Yesterday I went to a meeting for the group “Huskies for Israel” who were hosting two currently active Israeli soldiers to speak about the topics of the role of the IDF in Israel’s defense, their experience as Israeli soldiers, and how the IDF is of paramount importance, especially on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).
I will admit I was napping when the meeting started. I knew what the meeting was going to be about; I had heard the speech before. Sitting in a classroom talking with two soldiers and American students about the importance of Israel’s Defense and the Holocaust pales in comparison to my experience of Yom HaShoah last year. A year ago yesterday, I was talking to and listening to the stories of survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, and the Warsaw Ghetto. So I finally decided, more out of guilt for not commemorating Yom HaShoah than anything, to attend the meeting instead of hit the snooze button one more time. And when I entered the room where the meeting took place, it was packed. I was astonished. Even the Passover Seder that I attended in Northeastern’s grand hall was not as full as this classroom. I was overjoyed; Northeastern students supported Israel
On Facebook over the past few months, I have seen my peers rally against their schools’ pending decisions to divest from Israel. Namely those friends who attend UCSB and UC Irvine have been extraordinarily vocal against the rising popularity of Anti-Israel sentiment. My school didn’t respond to the intellectual terrorism spread by Hamas and other groups. At least my school understood the complexity of the situation. My peers are from around the world, from disparate places; France, Ghana, and yes even Saudi Arabia and Egypt… and they, we, got it! Even if they didn’t agree with the IDF and Israeli politics, they were there to question the Israeli officers, engage in debate, and pursue dialogue that brings closer the realization of peace.
But then reality hit me. As the meeting started, whispers started going around and a friend told me that there was a good portion of the students in attendance that were there to protest the IDF; they were from the Anti-Israel group on campus, Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine. And sure enough, after the soldiers were introduced, more than half of the students got up and started chanting “no justice, no peace!” and other obviously practiced slogans. They then ran out, not before the group photographer yelling behind him in Hebrew “the Israeli Army only wants war!”. They left. We sat there in silence for a few minutes. We saw the heads and jackets of police officers begin to fill the hallway outside. I was in shock.
The meeting went on, and save for the impromptu (or maybe not) protest, it was everything I expected it to be. The soldiers told their stories; what Yom HaShoah is like in Israel with the sirens blaring for two minutes and the whole country at a standstill. The students in attendance asked questions: “what is it like coming to the US?” “What do you say to the protesters like the ones we saw?”. But in the back of my mind, and seemingly in the back of most of the minds in attendance was “where did that come from and what can be done to fix it?” I felt ashamed. My brother served in the IDF, I am moving to Israel in a few months and I sat there sitting on my hands as a group of students from my school yelled slander and defamation at soldiers for defending Israel, and those who supported them.
When I called my mom after the meeting was over and told her what happened, she didn’t seem half as surprised as I thought she would be. “‘Pro-Palestinian’ has come to equate ‘anti-Israeli’ in the hearts and minds of many proponents of liberalism. This is information terrorism.” The protesters knew exactly what they were doing. They didn’t come to the meeting to engage in spirited debate over the righteousness and ethics of the IDF. Instead they came to scream insidious allegations and take pictures. They staged the “photo-op” and we unknowingly helped them. It doesn’t matter what was said or whether they made an impact on us, all that matters is that they have the picture of students waving kafiyas and marching out on Israeli soldiers and their supporters. In their books, that is a win for their anti-Israel cause.
But where does true and lasting progress come from? Certainly not from walkouts and protests and “Apartheid Weeks” on college campuses. Certainly not from institutional divestments from countries. True and lasting progress especially in the Middle East can only ever come from cooperation and open debate. And that is what I wished for. Even if the Anti-Israeli group had stayed and asked the tough questions and made their accusations, there would have been room for dialogue, rebuttal, understanding, and at the very least respect. But that is what it comes down to; a lack of respect. They don’t respect us, our viewpoints, or our basic desire (and right) to commemorate a holy and meaningful day in our history. Perhaps, like many demagogues in Hamas and Fatah, they don’t respect our right to exist. That is the problem. The same day, Holocaust Remembrance Day, that Hamas fired rockets across the border into towns and cities in Southern Israel, anti-Israeli students fired words of hate speech and bigotry into a meeting meant to memorialize our victimized ancestors and honor those who protect us from our enemies.
Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine hides the fact that they are not only Pro-Palestinian, they are Anti-Israeli. There is a difference between wanting and striving for a lasting solution and the creation of a state for a distinct ethnic group, and abhorring and protesting one of the two necessary parties for making peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There is a difference between being “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Israeli” and that is what is all too often overlooked. I could be called “pro-Palestinian” in that I recognize the Palestinian right to freedom and self-determination; however making baseless claims about Israel as an “apartheid state” and the IDF as “occupation forces” is anti-Israeli. The difference is the anti-Israeli rejection of the Israeli point-of-view. Israel has, just as every sovereign country does, the right and obligation to defend itself against enemies both foreign and domestic. All measures taken in Gaza and the West Bank are in the defense of the state and citizens of Israel. Maria, one of the Israeli officers put it best in saying that “the Israeli Defense Forces only acts as a defense force, not as a war creating force.” Rejection of Israel’s right and obligation to protect itself and its citizens is simply anti-Israeli.
The day that both sides across college campuses nationwide mutually respect each other and debate, peace and mutual understanding can occur. Until then, no amount of protests, fights, or disruptions can bring about any change. These protests, these divestments, these blind proclamations of war crimes and injustices don’t bring the sides closer to each other. They alienate. They don’t only push the two opposing camps farther apart, they leave less room for the moderates to have a voice. It is exactly this alienation that leads to viewing the “other”, the enemy as the indiscriminate and inanimate enemy with which wars can be waged. On a human level, it is this dehumanization of the “other” that allows someone to kill his fellow man. The majority of Israelis, along with the majority of Palestinians want peace. Both wish for a world where bombs and tanks didn’t have to be used and young men didn’t have to die. I wish for a university campus where nobody is subjected to the type of information terrorism as I witnessed yesterday.
If there ever will be positive change in the situation, both on campuses across the country and in Middle Eastern Politics itself, we must bridge the gap, not widen it. Senseless hatred gets neither side anywhere. The worst part of the whole ordeal was to hear from one student who “isn’t even technically Jewish” that he came to the meeting simply because he wanted to hear the other side because he had not had the opportunity to hear or discuss the Israeli point of view in his Middle Eastern Affairs class here at Northeastern. Instead of shying away from the tough questions and the tough debates, let’s act like rational adults and talk this through. It is wrong for college students to be placed in situations where ignorance is exploited and indoctrination takes place. That is what I found yesterday. I hope that there are more students who are willing to go to meetings, regardless of their beliefs, to hear both sides. The student who joined the meeting because of his experiences in his Middle East Studies class is nothing less than a hero. He dropped any predispositions he had. He asked the tough questions. He informed himself on the opinions of both sides so that he could make a decision for himself on what is right and what is wrong.
When I got back to my dorm later that night, I began doing a Facebook search on the group “Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine”, and I found a picture of the group that had walked out of the meeting with the caption “A huge thank you to everyone who came out tonight and showed that the IDF are NOT welcome at Northeastern!!” In a school where the students are welcomed from around the world to study, and mutual acceptance is expected, to proclaim that a group of soldiers, who’s job it is to simply protect citizens regardless of their own political views, are not welcome is heartbreaking. Northeastern, as an institution, boasts that it educates some of the most critical thinking, warm-hearted, world-shaping students in the world. All I could hope for is that there can be a distinction made by these brilliant minds between politics and civic responsibility. As Northeastern University students, we are given the ability and therefore the responsibility to put down our differences and be the change we want to see in society. Nothing can be changed through senseless hatred. Nothing can be changed through alienation. Nothing can be changed through anything but the difficult and honest conversations between two opposing ideologies. As Northeastern boasts itself as being an institution of tolerance, mutual acceptance, and higher education, I beg not only the “Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine” but every student to pursue higher education about world events, accept others’ points of view as valid, and most fundamentally; accept all students for their beliefs, their ethnicities, and their cultures. The Pro-Israel groups on campus certainly don’t disrupt the NUSJP meetings or protests against actions we believe are legitimate (albeit complicated and controversial).
If March of the Living taught me one thing, it was that standing up against injustice is of pivotal importance. The Pro-Palestinian group certainly was standing up to the injustice they perceive in the world. But it also taught me to ask hard questions both to myself and to those around me. That is what NUSJP did not do. They did not ask, they did not state. They came, they dropped their hate-speech-filled bomb, took their pictures, and left before any rebuttal or response could be made.
On Yom HaShoah, we bear witness to the Holocaust and the six million Jews, as well as the millions of Poles, Romani, homosexuals, and others who were killed. Yesterday and every day I reminisce on listening to those stories and thinking about what happens when disrespect becomes hatred and one group begins to demonize “the other” and engage in libelous activity. Yesterday I bore witness not only to why it is important to have Israel, but also why it is important to have respect for all people, and their common humanity.
When we say, as Jews tied indefinitely to the State of Israel, “Never Again” on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are not saying “never again to the Jews”, we say “never again to anybody, anywhere”.. As Israelis and Jews, we understand the need for protection, statehood, and justice. Indeed, better than any other nationality on earth, we understand. However, antagonizing, protesting, and rejecting an open offer to talk helps nothing. This rejection leads in one direction: alienation.
I will never forget the stories that I heard first-hand from survivors of the Holocaust. I will always bear witness to those sights of horrible atrocity: Auschwitz and Majdanek. I will also never stop believing in the good of mankind.
To the supporters of Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine: Protest whatever you want, but realize what it is that you are protesting and what you are supporting. The mission of NUSJP is to “work to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and inside Israel”. Do exactly that, but don’t disrupt a meeting with IDF soldiers where they are sharing what it means to them to defend their country against threats of terrorism and anti-Semitism, especially on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Don’t make sweeping allegations and then march out waving kafiyas as if it were a triumph. If you see a problem with something in the world and you want to raise awareness about it, talk. Debate. Don’t spread ideological terrorism and at the very least respect that sanctity and validity of all nationalities, not just your own.