“Yes it’s true that Jews have been an oppressed people. But lots of people are oppressed.”
Dr. Clayborne Carson — the director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University — gave this flippant response when I pointed out that Jews are an aboriginal people who come from the land of Israel, who have always yearned to return to their land. The trivialization of the persecution of a people could not have been captured so perfectly; but what was tragic about Carson’s statement was that the man who subtly diminished the plight of an indigenous civilization carried the name of Dr. King’s legacy; and indeed, Dr. King is turning in his grave.
Yet this was the sentiment that colored most of the arguments put forth by the debaters at Stanford’s panel discussion event entitled, “Whose Rights? An educational debate on the dis/connection between the U.S. Civil Rights Movement & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” In reality, neither Jewish nor Palestinian rights were truly substantially addressed. I brought up the former incessantly, but to no avail; the concept of the right of Jews to live anywhere on the face of the earth including Judea & Samaria is one which needed no responding to; the debaters preferred to ignore it. They also preferred to ignore the curtailing of the right of Jews to worship freely at their holiest site; the right of Jews to enter certain areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority; the right of Jews to buy land from Arabs; the right of Jews to visit the burial sites of their forefathers and mothers; the right of Jews to live anywhere in the land between the river and the sea.
None of this was worth their time. Jewish civil rights never are. But what was equally disheartening was that Palestinian civil rights weren’t worth their time either.
After I brought up the issue of systematic persecution of Palestinian Arabs by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the responses of debaters Kristian D. Bailey and Dr. Carson were respectively, “I am not here to defend Hamas” and “That’s up for them to decide.” To be fair to Kristian, his answer was at least intellectually consistent. Making an effort to transition from “I don’t defend Hamas” to “I condemn Hamas” would be too much to ask a member of Students for Justice in Palestine who retweets statements from known Jew haters like Muhammed Desai.
But Dr. Carson’s position was, in contrast, inexplicable. He began his statement earlier in the debate by saying that Dr. King said we should stand against “the oppression of all peoples.” Which is weird since Dr. Carson didn’t seem to be so keen to stand against the oppression of Palestinians by the regimes ruling over them. Instead, according to them, that was up for “them to decide.”
To wit, it is up to political dissidents to decide whether or not they want to be arbitrarily arrested and hanged. It is up to homosexuals to decide whether or not they want to be shot point blank range. It is up to Christians to decide whether or not they want to be tortured in Gazan prisons. It is up to women who live in a hyper-patriarchic society to decide whether or not they want to be killed by their male relatives if they dress in an incorrect manner. It is all up for them to decide.
Rosa Parks would beg to differ. Nor would she appreciate Dr. Carson’s callous disregard of Palestinian lives, whose oppression was effectively justified by a “That’s okay, they’re doing it to each other” tripe. His language, eerily reminiscent of a “Noble Savage” ideology, suggests that Palestinians, independent of the “Israel” question, should be ignored. Indeed, Dr. Carson had no qualms about encouraging the audience to divest from Israel; yet he was silent on Americans’ funding of UNRWA, a faux human rights organization that aids and abets Hamas’s oppression of Palestinians.
This intellectual absurdity and philosophical inconsistency on the part of Dr. Carson, whereby oppression of Palestinians is okay as long as Jews aren’t allegedly behind them, illustrates his true motivations: the issue is not oppression of Palestinians; the issue is Israel.
And the issue has always been Israel. After all, why can’t that damn Jewish state just stop it with their communities being built in their native land? Why should Jews travel freely from the river to the sea? That is what surreptitious anti-Semitism looks like. It manifests itself into different politically correct forms depending upon the century. Today in the 21st century it masquerades in the veneer of “Oh-I-totally-care-about-Palestinians” vernacular, when in reality its proponents do not. “Keep Jews Out” becomes laminated with the facade of “End the Occupation.” A “convincing argument” becomes one in which the debater waxes poetic and invokes the name of civil rights leaders while simultaneously arguing for everything they stood against.
But Dr. King would not approve of this prejudiced, deceptive attitude. Instead he would affirm that Jewish lives matter. A dismissive tone and failure to address this will not negate this. Indeed, this point bears repeating: Jewish lives matter; and Jewish heritage matters; and Jewish history matters. Any conversation on the conflict must acknowledge, engage, and grapple with this; but above all it must respect this. The legacy of a great people demands it. This is the missing piece, absent from current discourses on the conflict. This is the missing piece that I seek to restore.