Monday, March 07, 2005

Why Jewish Students are really silent

I meant to blog about this earlier. Guy Spigelman at Ha'aretz wrote on Why Jewish students are really silent. He was writing about the lack of activism on university campuses about Israel. He says,
At universities across the world from Europe to Australia to the U.S., Jewish students - inclined, as are all students, to lean towards the left during this period of life - are in a bind. They are torn between the communal message of unquestioning support for the state of Israel and their real concerns about the corrosive effects of occupying another people. There has been no room for a middle ground, one that says: "I love and support Israel, our fundamental rights to settle in the land of our forefathers, to live securely, etc. And at the same time I do not and cannot support Israel's continued status as an occupier."

So these Jews remain silent. With no place to feel "at home" ideologically they feel there is no point in confronting their anti-Israel professors nor debating the leaders of official Jewish organizations, most of whom defend Israel's every action.

Isn't it amazing that pro-Israel advocates repeatedly shout from all possible podiums that we are the only democracy in the Middle East (even though this claim may be a little out of date), yet as soon as we go out into the world we are only allowed to express one point of view?
I feel this is true not just on the level of college students, but also of adults teaching on campuses or part of local Jewish communities.

His point is made even more strongly by a visit he paid to Australia, where he visited Australian trade unions and put forward a leftwing Zionist pro-Israel stance - which they had not heard before.
Recently I visited Australia and took the time to visit some powerful and militant unions. When I walked in the door at one union, the first thing I saw was a large poster that shows a boy about to be trampled by a tank and has "Free Palestine" plastered on the bottom. The general secretary of the union explained that they have had two presentations to their executive about the Middle East, one from the PLO and the other from the Palestinian Labor Federation. Needless to say their public statements about Israel aren't exactly filled with praise for us.

Not feeling bound by the policies of Ariel Sharon's government (it was before Labor joined the coalition) I told him that Israel would be a lot better off if we left Gaza and the West Bank and I pointed to the polls that said that a majority of Israelis would agree if they could be guaranteed peace and security. He was shocked....

By relentlessly attacking Israeli policies and our right to defend ourselves, unions, academics and politicians around the world are doing a disservice to the cause of peace, as it weakens the left camp in Israel. "Where is the solidarity for our suffering?" I challenged the union's secretary general. He hadn't heard this perspective. At the end of the meeting he invited me to address his executive: a first, the Australian Jewish community told me. This is not rocket science, it simply shows that presenting a plurality of views can convince opinion leaders, especially those on the left, that Israel has a complex story and outright rejection of everything Israel does is unjust and unhelpful.
I think that he is absolutely correct.