This is a response to “NYUseless: The Failure to protest Abbas” by Mendy Boteach.
I recently read an op-ed lamenting the fact that no one showed up to protest Mahmoud Abbas. Like the author of the article, I am also new to NYU. I am a recent transfer from a small liberal arts university, who came to New York University looking for a more diverse learning experience and a larger Jewish community. NYU did not disappoint. I have benefitted immensely from having my secular career complemented by NYU’s heterogeneous Jewish culture, and having a Jewish community that thrives on diversity and discussion has been a blessing.
My decision to not protest Abbas was informed by that same appreciation for diversification and discussion. I attended the speech by Abbas, as did many other Jews at NYU, because I realized the importance of listening to the narrative of Israel’s negotiating partner (a fact, not an opinion). I harbor no illusions about the nature of Abbas, and recognize that as the head of a unity government with Hamas, he is accountable for the conflict that Israel was engaged in this summer. As the head of Fatah, he is also responsible for violence that was perpetrated by that organization in the past.
Showing up at Cooper Union was not aligning myself with Abbas; listening does not necessitate the abandonment of principles. I felt that it was my obligation to show up and listen to what Israel’s negotiating partner had to say. I care about the future of Israel and have a responsibility to listen to individuals who play such a powerful role in shaping it. Calling myself an Israel activist means that I need to be able to critically think and engage with the pressing problems that confront Israel. This means diversifying my sources of information, reading Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz, listening to speakers that I agree with and those that I don’t.
Dismissing the Palestinian narrative with mantras is easy, but dealing with the Arab-Israel conflict requires more than name-calling and emotionally driven arguments. Being an Israel activist means wrestling with the conflict from an intellectual perspective which a university education is meant to cultivate; college is a time to engage with the wider world and allow a heterogeneous grit into our mill of self-making. As a college student and Israel activist, I would be committing a disservice by “fight[ing] back in a way that is huge..and even theatrical”.
It is our obligation as Israel activists to engage in discussions and debates, to resist fear mongering and instead approach issues from both an emotional and intellectual standpoint. Locking ourselves into a box of hardline Israel advocacy while the conflict goes on outside is destructive and only serves to provide more of a platform for extremism and close-mindedness to flourish. Abbas isn’t calling for Israel’s destruction and equating him with those that do is more than intellectually lazy, it simplifies the conflict and removes our responsibility to take a stand. Not outside protesting, but inside the auditorium, listening to what Israel’s negotiating partner has to say and drawing our own conclusions. I count myself among the many NYU students who chose to do just that, and who are now better equipped to take part in the debate and discussion that we all should welcome.