Thursday, November 23

Submission: USAC ethics statement exacerbates Israeli-Palestinian situation


I often imagine myself, somewhat delusionally, to dwell in the sane center in the battleground that is the Israeli-Palestinian debate in this country. Though branded by some on the right as a self-hating anti-Semite and by some fellow travelers on the left as a Zionist propagandist in disguise, I can’t help but feel that the two extremes on the ideological spectrum consistently fail to get it right. The “Israel can do no wrong” crowd is too busy defending that proposition to acknowledge for a moment that there is a Palestinian people and that this people is subject to a brutal and dehumanizing occupation. The “Israel is the sole source of evil in the world” crowd ignores all else that is going on around it, including major human rights violations in neighboring Middle Eastern countries (not to mention in Palestine itself).

Once again, we see the familiar sight of the two sides talking past each other. In the latest controversy to roil our campus, a proposed ethics pledge would require candidates for student government to vow not to take a trip to Israel sponsored by a number of non-campus groups. Let me be clear. I am no fan of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or the Hasbara Fellowships program. I believe that they promote a skewed account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But like Chancellor Gene Block, I don’t think that the Undergraduate Students Association Council should legislate who can or cannot travel abroad or where. The proposed pledge moves from the unmistakably particular the call for a ban on travel sponsored by three Israel-focused Jewish groups to a hopelessly vague formulation directed against any group that promotes discrimination. The former suffers from a disturbing singularity of focus, while the latter is so expansive as to be meaningless. Let’s not kid ourselves. The object of concern here is Israel and Israel alone.

But that singularity of focus, curious and unsettling as it may be to some, is not necessarily anti-Semitic. This is how some in the Jewish community have framed it and I find that unfortunate. In some cases, criticism of Israel verges into dangerous terrain, as when the very self-definition of the Jews as a people or nation is denied. But in other cases, it is eminently possible to be a firm opponent of the occupation, regarding it as a profound moral blight, without harboring anti-Semitic feelings or beliefs. Many self-respecting Jews in Israel and abroad share this opposition.

Moreover, it is possible to support boycott, divestment and sanctions, in whole or in part, and not be an anti-Semite. BDS is a nonviolent means of opposing the oppression of a people whose aspirations for self-determination parallel those of but are thwarted by – the Zionist project itself. I happen to not support global BDS for a variety of reasons, but I know good and decent people, Jews and non-Jews alike, who do.

To return from the global to the local, I reiterate my view that a pledge needlessly exacerbates an already inflamed situation. I think that there are better ways to get a sense of things in Israel and Palestine than on AIPAC or Hasbara Fellowships trips, but I don’t want to ban them or, for that matter, any other trip offered to a student by a legally registered organization in the U.S. to another country. This is not only a matter of free speech; it is also a case of blurring the boundaries of student government and international diplomacy. If one is truly concerned about promoting a balanced and sound view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I have a suggestion. Rather than outlaw trips by the targeted Jewish organizations, why not promote trips by the Olive Tree Initiative, the organization that is devoted to educating students about both Israel and Palestine through extensive exposure to the politics and culture of the two countries? I find that a much better and more sensible approach, one that encourages the requisite mix of empathy and criticism of the two sides in the Middle East and points us back to the sane center back at home.

David Myers is a history professor and chair of the UCLA Department of History.

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  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for this submission, Professor Myers. As a progressive Jew who is strongly critical of one-sided trips, your article has articulated my thoughts on this matter better than anything else that has been published. Your approach is extremely refreshing during this time of constant rhetoric. Let’s hope more people join the sane center.

  • David

    This submission contains an important message for the campus community. As more and more individuals chime in on the controversial ethics statement, it is becoming increasingly clear that the statement was written with the intent of targeting Israel specifically. Instead of stubbornly defending it, the students supporting the ethics statement should admit this and drop such a problematic approach.

    Anti-Israel students have increasingly attempted to restrict freedom of speech and silence dissenting opinions, which is completely unacceptable and unbecoming of university students. Instead, students should engage in discussions with those whose opinions differ in order to foster learning and growth.

    While I agree with the overall message of this article, I argue that BDS is not as benign as Professor Myers has portrayed it here. The movement is problematic for several reasons, one being its aim to undermine the right of Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland. I would challenge anyone to find a single supporter of BDS who does not harbor such discriminatory views.

    • Whatever

      Christopher Hitchens warned us about radical Islamists trying to crush freedom of speech in democracies. SJP (which is affiliated with the terrorist group Hamas) is one of those Islamists that are trying to do so. They are against everything that is wonderful about democracy.

      • The_Herman_Cains

        again, you don’t provide links from SJP to Hamas…clearly you must be a UCLA student/faculty member. #NOT

        • Whatever

          that stupid hashtag crap is getting old. Not even Lizzy Naameh would use that or her heir, Devin Murphy.

    • ThisIsPalestine

      SJP should be banned from American campuses as a hate group.

  • The_Herman_Cains

    Article falls short of just saying “let sleeping dogs lie.” These trips, even by Olive Tree, do not provide a “both sides of the story” – they never do! Why are we allowing multi-million dollar non-profits from influencing students this way? I swear, sometimes colleges are we teach folks how to act like white collar criminals. No wonder our ethics are so messed up and we are blind as a nation to recognize international hypocrisy. /rant.

    • Mifty Popularis

      “Allowing” multi-million dollar non-profits to influence students this way? The Islamo-fascist shows his true colors.

      CAIR and MSA are both multi-million dollar non-profits with ties to terrorist groups.

    • Guest

      Excuse my French, but who the **** cares? If people want to be influenced a certain way or another, let them! People are entitled to their own opinions. Who are you or anyone else to say how they’re allowed to form that opinion? Opinion formation is never neutral; it’s always biased. I think it would be naive to think that any Israeli or Palestinian will form their opinion on this issue neutrally.

      1. Let people do what they want.
      2. USAC was stupid for even taking a stance on this issue anyway. They should’ve left it off the table. It has only torn this campus into a million pieces. Congratulations USAC 2013-2014! And Devin Murphy has already made his first misstep by now challenging the Chancellor. LEAVE IT ALONE.

  • Ben

    Another liberal article written by someone who fails to recognize that you can not empathize with brainwashed fanatics. I thought this was UCLA, not UC Irvine.