Refusing to discuss divestment is divisive

April 17, 2013, 3:51 p.m.

As Israel Day is celebrated on campus this week, my thoughts turn to the events of last quarter, as the Jewish Student and Students for Palestinian Equal Rights email lists were bombarded with emails about the senate hearings on divestment. During these online conversations, I was specifically troubled by the fact that out of all the messages sent over both lists, only one email overlapped between them. This email, forwarded from SPER to the Jewish chat list, was quickly met with opposition, and ultimately the conversation was moved to a separate discussion list.

I have spent the past three years at Stanford engaged, with varying levels of involvement, with different on-campus communities that deal with the Israel/Palestine conflict. I have also participated in several one-on-one discussions with members of Hillel’s staff. From these discussions, I have gleaned that the Jewish community stands against divestment because it divides the Jewish community at Stanford.

This article concerns neither divestment nor the Israel/Palestine conflict. Instead, I hope to share my feelings of progressive alienation from Stanford’s Jewish community – alienation that has occurred largely because of the ways we avoid talking about issues like divestment.

I spent six weeks at the end of high school living with family in Jerusalem, traveling in both Israel and the West Bank while listening to as many opinions on the conflict as possible. I quickly became disgusted by the naïveté of the education I had received about Israel to that point in my life. Though disappointed with my past, I was excited by my future at Stanford: a future filled with opportunities to interact with the Israel/Palestine conflict in Stanford’s more diverse and (expectedly) well-informed intellectual environment.

At my first activities fair, I eagerly signed up for both the Stanford Israel Alliance and Students for Palestinian Equal Rights, communities that I assumed could, and necessarily should, cooperate. During my sophomore year, I began regularly attending SPER meetings while also meeting just as frequently with Hillel’s Israel chair.

Later that year marked the moment I began to feel alienated from Stanford’s Jewish community. At a dialogue event, I was particularly ready to discuss divestment, given the campaign’s pertinence on our campus at the time. When the moderator raised the issue, however, numerous members of the discussion got up and left; one student even muttered something about a “cue to leave.”

If a fear of division in our Jewish community precludes discussion of divestment, from whence does my own alienation from the community, rooted in the fact that we refuse to talk about divestment, originate?

I do not wish to assert that divestment is not a polarizing issue nor that we should not care about the unity of our Jewish community. We need to acknowledge, though, that this “unity” we are trying to preserve by silencing topics like divestment is already, in my case, an illusion. In this context, I pose the question: is preserving the notion of “unity” within our community really more important than discussing how our campus can tangibly impact political realities in the Middle East?

I will raise the same question posed in a 2010 article by City University of New York Associate Professor Peter Beinart. Beinart presents a group of Israeli students who protest the eviction of a Palestinian family and asks, “What if American Jewish organizations brought these young people to speak at Hillel? What if this was the face of Zionism shown to America’s Jewish young?” Beinart supposes “an uncomfortable Zionism, a Zionism angry at what Israel risks becoming, and in love with what it still could be.”

I hope that severing ties with Stanford’s Jewish community is not the only means to rid my embarrassment of, and discomfort with, its refusal to discuss what is, quite undeniably, a human rights abomination. If we as a community choose to ignore my argument entirely and continue to silence certain discussions, I urge us to find other mediums through which to talk constructively about Israel and Palestine.

Jason Kaufman ‘14

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