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Monday, April 23, 2012

Pro−Israel Voice Silenced? I think not…

I write this in response to Jon Danzig’s op−ed in the Daily on Wednesday, as well as to the series of events of the pasthalf−year that have created an unhealthy environment at Tufts when it comes to questions about Israel and Palestine. 

I do not intend to offend anyone, only to discuss the barriers to true discussion that exist on the Tufts campus and elsewhere. Considering why we have the visceral response to the conflict that we have is an important part of creating an environment which is open to free and honest dialogue.
American Jews have an integral part to play in this international drama. The political influence of the pro−IsraelAmerican lobbies gives importance to the conversations that Jews have with their friends, family, rabbis and butchers. In my view, there is a commonly accepted view of the conflict that is deemed “acceptable” among mainstream American Jews. 
That entails the unconditional support of Israel as a Jewish homeland, support of the Israeli Defense Forces and finding the more optimistic side of all of Israel’s political decisions. If an American Jew disagrees on any of these points, he or she is shunned and pushed out of the religious, cultural and political community. 
No dialogueoccurs and they are treated as the Other.
This has happened time and again to me as well as others I know. I have tried talking to people in order to create a healthy dialogue about these issues. I have confronted people with the facts of Israeli history as well as the criticisms of the status quo. I argue that things need to change and that Israel needs to observe the global standard of human rights. 
I have asked American Jews to own up to their promise to never let injustice and bigotry happen again and to take a stand against it. Just because Israelis are doing it does not make it right. We as a community say that we advocate for global human rights, and yet daily we support Israeli actions that violate that standard.
The response? I have been called an anti−Semite, a traitor, and an insult to global Jewry. I have been told that I am not a real Jew. Most Jews have not reacted with this negative intensity, but the response is significant enough to make me feel unwelcome in my own faith. Jewish religious life has become infused with a particular political view. 
The message from many Jews is clear: in order to be Jewish, you need to unconditionally support Israel. We are encouraged to question Israel, but not outright disagree with it. 
The Tufts Jewish community has adopted these principles as well. Nothing shows this view better than the national Hillel policy stating that they will not co−sponsor, host, or partner for any events with SJP or its affiliates. This policy is unconditional and non−negotiable
Both my personal experiences and Hillel’s policies illustrate some of the fundamental difficulties facing the Jewish community and those who wish to have open, constructive conversations on the Israeli−Palestinian conflict. To be ostracized personally for my point of view displays the powers of unofficial censorship, while Hillel’s policies clearly advocate hearing only one side of what should be a political, not religious, issue.
The advertisement published by Friends of Israel a few weeks ago was intended to show Tufts−wide support for theAmerican−Israel relationship by getting leaders on campus to sign their statement. However, this ad used the names and titles of leaders in order to legitimize their message. 
The fine print says that the leaders featured represented only themselves and not their organizations. Fine! That’s what the ad says and that’s what it means.
But if that is true, then why are their organizations on there at all? If they don’t matter, then why feature them? The answer is that the names on that advertisement meant absolutely nothing to most people until they had their organizations attached to them. It is only because of their organizations that the names gained any sort of legitimacy. 
Using their organizations was an intentional move to make the names more important. But on an aggressively pro−Israel campus such as this, there will be no consequences for FOI. In my view, this propagates the status quo of intolerance, isolation and the suppression of free speech if it speaks up against Israeli policies. Their view is the majority. 
To call those people out was not an attempt “to intimidate, censure and suppress the free speech of those who disagree with them” as Mr. Danzig alleges. 
It was an attempt to create an environment conducive to dialogue, understanding, and openness rather than one dominated by a single majority opinion backed up with institutional power and influence.
If you are reading this, think about where you stand on any political issue. Do you isolate and shun those who disagree with you? 
Are there those in your community who cannot fully participate because of one view that they hold? Is your group affected by an external force that has nothing to do with your group’s mission? If so, talk about the issues constructively and openly and get back to enjoying your community.
Elliott McCarthy is a senior majoring in sociology.