The recent controversy surrounding DSG’s decision to revoke the charter of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) has demonstrated our inability as a student body to support productive dialogue and education on Israel and Palestine. For those of you who have not been keeping up with the commotion, SSI, a pro-Israel international organization, recently assembled on campus with the mission of promoting Israel and providing educational and open discussion opportunities. Unfortunately, SSI’s missteps and the reaction from Pro-Palestinian groups have led to DSG revoking the charter.
I feel the need to express my concerns over the matter for two reasons. Firstly, I believe that the mistakes of SSI should not define the discourse surrounding Israel. They do not embody all pro-Israel opinions, and they do not represent my own reasons for supporting Israel as a Jewish state. Secondly, and more critically, I am troubled and outraged by the abhorrent treatment and condition of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. I urge those supporting Palestinians not to cling onto an indisputable “most just” attitude on Israel, but rather an effective one that doesn’t require our moral superiority.
On Tuesday, SSI failed to uphold its mission to “provide an open discussion platform for all things Israel,” as it says in their first Instagram post, when they rescinded their earlier apology for targeting an individual on campus who had protested its creation. DSG needs to be careful deciding how to respond, however, recognizing that many people who support their veto want SSI banned not because of this incident but because SSI is Zionist. If you’re someone who questions Israel’s legitimacy, I welcome an open conversation over that but ask that you first consider the personal connection many Jews on this campus have with Israel, and also to think about how it must feel to be told the nation that largely defines your identity is inherently evil.
This is an issue in which a segment (Palestinian, Jewish, and Israeli) of this school’s population has a stake, and it’d be unwise and problematic to shut out the only active voice (be it one I disagree with) that openly defends Israel.
SSI should still be held accountable for their actions. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) appropriately called them out for it, but I’d argue in a problematic and unproductive way. Claiming that Israel has “no historical grounding,” and introducing many uninformed students to Israel by painting far-right settlers as an unchallenged representative unit in Israeli society could not be farther from the truth. SJP wrote in The Chronicle about the explicit and remorseless land-grabbing by Israeli settlers of Palestinian property, “If we listen to the settlers and Palestinians, the supposedly complicated issue is not so complicated.” The settlement projects in the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem (specifically in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah as SJP noted) are troubling. They are troubling not only to Palestinians or SJP or non-Zionist Jews, but also to many Jews who support Israel as a Jewish state. What makes it complicated is that these settlers don’t represent all Israeli or world Jews. I won’t deny that the government of Israel and a portion of Israelis support the maintenance of settlements, but as the recent politics in America has demonstrated, a government’s actions and leaders do not represent all its people nor should it represent the very essence of a state itself. The Jewish people have historical, cultural, and religious connections to the land of Israel (among other ties), and I believe recognizing that does not deny the ties of Palestinians to the land. It states a fundamental truth that lays the groundwork for how Israeli Jews approach the conflict, so denying those connections is not only untrue, it is obfuscating the discourse that needs to take place.
A representative from SSI reading this may think I’m a threatening Pro-Palestinian disguised as a Zionist, and a Pro-Palestinian may think I am a dissonant moderate preventing Palestinian liberation. Maybe those claims have some truth to them (I love having my opinions questioned), but at the very least view that as something you agree upon and start a conversation where you listen to the other side before making your conclusions and going on the offensive.
As someone who cares about Palestinian’s rights and self-determination, I will be quick to say that Israel has committed injustices in its past and continues today (as in the case of the settlements). To “right all the wrongs'' Israel has committed, however, is simplistic and would only be possible by creating new injustices. I genuinely believe that a better way for a non-Jewish person to support Palestinian liberation than isolating Zionists is to foster a safe way for Jews to support Palestinians. I know many Jews who internally feel troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but don’t speak up because they hold two truths that some non-Jewish people will be quick to castigate. They denounce Israel for what it does to Palestinians and they love Israel for what it does for Israelis and the Jewish people at large. The most recent article published against SSI on The Chronicle stated it is “‘profoundly false” that 95% of all Jews are Zionist. I agree that this figure is likely inaccurate, but the idea that a Jew who doesn’t “strongly oppose” boycott, divestment and sanctions (a movement critical of Israel) is automatically going to be non-Zionist and that all areligious Jews with less attachment to Israel are non-Zionist is false as well. The same article the author referenced also contains various studies that conclude the number is closer to 88% who are pro-Israel, no less significant.
What frustrates me more than hearing someone call Israel a European colonialist regime is hearing a well-intentioned Jew refuse to criticize Israel because they’re too busy defending its right to exist. I urge anyone upset with SSI not to contribute to the belittlement of Jews on campus. We want everyone to feel safe here, and a non-Jewish supporter of Palestinian liberation should additionally want Jews to feel safe on campus because it is in that state that Jews will be most equipped to openly criticize Israel’s policies. Anti-Zionism should not seem like the only alternative to blind support for Israel.
Critique my argument but only after making an honest effort to listen to the concerns I’ve posed here. Please know I come from a genuine place as a proud Jew who loves Israel and supports all those marginalized and oppressed in the world.
Samuel Jinich is a Trinity first-year.
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