A FEW MINUTES BEFORE mid-night on Sunday, I walked into the Lowell House courtyard. A group of eight or 10 people was on its way out. As they passed me, one of them handed me a flier. "Read this," he said, and kept on walking.
I looked at the paper in my hand and saw that it claimed to "define" Zionism and explain why Zionism is racism. The flier was prepared and approved by the Society of Arab Students (SAS).
Being a Zionist, I was upset that some one else had decided to define my political ideology for me. Being an anti-racist, I was upset that someone had attributed an odious mindset like racism to me. I called after them and asked if we could discuss what was on the sheet.
"I'm a Zionist," I began, "and I'm not a racist. So I have a problem with the claim that Zionism is racism."
"The United Nations says it is," said a member of the group.
"Does that make it right?"
"It's international law."
Never mind that he was wrong. Most decisions of the UN General Assembly, including the "Zionism is Racism" resolution, do not in fact have the status of international law. (See the UN Charter, Chapter IV, Articles 10-14.) No big deal. After glancing at the paper in my hand, I had few illusions that our discussion would deal with verifiable facts. (The first line of the SAS flier said that the UN would vote on the "Zionism is Racism" resolution on December 17. The vote was yesterday. Check the date at the top of this page, and then do the math. Errors like that inspire real confidence at the start of a "fact" sheet.)
I did, however, want to know why he relied on the authority of the UN, a body dominated at the time the resolution was passed by nonrepresentative dictatorships. "Is all international law right?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
I was disappointed to learn that the majority vote of a dictators' club does, in fact, constitute rightness. But I still hoped that discussion might be beneficial. Hoping to foster some mutual trust, I introduced myself. "I'm Richard," I said.
"I'm Tarek," he replied.
It was cold outside, and late at night, so I suggested that we get together later to discuss the issues that Tarek's flier raised. (All but one of his friends, somehow, had disappeared.) Tarek said he wouldn't have time to discuss anything. I asked for his phone number, and he refused to give it to me. I gave my last name and asked what his was. "None of your business," he said with a thin smile.
I still felt the need to talk seriously with this person who had labeled me, my family, and many of my friends as racists. "Tarek," I said, "I just want to talk to you more because these are important issues and I'm interested in promoting productive discourse about them."
"I am not," he said.
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