we are not being influenced by the misconceptions that are thrown around us everyday.
My hope from this piece is that as students, we will introspect and think critically if our current opinion has been shaped and molded by far-flung, un-based, and incorrect arguments by the mere fact that they exist. If so, maybe it’s time to change.
 Gilovich, Thomas, and Dacher Keltner. Social Psychology. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. 350. Print.