Let’s not talk

A carefully detached piece by Sarah Ngu investigating why Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine are refusing dialogue with Hillel about Israel and Palestine. Must read.

It’s very worrying how eager CSJP are to import an anti-normalisation campaign into their campus and act out their hostilities on Hillel as if they were a legitimate proxy, and as if the conflict and power differential between Israelis and Palestinians also existed in Columbia. This amounts to a campaign to ostracise a Jewish organisation – one which is also concerned about injustice against Palestinians – on the basis of a political test.

CJSP’s policy is that of a group which which is proud to view the conflict as simple. In this they resemble their actual opponents. The security-preoccupied right in Israel also view things simplistically. They also burn with injustice, they too insist they have no alternative, and they too talk with individual enemy leaders off the record.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in peaceful stable democracies should be educating ourselves and generating ideas for conflict resolution, not recreating the conflict on campus at the request of some of its antagonists in a way which here is destined to become pro-Palestinians versus Jews.

13 Responses to “Let’s not talk”

  1. Jonathan Romer Says:

    “CJSP’s policy is that of a group which which is proud to view the conflict as simple. In this they resemble their actual opponents.”


    Why do you have to impose your views on CJSP? Their “opponents” are not “the security-preoccupied right”. They make it completely explicit that their enemies are all Zionists: “We’re against Zionism in practice” and “one of the things we want to do is to draw attention to the racist nature of Zionism”. Do yourself and the rest of us the favour of seeing them as they are, not as you are.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      I did over-gloss that Jonathan, and to some extent it is wishful thinking that CSJP should be discriminating about their political opponents, rather than discriminating against people who fail their political test. And in fact, what stands between the current situation and the end of the occupation is much more than Israel’s ‘security-preoccupied right’. There are also Israeli expansionists (religious and otherwise) and their pan-Islam or pan-Arab counterparts, among other forces.

      The point I’m trying to make is that CSJP is wrong to construct Hillel as the enemy, so it follows that I think it’s important to try to paint a different picture from CSJP’s. After all, isn’t that what Hillel are doing when then attempt to open a dialogue rather than going along with CSJP’s view that Hillel are their enemy?

      • Jonathan Romer Says:

        The problem isn’t who CSJP will or won’t talk to, it’s that they are fundamentally wrong and deeply destructive. If they want to present Zionism as racism there really is nothing to be debated. It’s not a matter of constructive dialog; it may be possible to convince CSJP’s target audience that Israel is a free and decent society, but its own membership is beyond reach.

        Hillel in fact is their enemy, from CSJP’s point of view if not Hillel’s own, because Hillel and its constituents are overwhelmingly supportive of Zionism of one flavour or another. To ask campus Jewish organizations to justify Israel’s existence in dialogue with CSJP is to reprise the performances that Jews used to be obliged to stage, justifying Judaism to antisemites — and it’s something Engage has been squarely and consistently against.

        • Mira Vogel Says:

          Jonathan, in this case I am not urging hillel into dialogue against their will – hillel say they want to talk. CSJP finds that desire to talk unjust because there is only supposed to be one side of the story.

  2. luny Says:

    Some background which should be familiar to Columbia readers of this article, which you forgot to include:

    [Luny, see comments policy. You give us long unsubstantiated accusations – I’ve deleted those. You are not entitled to ask us to take your word for it, and make us run around after you. If you provide some evidence for us to evaluate and demonstrate a commitment to seeing things from different perspectives, you can post. MV]

  3. Absolute Observer Says:

    So now we have it. The problem is not the Occupation, not the informal discrimination suffered by Arabs citizens of Israel, it is the very notion of the Jewish state itself.

    Somehow, in the world of secular states, Christian states, Muslim states, “communist states”, autocracies, monarchies, republics, dominions, dependent territories; the only state that gives serious offence is the existence of the Jewish state (a Jewish democratic state in which a fifth of the population is not Jewish and have equal rights and status (Ha’aretz, December 2010).

    Hmmmm, if one didn’t know otherwise, one might suspect something sinister underpinning such a phenomenon. But, perish the thought, it is no doubt just a strange coincidence that following the defeat of the labour movement, it is matters Jewish that take centre stage and the beacon around which a hitherto directionless radicalism seeks to re-organise itself.
    And, in case I’m being misunderstood, I know it is not Jews that is the problem this time, but rather the Jews’ state – obviously two completely different things.

  4. Stephen Rothbart Says:

    My father always used to define the correct way of looking at a problem by the way he saw things, because he believed his was the voice of Reason. He applied the same thinking to every situation unaware that since he was not Everyman, this way of thinking was flawed.

    The problem with CJSP and other students living in the western democracies is that often hold their opinions without ever having to deal with the substance of a situation that is often beyond their grasp.

    Having never had to live under the conditions of the Palestinians or the Israelis, they take the side of the victim, as all idealistic and naturally sympathetic people might.

    And right now, and probably since 1967, the victim is a Palestinian.

    Since Israel was granted legitimacy by the United Nations vote over 60 years ago, the Arabs that chose to resist this endorsement of a Jewish state have been in a state of war with Israel, either as nations or by proxy.

    For the Arabs that became the Palestinian nation after Arafat declared them to be so, this 60 years has been one of complete disaster.

    Despite the attacks on Israel by the overwhelming Arab forces, the results of these wars have led to even more loss of territory and more deprivation for the ‘Palestinian’ Arab.

    But who is responsible for the deprivation? Israel? Yes in part, because it was attacked, won the war and then found no partner to sign a peace agreement that was worth a damn. So they never made the usual arrangements around a Peace Treaty that normally occurs.

    The mighty Arab nation states?

    Well they do not really exist. They are a bunch of hastily fabricated states, thought up mostly by Britain and France after the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War 1.

    The governments of the victors of World War 1 saw the region as the epicentre of the future, with its abundant oil reserves, and decided that they would install their pet puppet governments to enable this oil to be under their control. So they created states and installed their leaders, who happened to be friendly to their benefactors.

    But what these governments failed to understand is that the Arab states they had created were powder kegs. They were not Muslim states, or Arab states, they were an imposition on clans and tribes that had a history of internecine war fare.

    Sunnis that hated Shias and vice versa, and variations on even the Sunni and Shiite doctrines.

    These new states were a recipe for disaster. The rule of law, often by minority religious clans ruling the majorities, as in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq for example, meant that the effective rule of law could only be carried out under repressive force. A culture of corruption and nepotism further polarised society, so that a massive underclass of poor and underprivileged Arabs developed.

    The leaders of the new states needed a culprit, and there was one. One they could all agree on. Israel.

    As the continual wars against Israel failed and more and more Palestinian Arab ‘refugees’ were created, the new tactic was to keep this refugee disaster alive.

    Hardly any Palestinian Arabs were allowed to assimilate in their fellow Arab’s lands. Those that chose to emigrate, went to the West, Iran or Turkey, all non-Arab nations.

    While over 35,000,000 Europeans made refugees in 1945 were finally settled and got on with their lives, the survivors of the 1948 war, the 1967 and 1973 wars never were re-settled. They were kept in a refugee status by their fellow Arabs, and the blame was carefully and sadly, successfully placed on Israel.

    600,000 Arab refugees became 5 million and the 800,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands at the same time, also without compensation, became forgotten.

    When the dust has settled, only the Palestinian refugee, often living in appalling conditions (unless you live in some of the slums of South American cities, which are arguably worse) were left for the world to focus on.

    With Europe beholden to oil it is easy for its leaders to ignore the true depths of the moral void of why the Arab nations are so brutal to their so-called ‘brothers.’

    Much easier to follow their lead and blame Israel, which fortunately has the United States as an ally, and for the last sixty years this has been enough.

    Now we have a Christian ‘Islamist’ in the White House and the result is an increasing attempt to de-legitimize the whole Zionist state concept, while the US moves away from its ally.

    Yes, some Israelis treat Palestinians badly, and yes, their leaders see that a Jewish state need to enforce its borders and its demographic in a way that is not ‘normal’ to survive.

    My father would say, that is not how I would do it, because my father lived in England, and securing the border and the national demographic was not necessary.

    But the ones that really treat the Palestinians badly are Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and even the Gulf States, and the Europeans who allow this situation to continue and turn a blind eye to the truth.

    It is these states or nations that have kept the Palestinian Refugee concept alive. It was Arafat and Fatah leaders, salting away billions of dollars of aid from mainly, the despised western nations, into their own personal bank accounts or to buy weapons to kill Israelis with. It is Hamas who kill and brutalise their own people in Gaza while in a power battle with Fatah, that has let the Palestinian Arab down.

    Now we have idealistic students and Jews who look at the mess in the Middle East and see the poor Palestinian refugee living in camps, and with the help of an often biased and politically motivated Press or TV Media, sees the whole situation as my father did, without the nuance of the reality on the ground.

    Imagine if someone with no knowledge of the Second World War opened a book on it at random and if it fell open on the chapter where Britain and US air forces flew over Germany and bombed their cities, where hundreds and thousands of civilians died. What impression does one get from this?

    Then the book falls open at an earlier juncture and they see that Hitler’s Germany started bombing cities as far back as the Spanish Civil War, let alone on England.

    Perhaps a different impression forms and they want to learn more.

    Sadly for CJSP students who started out with a ‘Right’ or ‘Wrong’ viewpoint, the urge to learn more is not an option, and like my father, they can only judge a situation by their own experiences of life and, in the end, their own bias and limited imagination. They do not want to listen to another viewpoint but to have someone endorse their own views so they can feel justified in their hatred of Israel.

    Let me say here, that many Engage members will disagree with my simplistic view of the Middle East expressed here.

    For sure there are nuances upon nuances that I have not dealt with, Stern gang activities and so on, that shows that within the Zionist movement, there were impure thoughts.

    But by and large, the people of Israel prefer peace to war, life to death and negotiation to dictatorship. Can this truly be said of those that lead the people on the other side?

    I joined Engage knowing that by and large I am probably a minority in my thoughts and that most leading contributors have a more critical view of how Israel behaves.

    I am open to their views and want to learn, as I hope they would be open to mine.

    Sadly, not an option for CJSP

  5. Absolute Observer Says:

    So again, we see via luny the absurdity of the tit for tat level mars the problematic of dialogue.

    Rather than seeking a way out of the impasse, of recognising the depths to which this issue has sunk, he merely cites what the “other side” is doing and so keeps the animosity rolling along.

    I find it interesting also that one of the sources he cites is headed “the Israel Lobby”. This is a term that resonates with the antisemitism that is so damaging to a proper understanding of the issues and which in many ways goes to the heart of the mistrust between the parties (something luny is, again, silent on).

    On also notes that as to the substance of CJSP’s views – that Israel as a Jewish state should not exist – luny is silent, despite all that such a view means.

    So, here we have the options spelled out clearly. Seek a common ground for discussion or, alternatively, like luny, keep throwing crap around and keep the cycle of mistrust and confrontation alive.

    Luny/Leiberman – two sides, same coin.

  6. max Says:

    Stephen – succinctly, beautifully written. Your analogy with observation of the Second World War is certainly valid but, with your focus on the facts, you fail to address the nature of anti-normalisation, which is ideological.
    Israel’s enemies treat Israel differently from any other country and show no compunction about extending their enmity to Jews generally (claimed control of the media etc). Some Islamic ideology holds that land, once controlled by the caliphate, is pre-destined to return to Islamic control and that Jews are, variously, second class citizens, mistaken in their rejection of Mohammed, apes and pigs and enemies to be exterminated. The language used against Israel and its supporters by enemies on the left and enemies on the right, including agents of the Palestinian authorities, features the same accusations and the same imagery as did that of the Nazis on their path to mass murder and, like the Nazis, they are largely impervious to rational, fact-based debate. Neither the government, judging by how its community engagement policies are implemented and FCO declarations, nor the EU’s self-aggrandising equivalent, seem in the slightest inclined to stand up for justice and against lies. It means that it is pointless being mealy-mouthed about organisations which speak and act in the way that the CSJP does. Their attitude is blatantly discriminatory. Their method is attack, not debate. The support that they give goes to those who are prepared to take their views to the ultimate conclusion, with all the bloody consequences that this entails. Support that they receive comes, in part, from those who take people’s taxes to pay for their protection.
    We may choose to believe that we can live with this situation but, in the end, the side we are on is picked for us. It is better to act like free men.
    Like the Palestinians, such organisations refuse to talk to their opponents, hoping to influence the world, through propaganda, to do their dirty work for them. That defines the audience, and the organisations, themselves, are not part of it – unless they have a change of heart and want to be. So, by all means, let’s talk. Let us tell it like it is to that wider audience. And let’s remember that attack is the best form of defence.

  7. Absolute Observer Says:

    “Like the Palestinians……….refuse to talk”??????
    Yeah right – it’s all the Palestinians fault. After all, Israel is rushing to the negotiating table.
    So, on the one side, Israel is the obstacle, and the other side, the Palestinians are the obstacle.
    If only the world was as described!

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