This past Sunday, I traveled to the annual AIPAC Policy Conference held in Washington D.C. AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee), a formidable Zionist lobbyist organization, welcomed a cohort of 18,000 pro-Israel advocates to the nation’s capital. 4,000 of those in attendance were college students.
AIPAC centered this three-day conference on a single agenda. It sought to address the current status of relations between the state of Israel and its American ally. More specifically, AIPAC looked to justify the necessity for America’s continual provision of economic, political, and military assistance to Israel.
Most of AIPAC’s rhetoric justified a need for the United States to protect, support, and finance Israel. AIPAC aligned itself with the voices condemning specific policies and decisions of both the Palestinian Authority and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Terrorism. A complete neglect for human life. Using babies, hospitals, nurseries, and the elderly as human shields. Kidnapping and brutally mutilating three teenage boys. This is the official policy of the Palestinian Authority,” echoed the president of AIPAC, Lillian Pinkus.
Internationally sponsored terrorism. Abusing UN charters, proclamations, and mandates time and again. Writing the message ‘Israel Must Be Wiped Out’ in both Hebrew and Farsi on its illegally fired missiles. This is the official policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, announced Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich in different but identical speeches at the AIPAC policy conference.
Following these speeches, the crowd of 18,000 pro-Israel advocates unequivocally applauded. They stood up from their seats, time and again, thunderously shaking the colossal Verizon Center located in the center of Washington D.C, and, with a high degree of uniformity, anxiously searched for the next presenter to further galvanize them.
It did not matter if the speaker was a fundamentalist Rabbi from Tel Aviv, Joe Biden, Paul Ryan, an Arab-Israel living in Haifa, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Benjamin Netanyahu. Each speaker said the same thing: Israel is right. The United States should and will support Israel at all costs necessary. The Palestinian Authority and the Islamic Republic of Iran are attempting to undermine “the emblem of democracy surrounded in a sea infested by fundamental Islamism.”
Throughout the entirety of this three-day convention, not once, not even once, was Israel’s abusive settlement expansion policy criticized. Not once was the issue regarding the inability for Palestinians to access the same roads as Israelis rationalized. Not once was Israel’s aggressive assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014 –that left hundreds of thousands of Palestinian’s homeless– castigated. Nor was Israel’s continuous refusal to remove a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip even acknowledged. Nothing. In the eyes of AIPAC, Israel is infallible.
I came back to Swarthmore this past Tuesday night slightly disappointed but not particularly surprised by my experience in D.C. I had also accepted an invitation on Facebook to attend a presentation that would be delivered by a Palestinian spoken word poet named Remi Kanazi. This event would be hosted by SPJP (Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine), among other anti-Israel organizations on campus. Assuming this event would probably diabolize the state of Israel, I felt an obligation to attend.
The moment I stepped foot into the IC building that Thursday night, however, I could not deny the fact that the Remi Kanazi had a presence. He was captivating, charismatic, well-spoken, persuasive, entertaining, and even handsome. Despite the fact that his poems were entangled by fallacies, that his lyrics replaced statistical calculation with radical hyperbolization, and that his polemics favored sentimentalism to viable reasoning, it was hard not to engage with him.
The problem with Mr. Kanazi’s presentation only emerged when one started to process the message. “Do not even think to engage with the other side,” he repeated poem after poem. “You [Israel] deserve nothing, nothing. Zionism is the real threat, infecting the minds of millions with racism,” he assured the audience stony-faced.
Remi’s word choice was simple. His claims stood consistent. His tone remained thematic. His lyrics inspired. The ambiance of the room quickly became infatuated.
The eyes of the audience were glued, taped, and fixated on Remi’s exaggerated anger. It impassioned them. It enraged them. They were all thinking the same thing: How could Israel be so evil? Boycott. Divest. Sanction.
I will not spend time on this article defending Israel or explaining why the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement actually distances any possibility that a peace agreement will be met in the Middle East. Instead, I am attempting to examine the stark dichotomy in opinions regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict on college campuses. More specifically, I have tried to analyze how extremist organizations on college campuses, such as SPJP and AIPAC, have doomed dialogue between individuals at “liberal” colleges. That is, as the Swarthmore student body continues to approach this issue with its status quo technique, finding a middle ground for debate or engagement becomes an axiomatically futile endeavor. It ostracizes everyone. We preach to those who have already drunk the Kool-Aid.
I will leave the reader with this. Fanaticism only incites fanatics. Radicals only radicalize radicals. Extremist only attract other extremists. If we, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine advocates, want to broker some sort of meaningful dialogue on campus, if we want to find a larger audience, if we want to interest individuals who are uninformed on this topic, we must tone it down. We must stop excluding, pointing fingers, and demonizing one another. Progressing into the future requires the humanization of the other.
We, pro-Israel advocates, must recognize that Palestinians have homes, families, and ambitions. We must see that they are not all terrorists. We must understand that they want nothing more than to attend university, provide for their children, and live in peace.
Similarly, we, as pro-Palestine advocates, must rationalize the idea that Israelis fear for their lives on a daily basis. We must look beyond all the wrongs committed by Israel and try to see that parents are worried that their children will not return home from school, that a rocket will drop on a mother or sister’s home in Jerusalem, or, that a Third Intifada will leave a parent with yet another dead child.
We must see eye to eye. Stop this radicalism. Allow Swarthmore to live by its principles. Engage. Argue. Understand.
Image courtesy of www.swarthmore.edu