What a flyer says about us

April 15th, 2015. Admitted students day. Having recently got accepted into Emory University through their Early Decision program, I figured I should come actually visit the place (I applied ED2 without ever visiting) that I would be calling home for the next 4 years of my life. While my mother was being responsible perusing through the dorms, consulting the financial aid office, and checking out the various departments that might fit my academic interests, my father and I were busy walking through Emory’s lush landscapes. It was a beautiful day outside, and my father and I had a propensity to get ourselves into trouble. We stumbled upon a flyer that was emblazoned with both a Palestinian flag and an Israeli flag. That’s interesting I thought; my whole life I had been told that college campuses were rife with anti-Zionism, where students were vilified for believing in Israel’s right to exist. The flyer with a Palestinian flag and an Israeli flag said there would be something happening at 4pm in Canon Chapel.

Unaware of where Canon Chapel was but curious, my father and I made a mental note. We had to see what was going to happen at the event that was advertised by using both a Palestinian flag and an Israeli flag. We walked around some more. We asked some students where Canon Chapel was. As my mother learned that I would have boundless academic opportunities, my father and I found ourselves at the bookstore. I got an Emory Nike pullover, which I still wear to this day. I was really going to Emory; I couldn’t believe it.

A little after 4, my father and I finally made it. We were in Canon. What happened next shocked me. There was real, honest, good-faithed dialogue. Students from across the spectrum, EIPAC, EFI, and SJP, came together. The conversation spanned what must have been an hour. And after it, I knew Emory was the place for me. I was elated. The conversation was good hearted, involved policies and facts, nuanced, and above all had a purpose: to be a space where people who disagreed could come together and discuss pressing and important issues in a worthwhile way.

In the 2015-16 academic year, I took a gap year. It was in Israel. I gained a bit of an understanding of the conflict. When I went for a walk with my friends on the Tel Aviv beachfront, we would walk past the ruins of the Dolphinarium discotheque, where 21 people were killed in a suicide attack in 2001, during the Second Intifada. In October and November 2015, I would walk with a sharp key in between my fist when traveling alone, in the event that I would have to defend myself from a stabbing attack. In 2015, I observed that the conversation about the conflict was “engulfed by hate, fear, war, bullets, atrocities, and containment. A belief in peace is dwindling, subtle anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian sentiment is growing at an astronomical rate.” That devastated me. People lost hope. Many of my friends fell into despair, and insulated themselves. The Islamophobic views I heard saddened me. That winter, I visited the West Bank with the group Encounter. Appropriate for the region during winter, it was windy, frigid, and down-poured the whole time. In Bethlehem, we visited with many Palestinian people. People who were just like me. People who decried their bad cell service – that they said the Israeli Border Patrol intentionally kept at a snail’s pace. People who wanted to be treated with dignity and have hope for their kids.

******

Life is funny, and since life is so clever, Emory saw two different student groups have two very different “weeks” that conveniently coincided with one another: “Israel Week” and “Apartheid Week” (there was also “Consent Week”, which is by far the best of all the weeks).

“Israel Week” has included such apolitical events such as a t-shirt design, a movie screening, Krav-maga lessons and a karaoke night. Notably from the SJP “Apartheid Week”, there has been talks on anti-Zionism, homonationalism (whatever that means) and pinkwashing, and Israel being a “settler and colonial state” (a loaded term which might suggest that ESJP does not believes in Israel’s legitimacy to exist).

But that is not what has caught anyone’s attention. It has been acts of protest that have caught people’s eyes, but not their minds. On April 2nd, fake eviction notices were on many doors at Clairmont (Emory’s upper class residential apartment complex), including my own. Some were also found at the Emory Point apartment complex, in an alleged targeting of Jewish students based on if there was a mezuzah on the door, which is now being investigated by the Emory Police Department and the Emory Bias Incident Reporting team, which would be an appalling act of anti-semitism.

On April 3rd during Wonderful Wednesday and admitted students day, ESJP members marched through and had a “die-in” (similar to this). They came in, they demonstrated, they left. Refusing to engage with the pro-Israel table that was a mere 10 feet away.

After it ended, tensions had risen, on all sides. Discourse and understanding hadn’t. As Amos Oz writes, “the strongest public sentiment is one of profound loathing.”

In February, I put together a piece, which among other things, criticized StandWithUs and an amorphous group of people I called ‘pro-Israel warriors’. These warriors, I argue, hold “such strong positive views towards Israel that they are either willingly or unwillingly blind to any reasonable criticism of their beliefs and instead lash out” at their critics by shouting over them and engaging in name-calling. I was concerned about these ‘pro-Israel warriors’ because these people don’t “seem to actually care about the nuances involved” in the conflict and instead only want to play the victim card.

Frankly, the discourse around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to have become devoid of nuance, as these episodes show all too well. It seems to now revolve, essentially, around wanting to feel good instead of making the hard choices and having the hard conversations that will hopefully lead to a brighter future.

In the Emory Wheel, one writer argues that “ESJP deserves credit for starting the discussion.” But, what discussion has actually been started? These demonstrations have been performative and devoid of any meaningful context. No discussion has emanated from these demonstrations. Nobody is talking about the misleading (and questionable) contents of the flyer or the “die in”, but rather the absurdity of the tactics which were employed. Instead, tensions have inflamed. ESJP, since so unwilling to engage with those whom they disagree with, it seemed, was also probably unwilling to more fully educate themselves beyond a quick Google. Like the ‘pro-Israel warriors’, ESJP wanted to feel good about their beliefs and stick it to their adversaries. Their demonstrations have added fuel to the metaphorical fire, far from sparking any semblance of reasonable, good-faithed discussion.

The ESJP members are no doubt loving the reaction and coverage their actions have merited and the responses that the University has offered up. Some Jewish students now feel unsafe, while many others are riled up, amped for a confrontation that they hope can give them purpose in the hopes of “defending” Israel (a silly aim). ESJP’s actions have clumsily hurt what should have been their overarching goal of peace, since their actions have further entrenched both sides.

Like the ‘pro-Israel warriors’, the ESJP members are blind to any reasonable criticism of their beliefs and have opted to steer clear of having any meaningful conversations. From their actions, it is clear that they were never interested in any sort of conversation with students who identify as pro-Israel (whatever that means). But, are some of the pro-Israel students interested in any conversation either?

As my good friend Max notes, college is meant to foster the “honest discussion of multiple perspectives” and that through these “conflicting ideas, students are able to become deeper and more critical thinkers.” The events that have transpired this week are antithetical to those values which college should be promoting. Everyone, at the moment, is speaking over the other, unable or unwilling to hear their fellow student. And will this end up devolving into a shouting match with each group trying to feel more victimized?

ESJP’s actions have further entrenched the two sides (when in truth there are many different and overlapping sides), and forced some to pick a side, without actually engaging in any nuanced and good-faithed conversations: SJP or EIPAC/EFI? Justice or colonialism? Pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian?

Which is sad, because in truth, you can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. They can go hand in hand. If enough reading and good-faithed conversation is achieved, the realization that being pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian are not mutually exclusive is apparent. That realization first started to become clear to me on April 15th, 2015 when I saw that flyer with both a Palestinian flag and an Israeli one.

About the Author
Brett L. Kleiman is currently a student at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, where he studies political science and international relations. He is a research intern at the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel and is also the president of the Emory Democrats. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Brett attended The Robert M Beren Academy for 12 years. From September 2015 to June 2016 Brett lived in Israel through Young Judaea's gap year program, Year Course. Brett is interested in Israel, America, diplomacy, podcasts, Game of Thrones, The Wire, politics, reading, sports, and peace.
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