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Submission: Polarization undermines Israeli-Palestinian dialogue

By Matan Neuman

Feb. 3, 2016 6:45 a.m.

Correction: The original version of this submission incorrectly stated that Students for Justice in Palestine conducted a "mock stabbing" and had student leader employing Holocaust-related rhetoric during its "die-in". The speaker also did not say "the resistance is justified," but said "the cause is just."

Last week, Students for Justice in Palestine organized its annual Palestine Awareness Week, which has led me to question the true definition of the word “pro.” Does being in favor require that you be adamantly against something else? Contrary to popular belief, being pro-something does not require you be anti-something as well – even though our polarized campus climate may lead to you believe otherwise.

As a pro-Israel student at UCLA, it has become abundantly clear to me that there is no place for nuance in the current dialogue that takes place about Israel and Palestine. Students are forced to pick a side and publicly oppose the other to the point that dialogue and mutual recognition are virtually nonexistent.

The pro-Palestine movement at UCLA has long claimed to be fighting for justice for Palestine and Palestinians. However, recent events proved that these groups have begun to use their platform not to build up the Palestinian state and the Palestinian people, but to incite hatred against the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

Advocating for the establishment of a Palestinian state or advocating on behalf of the Palestinian people should not require calling for the destruction of the Jewish state and justifying the murder of the Jewish people. In the last years, SJP has unapologetically employed such rhetoric and imagery.

This rhetoric can be seen in footage of SJP chapters across the University of California, including SJP at UCLA, chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” To an ordinary bystander, this phrase probably means absolutely nothing. To a student who is aware of the geography of the Jewish state, this is a direct call for its annihilation.

In this chant, “the river” refers to the Jordan River, which is the eastern border between Israel and Jordan, and “the sea” refers to the Mediterranean Sea, which is the western border of Israel. Chanting “from the river to the sea” is not a call for the “liberation of Palestine.” Rather, it is a call for wiping the Jewish state off the map. Something along the lines of “from the river to the sea, coexistence shall come to be,” would be far more appropriate.

On Oct. 14, SJP held its annual Day of Action, during which it organized a “die-in” at Meyerhoff Park. The “die-in” was followed by a speech in which a student leader declared that the “cause is just.” Regardless of how you feel about Israeli policy, there is no justification for the ruthless murder of innocent civilians. The victims of the most recent wave of terror range from a 13-year-old Israeli child biking through the streets of Jerusalem to an 80-year-old grandmother sitting at a bus stop in Rishon L’Tzion. There is no justification for stabbing another human being with a kitchen knife – any attempt to justify this is both inhumane and undignified.

And most recently, during its Palestine Awareness Week, SJP hosted “Jewish Voices for Palestine featuring Max Blumenthal and Miko Peled,” during which they further reinforced the false dichotomy of “pro” and “anti” by denying Jewish history, and justifying the murder of innocent civilians, saying, “any attack by people in Gaza on Israel is legal, morally just, and completely understandable.”

Recent months have been difficult for Israelis, Palestinians and their respective supporters. But we cannot allow conflict 8,000 miles away to jeopardize or blind us from our moral obligations as human beings. A pro-Palestine movement should not be inherently anti-Israel, in the same way that a pro-Israel movement should not be inherently anti-Palestine.

There are many individuals who use their involvement within the pro-Palestine movement as a vehicle for deeply rooted anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic inclinations. Least of all Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, who has said, “we are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it, for Zionism is intent on killing itself. I, for one, support euthanasia.” Zionism is the belief in the self-determination of the Jewish people. By blatantly denying the self-determination of the Jewish people, while simultaneously advocating for the self-determination of other peoples, Barghouti clearly expresses blatant discrimination against the Jewish people.

As a Zionist and a believer in the self-determination of both the Jewish and Palestinian people, let me be the first to say that my community will not back down from intimidation. We will not stop championing the cause that we know to be right and true. We will never allow our movement to be one that condones anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic rhetoric. Nor will we ever lose our hope that our two peoples will live in peace.

My challenge for all of us Bruins is that, removed from the immediate conflict, we may see beyond the shadows of our own beliefs and narratives to begin to listen to the narratives of others, in hopes that we may recognize that the zero-sum game in which we currently engage is futile and dehumanizing.

I am a Bruin for Israel, a Bruin for future coexistence and most of all a Bruin for peace.

Neuman is a second-year political science student and public relations director for Bruins for Israel.

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