In Sophia Hansen-Day’s recent article “Why is Macalester Silent about Israeli Apartheid” the author argues that the American Studies Association (the ASA) was correct in boycotting Israeli academic institutions several weeks ago. While I respect her for voicing her opinions, I found them to be lacking in historical depth, fairness and nuance (all of which I find crucial in understanding the conflict). I also find her demands (and the demands of BDS in general) to be complete political non-starters in the ultimate search for peace.
Israel, according to Hansen-Day, is a “settler colonial state.” I will not deny that Israel has some dark history to grapple with, namely the expulsion of approximately 700,000 Palestinians from the land that later became Israel proper. In some instances, these refugees left on orders from the invading Arab armies, who assured the Palestinians that they would be able to return once the Jewish state had been annihilated (the language of genocide was actually used). Some were uprooted completely by the IDF, such as in Lod, Ramla and Safed.
The post-1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza also caused—and still causes—much hardship for the Palestinian population. Hansen-Day is quick to pick up on this hardship. As such, she calls for aligning the Macalester community with the BDS movement, whose aims are to: “1) End the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the Wall, 2) Recognize the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and 3) Respect the rights of Palestinian refugees to return.” As a liberal, I too support the right of all people to representation. I was truly moved at an event last week hearing the experiences of a Macalester student who grew up in Ramallah and had to overcome many harrowing obstacles just to be able to attend school during the Second Intifada. These stories do touch me, as I would hope they touch all Jews and all of humanity generally. I fervently hope that a Palestinian state will emerge in the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
However, I diverge in opinion with Hansen-Day in two main areas. First of all, she doesn’t provide any historical context and thus, if one were to read her piece without knowing the details of the conflict, one might come away viewing the Palestinian leadership as being enlightened peace-loving humanists from 1948 onward. Sadly, that is simply not the case. Not once in the article does she take time to criticize the Palestinians of 1948, whose leaders openly called for a second Holocaust a mere three years after the conclusion of the first. Not once does she mention that areas of Jewish settlement were “ethnically cleansed” in 1948 in Israel and in the following decades in the broader Middle East, as planned and spontaneous pogroms erupted in Baghdad, Damascus and a host of other Arab cities. Not once does she take the time or effort to mention that it was Nasser, Assad (the elder) and King Hussein whose threats of wiping out Israel in early 1967 that ultimately led to the Six Day War and the resulting capture of Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. She critiques the Separation Wall—and I myself critique its ultimate routing as it balkanizes the West Bank—and yet she never mentions that it was built during the height of the Second Intifada, when Palestinian suicide bombings were causing dozens of fatalities a week in a nation of only about 6 million. She never criticizes a Palestinian leadership that during this time was naming streets after suicide bombers and giving pensions to their bereaved families. She never mentions the Palestinian rejection—without a counter-offer—of the Camp David Accords, even when those talks produced an Israeli offer of a Palestinian State on 93% of the West Bank and 100% of Gaza.
Finally, she neglects to tell the true story of Gaza, only claiming that it is the “world’s largest open-air prison.” In reality, Gaza is under a blockade by Israel because the citizens of Gaza in 2005 elected an openly genocidal organization (Hamas) whose charter calls for the complete destruction of Israel and its people. The charter does not call for an end to Israeli control outside the 1967 lines like the relatively moderate West Bank government does—it calls for the end of the Jewish people in Israel, a viewpoint backed up with hundreds of suicide attacks in Israel during the Second Intifada. Israel imposes a blockade because Hamas has decided that waging war on the Jews is more important than organizing with the Palestinian Authority and finding a way to peace. Israel imposes the blockade because thousands and thousands of increasingly sophisticated rockets have rained down on Israel proper since 2005, even after the Israelis uprooted 10,000 settlers unilaterally and ended the occupation there. Israel imposes the Gaza blockade because it is Netanyahu’s responsibility to protect his people, a responsibility shared by all world leaders. If Hansen-Day thinks I am exaggerating or making excuses for Israel, she should research an incident just last week in which the Israeli Navy intercepted Iranian rockets headed for Gaza, rockets which would presumably be used by its forces to fire into Israel. Singularly, these omissions of context might seem innocuous, yet it is in the article’s complete lack of context and unwillingness to even mention, much less critique, the actions of the other side—particularly the deplorable actions of Hamas—that Jews find the hints of anti-Semitism. If Hansen-Day and the BDS movement she supports are even marginally interested in solving this conflict, they must acknowledge this fact.
Secondly, I critique the views expressed by Hansen-Day and the BDS movement in general because some of their aims are political non-starters. For example, the BDS movement calls for “ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab Lands.” I don’t know what this means. Is this calling for a return of the land taken by the IDF in 1948 or in 1967? Specificity and nuance here is crucial, even if Hansen-Day would like to ignore the latter. Moreover, she mentions that BDS calls for “respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return.” Quite simply, this will never happen because there are some 8-10 million Palestinians in the world today, most of them living in poverty. If Israel—a wealthy first world state—were to allow all of them to come back as Hansen-Day seems to be endorsing, that would destroy the concept of a Jewish State. Whether one supports or opposes this concept, one must acknowledge that this is an outcome that will never be allowed by any Israeli government, whether led by the hard line Likud or by the dovish Meretz. The radical Left has never liked Israel, yet I would hope Hansen-Day recognizes that this claim in particular is a political non-starter. Indeed, the failure of Arafat to accept that Israel could not grant an unlimited right of return to all those Palestinians dispossessed in 1948 was broadly attributed by the international parties to be one of the “sticking points” in the negotiations.
One might think it is counterproductive to bring up the past, but ultimately, for peace to be achieved, each side needs to acknowledge the sins committed. Peace begins with recognition. As the U.N. consistently singles out Israel above all other nations of the world, Israel will move farther to the right and will lose faith in international peace talks. A similar process is happening on the university campuses of this country, as radical leftist organizations single out the Palestinians for monopolization on victimhood, while ignoring the sufferings of the Israelis. They also single out the human rights abuses committed by Israel, while ignoring those far more troubling governments, such as those in Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Nigeria and Uganda (the first two are heavily supported by the USA as well).
As a Jew with a connection to Israel, it fundamentally bothers me that Hansen-Day bemoans the fact that “more and more Palestinian men and women are imprisoned and murdered by the Israeli military,” and can’t find the time in her article to even mention once the thousands of Israelis who have been murdered in the most heinous way by Palestinian suicide bombers and rocket attacks. She mentions the Palestinian children suffering from PTSD, yet can’t insert a single sentence mentioning the tens of thousands of Israeli children who suffer from daily rocket attacks and PTSD in such towns as Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod (and increasingly, the Tel Aviv Metro Area itself, as Iranian-supplied and Hamas-launched rockets prove their range). Granted, the Palestinian casualty toll is always higher in these Gaza conflicts because Hamas has decided to fire rockets from schools and hospitals instead of away from civilians. Thus, Israel is accused by BDS and other organizations of ethnic cleansing when it retaliates (as all nations would). Hansen-Day claims that some will critique her views claiming they lack nuance, and she is right. I think nuance (and fairness) is important, as should all who attend this institution. And a rejection of nuance in assessing a conflict such as this is a rejection of intellectualism and reason. It is a rejection of everything Macalester (supposedly) stands for. Nuance is everything in a conflict such as this, and strident and histrionic attacks on Israel by the far Left will never bring peace, nor understanding.