Arielle Biran

Americentrism Unmasked

This past Saturday, pro-Palestine college students in the suburbs of Philadelphia, my hometown, took to the streets to protest the war. As a fierce proponent of free speech and an individual who similarly hopes for a swift and peaceful resolution to the conflict, I was intrigued. However, upon further research into the Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore College chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, I was disappointed to find little more than egotism poorly packaged and presented as activism. These organizations are seemingly composed of individuals who cannot fathom the existence of a world beyond their own bubbles, oblivious to the gross insignificance of whether their college president in Haverford, Pennsylvania calls for ceasefire in the Middle East.

I write this as someone who vocally opposes the Netanyahu regime and their policy — Bibi Netanyahu could not be less affected by whether your small liberal arts college divests from Israel. While you can pat yourself on the back from the comfort of your dorm room at the institution for which you’re paying $82,000 yearly, the war rages on. Israeli hostages are still undergoing the same psychological torture they’ve been subjected to for almost five months, the women among them being violently and systematically raped. Palestinian civilians are still being starved, refused aid and proper medical treatment by corrupt Hamas officials, who hoard aid and occupy hospitals as terrorist headquarters. But really, go on. Applaud yourself for your bravery!

Their pointed condemnation of the ‘mainline community’, which they tastefully and oh-so-discreetly refer to as the ‘Zionist epicenter of the Philly region’, is a thinly-veiled masquerade. The only people truly affected by their calls for a free Palestine between ‘the river and the sea’ are local Jews, made to feel unsafe within our sole majority community in a state where we otherwise comprise 1% of the population. Bryn Mawr and Haverford College students are more than happy to decry their institutions for ‘cultural complicity’ on Saturday, and to return to class on Monday with no understanding of the irony of their own behavior. Unfortunately, this phenomenon of Americentrism, investing an inflated importance in the policy and sentiments of US institutions and leaders, is not limited to the narcissistic imaginings of privileged college students.

The first pause in fighting in this war came towards the end of November. It was the first time in weeks I felt, if only for a moment, that I could breathe. Yet, entirely dismissing the release of especially at-risk hostages or end to loss of human life, even if only temporary, I witnessed Western activists take to the internet to proclaim the ceasefire a marketing ploy. X user @aquariaofficial tweeted “ceasefire for black friday… groundbreaking… economically convenient, really.” This degree of self-centered delusion would almost be funny if not for its mainstream appeal, as the post was liked almost 3,000 times.

To believe that Israel’s military policy bends to the will of American consumer spending habits is to be willfully and dangerously uninformed regarding the realities and deep history of this war and conflict. Indeed, such levels of ignorance seem to be a readily emerging pattern among Americentric collegiates. In an image posted by @sjpbico, one protester holds up a sign sporting the words “Boycott, Divest, Sanction”, advocating for the economic movement which has consistently proven to harm Palestinians while failing to make a dent in Israeli capital. Another image features a large banner emblazoned with “Dismantle Apartheid”, while the state they speak of destroying is the most diverse, democratic, and tolerant in the Middle East.

This isn’t to say that there is no value within local and grassroot forums of activism — inarguably, there is. Yet, these feel-good demonstrations which lack tangible constructive impact merely serve as vessels of misinformation and self-righteousness. They plummet individuals further within their own echo chambers of thought and diverge attention from taking real action, such as raising money for reputable charity organizations that actually have the means to help the people of Gaza.

A shocking take: a Middle Eastern, millennia-old conflict is not about American college students or Black Friday. Activism which relies on intimidation and antisemitism is not activism. The acronym U.S. does not literally mean everything is about ‘us’.

About the Author
Arielle Biran is a proud Philadelphian and Israeli-American high school senior. She seeks to create awareness about the true nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict and spread Jewish joy.