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Roberta Goldman ’13: Brown students for Palestine (and Israel)

Guest Columnist
Thursday, March 4, 2010

As students, university life bombards us each day with words. We listen to professors lecture, talk with our friends and read words of great scholars. Words represent concepts through which we understand the world. They are the content of the way we think, the tenets in which we believe and the activities in which we engage. Language is our most powerful tool of knowledge, and it should not be distorted. “The cheapening of words is a great moral danger,” a fellow student told me yesterday. For this reason, we carry a deep and heavy burden: The burden of intellectual honesty and ethical responsibility for the words we choose.

There is an event happening on campus now which makes me question whether we value the urgency of our responsibility to use language properly. One goal of Israel Apartheid Week is clear just from its title: to associate Israel with a hateful regime of oppression, segregation and discrimination. The charged language used by its organizers conveys a message that we, as human beings committed to morality, couldn’t possibly disagree with. Having a huge sign on the main green that asks, “Do You Want Your School Profiting from Apartheid?” leaves no room for objection. This presentation makes opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict mutually exclusive: If you are pro-Israel, you support apartheid. If you are pro-Palestine, or perhaps anti-Israel, you support human rights and equality.

During this week, I anticipate you will hear no mention of life happening within Israel that is the opposite of apartheid. There are places in Israel, like the cities of Lod, Jaffa and Acre, where Christians, Jews, Muslims, blacks, whites, Arabs and Asians work together toward common goals like eradicating inner city violence, educating at-risk children or providing food for the hungry. In this melting pot, citizens live together and possess the same rights. Obviously, inequality exists in Israel as in any nation, including ours, but within its borders Israel is not racially divided. Instead of acknowledging both this positive reality and the unbearable reality experienced by Palestinians in the territories, this week compacts the many things that Israel is into the simple title of apartheid. It substitutes a bold and ugly concept for the challenge of understanding an exceptionally nuanced and politically complex circumstance. Imposing this historical paradigm rife with associations will take us nowhere except backward.

I am a Brown student for Palestine in the most literal sense of the phrase. I don’t support the goal of the campaign, which is divestment of Brown University funds from Israeli companies. Nevertheless, I am a practiced critic of the Israeli government and army. I am grieved by Palestinian suffering caused by their decisions. I want to fight for a Palestinian state that has self-governance, equality, stability and prosperity. I believe in the right to self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians. I dream of the day when the Palestinian state will be established alongside the existing Israeli state. I acknowledge this will require a reduction of Israeli lands and a relocation of Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank. I only wish that those supporting the creation of the Palestinian state would express with the same fervor the enduring importance of the existence of the state of Israel instead of vilifying Israel and calling for divestment from its economy.

All students are entitled to advocate their personal beliefs, but not to the extent that they trample upon fellow students’ beliefs. I feel trampled by the terminology of this campaign and think others fighting for peace may as well. To those voices that support the existence of Israel to my left and my right, I say, don’t feel delegitimized. Please don’t let what feels like an omnipresent voice of condemnation against Israel alienate you or your views. Contrary to the campaign’s frame, you can support Palestine AND Israel. Ask around, and you will soon realize you are far from alone.

This campaign pains me because it blames one group and exonerates the other. It criminalizes one group and victimizes the other. It offers only a simplified and single-sided view of a very complex situation. My suspicion is that most students believe in both states. Don’t let this week divide the Brown campus. End the polarization that Israel Apartheid Week creates. The world, the Middle East and this campus are divided by enough issues. Let’s make this an issue about which Brown can unite. We as the Brown community can support both the creation of a Palestinian state and the defense of the existing Israeli country.

I lost a close friend, an Israeli veteran and the most adamant pursuer of peace and justice I have ever met, about two weeks ago.  If he were here, I strongly believe he would have been writing this article instead of me. A few months ago, Avi Schaefer ’13 wrote, “Only through recognition of the other side will there be peace.” Let’s recognize each other and use our words toward a constructive end. Brown should move forward together, not backwards apart.

Roberta Goldman ’13 wrote this column in memory of Avi Schaefer ’13. She can be contacted at roberta [at]

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  1. grad student says:

    Thank you for this. As someone who believes that both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to self determination and to live in safety, and as someone who has worked for the implementation of a two-state solution, I see this article as a necessary reminder that it’s not an either-or situation.
    The only way to reach a solution is to stop trying to cast either Israel or the Palestinians as the villains and instead focus on moving forward.
    It’s very unfortunate that so many college groups seem adamant to treat it otherwise.

  2. Peace class in progress! Can a simple cardboard robot succeed where world leaders and educators have failed? Tune into Pax_101 on Facebook and Twitter – @Pax_101 and decide for yourself. Join the Pax evolution in Israeli-Palestinian peace-brokerage and social media. Civil dialogue and respectful debate are the roads to the future.

  3. Arafat Yasir says:

    by Alan Dershowitz Every year at about this time, radical Islamic students—aided by radical anti-Israel professors—hold an event they call “Israel Apartheid Week.” During this week, they try to persuade students on campuses around the world to demonize Israel as an apartheid regime. Most students seem to ignore the rantings of these extremists, but some naïve students seem to take them seriously. Some pro-Israel and Jewish students claim that they are intimidated when they try to respond to these untruths. As one who strongly opposes any censorship, my solution is to fight bad speech with good speech, lies with truth and educational malpractice with real education.Accordingly, I support a “Middle East Apartheid Education Week” to be held at universities throughout the world. It would be based on the universally accepted human rights principle of “the worst first.” In other words, the worst forms of apartheid being practiced by Middle East nations and entities would be studied and exposed first. Then the apartheid practices of other countries would be studied in order of their seriousness and impact on vulnerable minorities.Under this principle, the first country studied would be Saudi Arabia. That tyrannical kingdom practices gender apartheid to an extreme, relegating women to an extremely low status. Indeed, a prominent Saudi Imam recently issued a fatwa declaring that anyone who advocates women working alongside men or otherwise compromises with absolute gender apartheid is subject to execution. The Saudis also practice apartheid based on sexual orientation, executing and imprisoning gay and lesbian Saudis. Finally, Saudi Arabia openly practices religious apartheid. It has special roads for “Muslims only.” It discriminates against Christians, refusing them the right to practice their religion openly. And needless to say, it doesn’t allow Jews the right to live in Saudi Arabia, to own property or even (with limited exceptions) to enter the country. Now that’s apartheid with a vengeance.The second entity on any apartheid list would be Hamas, which is the de facto government of the Gaza Strip. Hamas too discriminates openly against women, gays, Christians. It permits no dissent, no free speech, and no freedom of religion.Every single Middle East country practices these forms of apartheid to one degree or another. Consider the most “liberal” and pro-American nation in the area, namely Jordan. The Kingdom of Jordan, which the King himself admits is not a democracy, has a law on its books forbidding Jews from becoming citizens or owning land. Despite the efforts of its progressive Queen, women are still de facto subordinate in virtually all aspects of Jordanian life.Iran, of course, practices no discrimination against gays, because its President has assured us that there are no gays in Iran. In Pakistan, Sikhs have been executed for refusing to convert to Islam, and throughout the Middle East, honor killings of women are practiced, often with a wink and a nod from the religious and secular authorities.Every Muslim country in the Middle East has a single, established religion, namely Islam, and makes no pretense of affording religious equality to members of other faiths. That is a brief review of some, but certainly not all, apartheid practices in the Middle East.Now let’s turn to Israel. The secular Jewish state of Israel recognizes fully the rights of Christians and Muslims and prohibits any discrimination based on religion (except against Conservative and Reform Jews, but that’s another story!) Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel (of which there are more than a million) have the right to vote and have elected members of the Knesset, some of whom even oppose Israel’s right to exist. There is an Arab member of the Supreme Court, an Arab member of the Cabinet and numerous Israeli Arabs in important positions in businesses, universities and the cultural life of the nation. A couple of years ago I attended a concert at the Jerusalem YMCA at which Daniel Barrenboim conducted a mixed orchestra of Israeli and Palestinian musicians. There was a mixed audience of Israelis and Palestinians, and the man sitting next to me was an Israeli Arab, who is the culture minister of the State of Israel. Can anyone imagine that kind of concert having taking place in apartheid South Africa, or in apartheid Saudi Arabia?There is complete freedom of dissent in Israel and it is practiced vigorously by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. And Israel is a vibrant democracy.What is true of Israel proper, including Israeli Arab areas, is not true of the occupied territories. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza several years ago, only to be attacked by Hamas rockets. Israel maintains its occupation of the West Bank only because the Palestinians walked away from a generous offer of statehood on 97% of the West Bank, with its capital in Jerusalem and with a $35 billion compensation package for refugees. Had it accepted that offer by…

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