Op-ed: How we talk about Israel

April 18, 2018, 5:00 a.m.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the last people to be trusted are those who are the most certain that they have all the answers. Israel is a complicated place; claimed by both Jews and Palestinians as an indigenous homeland, it is a unique focus of global attention and partisanship. Used as a rhetorical litmus test by both the extreme right and left, it can be easy to forget that it is a real place, far from perfect but also hopeful, resilient and multi-faceted. Anyone who has spent even a few days in the country can see that it is a vibrant democracy struggling to live up to its own ideals while also building a safe and thriving society in a region wracked by brutality and unimaginable human suffering. Understanding Israel is not something that can be achieved in a day, a month, or a year. It requires care for a range of narratives, a deep engagement with history, and thinking hard about the very real challenges faced by every single person living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.


Unfortunately, the recently announced ‘Palestine Awareness Week’ is not interested in building these bridges or deepening understanding. On the contrary, it adopts a caricatured and one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and engages in the most inflammatory and inaccurate framing of the issues. Referring to Israel as a “colonial project” in the kickoff event is not only deeply offensive and hostile to the many Israelis who study and work at Stanford; it subjects Israel to the kind of vicious slander directed to no other member state of the United Nations. It undermines the debate and conversation that is meant to be central to a university by ‘othering’ one side and deeming it unworthy of participation. The slur has no basis in history or fact, and cultivates a dangerous rhetorical environment where every Israeli man, woman, and child is judged to be guilty for the sin of living, working and growing old in the only Jewish State.


Similarly harmful is the use of ‘fascism’ in the promotional materials for the event. Reasonable people can disagree about Israel’s political climate; Israelis do, vociferously, as is reflected by the extremely diversified Israeli parliament (“The Knesset”). The Knesset accommodates 10 different parties, with the third largest party representing Israeli Arabs. Haneen Zoabi, the keynote speaker for Palestine Awareness Week, is a member of this party, despite her frequent calls for Israel’s liquidation. We are unaware of any current U.S. representative who has issued such demands.


The organizers’ use of the word “fascism,” again directed against the Jewish State, suggests something much darker; the ugly conflation of Israel with Nazism. This might come as an unpleasant surprise to the thousands of Israeli survivors of the death camps. The Holocaust was only seventy years ago, and Holocaust Memorial Day was only last week. Similarly, the use of the word “massacre” to describe the ongoing conflicts on the Gaza border ignores the often violent nature of the protests, the declared attempts to attack Israelis over the border, and Hamas’s genocidal aspirations and anti-Semitic convictions, as well as its tragic commitment to terror and murder over civil infrastructure. We are skeptical that the organizers will attend to these nuances, or the larger context of what is happening in a territory that has been entirely free of Israeli occupation for nearly fifteen years.  There is tragedy occurring in the Middle East, but it is just across the border, in Syria. We would passionately join in any efforts to raise ‘awareness’ of Assad’s crimes.


Certainly, we have no objection vigorously advocating for the Palestinian cause. We urge everyone to both celebrate the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding and work towards Palestinian self-determination. Unfortunately, the narrative supplied by Palestine Awareness Week is damaging and distorting to peace and justice for all people, Israelis and Palestinians alike. It does nothing to build a better future, and entrenches a radicalized vision that will only make that possibility more distant.


Ari Hoffman J.D. ‘19 and Amit Itai J.S.D. ‘20

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