On Israeli Apartheid Week: Controversy, justice, and shades of gray

By Lucas Asher, Jacob Kraus, Noah Westreich & Ronit Zemel

In last week’s edition of The Mac Weekly, members of Macalester Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER) wrote an article titled “Defending Israeli Apartheid Week: A voice for justice.” The article directly addressed some of the concerns we displayed in our piece in the March 9 edition of The Mac Weekly, and we would like to clarify some of our ideas. Amos Oz, the famous Israeli novelist and peace activist, said this in the opening plenary session at the recent J Street conference: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragedy in the purest form of the word tragedy: a clash between right and right. A clash between one very powerful claim over the land and another no less powerful claim over the same land. A clash between right and right. Sometimes as it happens it becomes a clash between wrong and wrong.” We care about everyone affected by this tragic conflict, and we agree that we need to criticize when any party does wrong, and applaud when any party does right. We applaud the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement. The movement is an effective way to send a message to Israel and draw the attention of the global community to the struggle. In publishing our opinion on March 9 we were not trying to delegitimize that movement. Holding an event to draw attention to this nonviolent resistance movement is important, but presenting the injustice as apartheid does not adequately teach about the nonviolent resistance movement. We see building bridges for dialogue as a more productive form of nonviolent resistance here on our campus. While we do not officially represent J Street or J Street U Macalester in this article, as individuals we spend many hours working on behalf of J Street and would like to clarify its position on IAW. J Street sees nonviolent resistance as a productive means of pushing for a solution to this conflict. For instance, Noah participated in a J Street U trip to Israel last year and marched in solidarity with Palestinian families facing eviction in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. However, J Street explicitly states that IAW is not a productive facet of this movement. As their statement on IAW reads: “Those who label Israel ‘an apartheid regime’ deny the reality of a functioning democracy within the internationally recognized borders of Israel and obscure conditions in the Palestinian territories that remain under Israeli rule. By using such rhetoric, they fuel polarization, antagonism, and division on campus and beyond, and foster animosity among activists who might otherwise be allies.” We appreciated the event accompanying IAW, a screening of Budrus, which showcased the success of nonviolent resistance. Even when Israel’s security barrier was set to cut the village of Budrus off from its olive trees, the citizens recognized Israel’s right to build it, as long as it was not on Palestinian land. This nonviolent protest led to Israel’s decision to reroute the barrier. It also gave the villagers in Budrus a more nuanced view of the conflict. They saw that not all Israelis are racist and that not all Zionists are demons. The “apartheid wall” that hung underneath the Link as a part of IAW did not show this complexity. SUPER’s April 6 article expressed that “love and criticism are not mutually exclusive.” We completely agree; there is no conversation without criticism. While we love Israel, we count ourselves among the first to criticize some of Israel’s policies, especially those towards Palestinians. However, this criticism comes from a place of love. We love Israel because though it has flaws, it strives to stand on the democratic values on which it was founded. We will not compromise our deep connection to the one Jewish state in the world. By using apartheid rhetoric, we feel we are being closed off from the conversation that we strive to create on this campus. Finally, we want to clarify that we did not think that SUPER members were acting from a place of hate. As we wrote in our March 9 article, “we feel that using the word apartheid comes from a place of hate.” We criticize Israel in order to point out flaws we feel need to be changed. The word apartheid provokes anger towards the state of Israel as a whole, rather than specific injustices, and as a result can fuel hatred. Hatred is not useful in trying to achieve change. Using apartheid rhetoric portrays Israel as something it is not. On this campus, we see constructive and pragmatic language as the only way to have respectful dialogue.