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Moises Salinas Fleitman

The Imperative of Education: Rethinking Pro-Palestinian Protests

Education is often hailed as the most potent force for societal transformation, a sentiment epitomized by the timeless words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” This profound quote should serve as the guiding principle in the discourse surrounding the pro-Palestinian protests sweeping college campuses in the US and globally.

In recent weeks, intense debates have unfolded around these protests. However, the focus has predominantly centered on issues such as free speech and antisemitism, rather than delving into the underlying reasons why numerous young students are mobilizing on campuses to advocate for a cause seemingly distant from their immediate lives. Unlike the protests of the Vietnam era, which saw throngs of young people rallying against a war involving US troops—where friends and family were drafted into a conflict that often-lacked clarity—the Israel-Hamas conflict doesn’t directly involve American military personnel.

Evidently, there’s a notable gap in generational attitudes toward Israel within the US. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, among young Americans, there’s a growing inclination towards Palestinians amid the Gaza conflict. Specifically, 60% of Americans aged 18-29 hold favorable views of Palestinians, compared to 46% favoring Israelis. Similarly, 46% of young American adults find Israel’s actions in Gaza unacceptable, contrasting with 21% who hold a different opinion. Conversely, a Quinnipiac University poll reveals that older voters (aged 65 and above) exhibit significantly stronger support for Israel. Approximately two-thirds of this demographic endorse increasing military aid to Israel, with a majority also approving of Israel’s response to Hamas attacks. Furthermore, 65% of older voters express greater sympathy towards Israelis compared to Palestinians.

However, qualitative and anecdotal evidence suggests that many pro-Palestinian protesters possess limited knowledge about Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the specific reasons driving their protests. Recent articles from various media outlets, including CNN and The New York Post, have highlighted the misinformation and confusion prevalent among protesters. Worse still, many are unable to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israeli policies from antisemitic sentiments, as evidenced by statements such as “Zionists don’t deserve to live” and “kill the Jews.”

Protests and demonstrations are protected forms of free speech and are integral to academic freedom at institutions of higher education, even if they lack accuracy and depth. However, in my view, this is where the crux of the debate lies. Combatting misinformation doesn’t entail censorship or arrests; it necessitates more speech, critical thinking, and open debate. In essence: education.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fraught with complexity and nuance; there are no clear-cut binaries. Yet, in my opinion, pro-Israel groups, the organized Zionist movement, and even Israeli national institutions have fallen short in developing and implementing clear, objective educational initiatives to equip young people with the knowledge needed to engage meaningfully with these difficult issues. Fair and objective educational programs acknowledge the complexities of the conflict, eschew propaganda, and recognize that while Israel has the right to self-defense and strives to safeguard innocent Palestinian civilians, it is not exempt from criticism and accountability.

Pro-Israel organizations and institutions have left an “education vacuum” within American higher education, allowing anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and even antisemitic groups to exploit this void to influence the minds of many young students. The fight against campus antisemitism and anti-Zionism doesn’t hinge on censorship and arrests—measures that only serve to deepen polarization. Instead, as Mandela envisioned, it requires leveraging education as a tool for transformative change.

About the Author
Moises Salinas Fleitman is Rector of ORT University México and former Chief Diversity Officer at CCSU. He has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and is recipient of the Herzl Award by the World Zionist Organization in 2004. Former president of the Hartford, Connecticut Zionist Federation and president of Partners for Progressive Israel. Today he is vice president of the Zionist Council of Mexico. Author of numerous books and articles including "Planting Hatred, Sowing Pain: The Psychology of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict" (Greenwood/Prager) and "Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Perspectives on the Peace Process" (Cambria Press).
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