A Lesson From Israeli Apartheid Week
I learned something this Israeli Apartheid Week: That the pro-Palestinian narrative on campus is a fairy tale for slightly older children. It sees things entirely in black and white. On one hand you have the immaculate Palestinian dove and on the other the heartless Zionist monster.
In the world of Palestine U, Meir Kahane is the same as Zehava Gal-On, because there is no difference between Zionist and Zionist. Herzl is Baruch Marzel, and Bibi is certainly identical to both Lapids.
For these people, history doesn’t exist. There are no wars started by Arabs, there are no peace deals rejected by Palestinians, there are no purposeful killings of pedestrians by Palestinians, there are no undemocratic regimes in power in the Palestinian Territories. When history is ignored, nothing stops the campus activist from believing that the only obstacle in the way of Happy End Palestine is the Zionist Jew.
My argument here is not that the solidarity campaign fails to see how perfect Israel is. Israel is anything but. What I am saying is that our faithful opposition is absolutely incapable of understanding the situation at all, since they detect no subtleties.
Let me put it to you like this. I don’t like fundamentalist political Islam. By observing Judaism, I have even voted against Islam in general. At the same time, I know that there are plenty of great people who are Muslims around me. They gave me a Koran, and I read it sometimes. I make the effort to understand others. See what I did there? I was able to differentiate between A and B, and because I was able to do that, I made my life better.
But the pro-Palestine movement on campus doesn’t think this way. They shut out every single issue that troubles the proponents of Israel because they see the Israeli side as illegitimate. In this conception of reality, a suicide bomber is an anguished individual whose desperate deed is nothing but an indicator of his humanity. Zionists, on the other hand, are not to be discussed in human terms. They are two-dimensional.
The problem with this is that, whether Zionism is legitimate or not, a Jewish Israel is here to stay. Promoting the avoidance of this fact will lead to disaster for the Palestinians. When you are losing, you don’t get to tell the other side to just stop existing and call that a solution. That’s called being delusional. For whatever victories the BDS movement can claim, its narrative is still that the Palestinians are losing bitterly.
Palestinians, perhaps more than most, need to start talking. They are the weaker party. Every time negotiations fail, it will cost them more lives than it will for Israelis. This is ignored by campus activists, as it is ignored by the Palestinian leadership. But if you frame yourself as a human rights movement, you should perhaps start worrying about human lives. So pragmatism is advisable, and pragmatism requires the ability to contextualize. I am at a loss of words when the romanticism of the ivory tower approves of violence in Israel while it rejects intellectual curiosity at university. If it would do this out of an appreciation for the usefulness of turmoil, I would respect its consistency. Doublespeak, however, is contemptuous. It is also a stain on the pro-Palestinian movement’s self-declared moral high ground.
The argument goes that there can be no debate about human rights. There can be no debate where one side is the oppressor and the other is the oppressed, because that would mean acknowledgement that the conflict is between equals.
Prima facie this may sound reasonable. Except that Palestinians are actual human beings with political power, free will, and their fair share of responsibility. Ignoring a century of history is not going to bode well for millions of innocent Palestinians, because it encourages the propagation of fiction, that is to say, an attitude that is not conducive to remedying anything at all. And then, I still made no mention of the soft bigotry of low expectations, where (often white) university students infantilize an entire group of people (of color) by robbing them of agency which, in reality, they possess.
What I see in campus pro-Palestine activism is simultaneous lip service to human rights and an encouragement to reject basic democratic principles. That there should be a revolt against these principles is unsurprising. The alliance of the new Marxists with pro-Islamic fundamentalist elements would logically be disdainful towards a Judeo-Christian value system, without which there is no modern democracy. The question that pro-Israel forces must explore is whether the appropriation of human rights language accompanied by the condemnation of its source is a philosophically consistent approach. If the answer to that question is in the negative, then there is a new and important point for us to make.