Trinity attacks and responses
Voices Organizing for Democracy and the Arab Club at Trinity College hosted a panel dioscussion on the Israeli apartheid wall. The three Panelsts were myself, a South African professor, and Clinton Bailey, a Zionsit who introduced himself as a close friend of Ariel Sharon. Below are letters and opinions published in the campus newspaper after the event. I listed the attacks first followed by responses
VOID Sponsors Unproductive Discussion
Published: Tuesday, March 30, 2004
To the Editor:
Voices Organized in Democracy has scheduled a program about the security barrier that Israel has erected in response to the suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis during the past few years. Hillel was asked to co-sponsor this program. The timing of the program and the inclusion of one particular speaker on the panel were not acceptable to Hillel. VOID insisted on inviting Professor Mazin Qumsiyah, who believes that the State of Israel does not have the right to exist.
We do not believe that a productive dialogue is possible with someone who supports the destruction of the Jewish state, and therefore we declined the co-sponsorship. We did, however, suggest a different panelist who opposes the security barrier, Naomi Hazan. She is a former Knesset (Israeli Parliament) member and spokesperson for the Israeli Left who, like most Israelis, supports an eventual two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately, she was unable to come to Trinity on the day that VOID chose. We hope that Hazan will accept our invitation to speak on campus next year. In the spirit of peacemaking, we invite any campus organization to join us as co-sponsors in programming that seeks a reasonable and fair solution to this tragic conflict. We believe that a just peace will recognize the national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Lisa Kassow, Hillel Director
Hillel Student Board:
Must Open Mind to Complexities in Israel, Arab Relations
By Samuel Kassow Published: Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Voices Organized in Democracy sees itself as an organization that supports diversity and tolerance. It opposes racism and bigotry - or so it says.
Unfortunately, VOID, or at least some of its members, has recently sent emails that call for the end of Israel as a Jewish state. These emails have done so directly by praising the late Sheikh Yassin, the ex-Hamas leader, who sanctioned suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israeli civilians. His organization, Hamas, has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and has rejected even a two-state solution within the 1967 borders.
VOID, or at least some of its members, has also advocated Israel's demise in a more indirect manner - by supporting the so-called "right of return" of Palestinian refugees. This would also mean the end of Israel. It is rank sophistry to call for "a single democratic secular state in all of Palestine." We all know that the Canadians can barely hold their country together. We are all too aware of the terrible bloodshed that put an end to multi-ethnic Yugoslavia. To call for a bi-national state is to demand the end of Israel, the end of Jewish independence and the end of Jewish self-determination.
The Middle East is an area with many problems. The ongoing civil war in Algeria has claimed over 100,000 victims. Perhaps a million blacks have perished in the south Sudan, while the Russian army has killed upwards of 60,000 Chechens. Turkey and Syria suppress Kurdish nationalism, and Syria also occupies Lebanon.
But according to some members of VOID there is only one real rogue state in the region - Israel.
The turbulent post-war era (1945-1950) spawned many painful refugee problems. In 1947-1948 the creation of Pakistan caused at least 250,000 deaths and up to 25 million refugees. In 1945-1946 the Czechs and Poles expelled 11 million Germans, while 5 million Poles fled from newly annexed territories in Soviet Ukraine and Belarus. A million Finns fled the Soviet annexation of Vyborg and more than 750,000 Italians ran away from Yugoslavia. The Arab-Israeli war of 1947-1949 created 750,000 Palestinians refugees and ultimately 800,000 Jewish refugees who fled various Arab countries.
But according to VOID or some of its members the only refugees that matter are the Palestinians - the only refugees whose plight is a handy tool to delegitimize Israel.
It is very strange that an organization that advocates diversity can not accept one Jewish state alongside 22 Arab states or alongside the other 191 nations in the UN.
Am I arguing that Israel is always right or that one should never criticize it? No. It is absolutely fair and legitimate to criticize particular policies of any particular Israeli government. There are legitimate Palestinian grievances and a fair solution, in theory, would be a two-state solution roughly along the lines of the 1967 borders. In other words, a fair solution would not be that different from what then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered at Camp David in 2000.
But when does criticism of Israel cross the line? It crosses a line when it calls into question the legitimacy of a Jewish state; when it advocates self-determination and independence for everyone except Jews; when it holds Israel to an unfair double standard; when criticism of Israel becomes obsessive and selective.
All of this is becoming part and parcel of an unfortunate and ugly phenomenon -the anti-Semitism of the Left. Anti-Semitism is also a form of racism. If we condemn racism, then we should also condemn unfair and vicious hate propaganda that tries to turn Israel into a pariah state or that anoints it as the successor of the old apartheid regime in South Africa.
VOID has invited Professor Mazin Qumsiyah of Yale to address the college community. Professor Qumsiyah thinks that Israel is an illegitimate state. VOID is within its rights to extend this invitation, and healthy debate is a part of academic life.
Oddly enough, VOID asked Hillel to be a co-sponsor of this talk. Hillel rightly declined. (I also imagine that Imani might pass up the opportunity to fund a talk by a segregationist.)
While students should give all guests a respectful hearing, I hope that they remember the very important issues that are at stake here.
This article was co-signed by Associate Professor of History Jonathan Elukin.
Criticism of Israel not Anti-Semetic
By Josie Weldon
Published: Tuesday, April 6, 2004
In last week's issue of the Tripod, Professors Samuel Kassow and John Elukin co-signed an opinion piece that characterized some members of VOID (though I was the only one bringing up the issue) as bigoted left-wing anti-Semitics. The authors stated that because I sent out emails to VOID on the conflict in Israel/Palestine I was part of an ugly phenomenon of obsessive and selective criticism of Israel from the political Left which they equate with anti-Semitism. In response, I will absolutely challenge the logic of this equation. And I want to point out that Kassow's and Elukin's remarks amount to a slander on students and call into question their own commitment to the principles of open debate for which this college stands.
I am accused of being anti-Semitic. The reality is more benign. I believe in a basic moral principle of activism: that we are only responsible for the predictable consequences of our own actions. As a U.S. citizen who is especially concerned with the struggle for global justice, I therefore focus my attention on issues where I can have some effect, principally the consequences of U.S. foreign policy, from our role in the transition of power in Haiti to our continued occupation of Iraq.
It is certainly true that the world is filled with brutal regimes and that many people in the world suffer under them, but it seems to me quite easy to denounce oppressive regimes in places like North Korea or Iran where the effects of your actions are precisely zero.
Conversely, it takes great courage to determine the violence and oppression for which you are responsible as a citizen of this country and where you can have dramatic effects.
Today, whether American taxpayers know it or not, we are deeply implicated in the actions of the Israeli government and defense forces. The Israeli government is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world, receiving over one-third of total U.S. aid. Over the years Israel has received over $130 billion in military aid from the U.S.
Therefore, the Palestinian people in the territories are being occupied and terrorized by American taxpayer supplied helicopter gunships, F-16 war planes, bulldozers and tanks, just as the Chechens and other refugee communities have been oppressed by states other than the U.S. Finally, those U.S. citizens less concerned with social justice should at least focus on Israel for this reason: the irresolution of the conflict in Israel/Palestine has led to an exacerbation of anti-American sentiment of frightening proportions in the Middle East.
Israel is indeed a crucial exception for us as Americans, as opposed to locations of conflict such as Tibet or Sudan. U.S. power reaches all around the globe and there are steps we can take in almost every situation to limit the suffering of people. Palestine, however, much like Iraq, and Central America and Vietnam in the past, is a case where U.S. actions are decisive and raise the responsibility of all citizens of this country to resist complicity in the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.
I want to assure students who may have been intimidated by Kassow and Elukin's smear tactics that it is not anti-Semitic to support the liberation of the Palestinian people from an unjust, brutal and humiliating occupation funded by the United States.
I am sensitive to the fact that real anti-Semitism, which obscures what it is to be a Jew and allows atrocities to be visited upon Jewish people, really does exist in the world. For this reason, I more strongly denounce the professors' cavalier use of the accusation of anti-Semitism. It was slung in bad faith (for neither has had any personal contact with me) and it was used as no more than a mean-spirited and Orwellian attempt to silence student discussion on a matter of great human suffering in which we are complicit.
I also understand that the situation in Israel/Palestine is immensely complex and that the resolution I advocate, a just peace for Palestinians as well as Israelis, will take careful steps to achieve. Therefore, I have added professors Samuel Kassow and Jonathan Elukin to the VOID e-mail list in hope that in the future they may more directly join our discussion and enlighten our analysis with their concerns. I hope this conversation continues on Trinity's campus and college campuses all over the country.
Panel on Controversial Issue Well-Assembled
By Janet Bauer Published: Tuesday, April 13, 2004
To the Editor:
VOID and the Arabic Club did an admirable job of putting together a panel on a difficult subject - a panel that represented different perspectives (South African, Israeli, and Palestinian) on "the wall." It was important to have Palestinian and Israeli views even if the particular individuals did not represent the full range of positions.
Apparently, controversy arose because the Palestinian panelist is associated both with "a one-state solution"- which calls for a democratic state that would include Palestinians and Jews (and perhaps others, like Thai guestworkers living in Israel) - and with an organization calling for the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland. The so-called "one-state solution" raises important issues about democracy; it should not be simply labeled as "the destruction of the Israeli state." (There are both Palestinians and Israelis on both sides of the "one-state solution" question, as well as the right of return.) Some believe that a one-state solution threatens Jewish identity/sovereignty by recognizing non-Jews as equal citizens (and thereby, requiring transformation of the current Israeli state).
However, calling this the destruction of Israel does a disservice to open debate and misdirects and limits discussion of very complicated issues of rights, self-determination, and security for all concerned - e.g. there may indeed be reasonable arguments against a one-state solution, but we must then frankly deliberate the consequences of a Jewish state for non-Jewish citizens, who by definition will have second-class status.
We are all deeply involved in these issues given the US government role in the area. Clearly, each situation is unique, but the South African example has shown us there are pathways to justice even in difficult political contexts. Perhaps that is why a South African voice was included on the panel.
Prof. Janet Bauer
Prof. Fred Pfeil
No Need for Attacks in Discussion of Israel
By Ty Geltmaker
Published: Tuesday, April 13, 2004
To the Editor:
The Trinity Tripod of Mar. 30 prints a letter from Professor Kassow in which he links some students to an alleged anti-semitism of the left in a way that would allow him to say he was only warning against such a hateful politics.
On Apr. 6 Josie Weldon, who sees herself as personally attacked and smeared by Kassow, makes the basic moral point that we are to fight the battles that
we can reasonably affect even as we lament our ineffectiveness elsewhere, in response to Kassow's list of tragedies deserving of our attention. I am not privy to the e-mail exchange under question, but I do know that about a year ago I was also on the receiving end of Professor Kassow's insinuations when he responded in similar terms after I petitioned former Trinity teachers I hold in esteem (including him) to protest then-president Hersh having signed a New York Times ad admirably advising against
anti-Jewish backlashes to the Bush Iraq war, even as Joan Scott and the Association of American University Professors condemned the ad for not also mentioning the need for similar vigilance regarding attacks on Muslims and Arab-Americans.
Professor Kassow is entitled to convey his personal position regarding Israel, or any other topic to whomever he wishes. He should, however, come to terms with the fact that it is possible for students, colleagues, alumni, and citizens of Israel, America, and the world to talk of Palestine/Israel in terms he finds offensive without insinuating anti-Semitism at those with whom he disagrees. Trinity should be proud of articulate students like Josie Weldon. And
Professor Kassow should remember to be a teacher committed to dialogue (as I remember him always to have been), not character assassination.
Ty Geltmaker, Ph.D. '74