Opinion

Defining Macalester: Shimon Peres and the statements we endorse

On September 29, Macalester’s U.S. flag was flying at half-staff at the direction of President Obama and in memory of former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres. He was a leading force in the founding and development of Israel since 1948. At his funeral, President Obama compared him to the likes of Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth, praising him for being a peacemaker and an inspiration. Such praise, arguably, has merit. In 1993 Peres signed the Oslo Accords, a set of progressive agreements intended to nurture peace and dialogue between Palestine and Israel. Subsequently, in 1994, Peres was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his efforts to establish practices of peaceful diplomacy. This prize was shared with the president of Palestine, Yasser Arafat, and the sitting prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin.

This said, to many, Peres was also a hypocrite and a murderer. Reciprocal to his image as a ‘peace-maker’ is the legacy of violence that he left by enacting policies that resulted in the death of Palestinians, the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and the order of the infamous Qana Massacre of 1996. During the massacre, 154 civilians taking refuge at a U.N. base camp in Lebanon lost their lives at the hands of the Israeli Armed Forces. Peres also helped build the Israeli nuclear program, and in doing so, transferred some of its knowledge to apartheid South Africa, aiding in the development of the latter’s own nuclear capabilities. As mentioned, despite the Oslo Accords, a hopeful step towards peace in the early ’90s, the expansion of settlements continued under Peres’ oversight. While further expansion is not entirely the fault of the former Prime Minister, he did not explicitly oppose the building of new Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, one of the major factors hindering peace.

We believe it is crucial to acknowledge that Macalester has outlined a Flag Policy in the Employee Handbook that stipulates “The U.S. flag will be lowered to half staff at the direction of the President of the United States.” In regards to this policy we would like to raise two points. 1) This policy exists. Thus, Macalester’s compliance with Obama’s directions to lower the flag should not be surprising. And maybe in some ways it isn’t. It is, however, deeply unsettling. This brings us to point two. 2) We believe lowering the flag in the case of Shimon Peres signals a tacit acceptance of the erasure of a history. In this case, the expunging of a criminal history of murder and ethnic cleansing to rebrand a dubious leader as a “peacemaker.”

According to Macalester’s Statement of Purpose and Belief, the aim of the Macalester experience is to foster “the development of individuals who make informed judgements and interpretations of the broader world around them and choose actions or beliefs for which they are willing to be held accountable.” In this respect, we feel obligated, as students—especially as students for equal Palestinian rights—to publicly express our frustration and disappointment about what Macalester’s compliance with Obama’s directive says about us as an institution. We all came to Macalester for a reason: to learn, think, debate and question in a manner that prepares us to embody the very words of Macalester’s Statement of Purpose and Belief. We all came to Macalester because we truly believed that the college itself embodies these words, and is willing to defend its values not just within the confines of Grand and Snelling, but on a larger, more public stage as well. This is why we have decided to take pen to paper, so to speak.

By lowering the flag to commemorate the passing of Shimon Peres it feels as though Macalester, intentionally or not, has contradicted its own principles. Thus, we urge our community to think critically about the public statements we make. How do we want to present ourselves to the world? Should our voice echo U.S. leaders’? Should we be willing to overlook Peres’ past? Our organization, MacSUPER, says absolutely not. Discouragingly, the institution’s answer remains unclear.

Correction: This piece was originally published under different authorship. MacSUPER members Rebecca Mendelsohn, Farah AlHaddad, Muath Ibaid, Miriam Osman and Shireen Zaineb co-wrote the article as credited in print.

October 7, 2016

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