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As we celebrate Israel's Independence day and hope for the prospects for peace in the Middle East, we unfortunately find ourselves once again defending Israel's right to exist. During our stint as co-chairs of the Harvard Israel Public Affairs Committee, we grew used to defending Israel against cynical distortions of history, and often found ourselves engaged in the senseless task of producing a balance sheet of Palestinian and Israeli suffering. We had hoped that the famous handshake on the White House lawn was a sign of a new era of constructive dialogue. Sadly, we have been reminded by Ramy Tadros' article ("Israel's `Independence' Day," guest commentary, May 3, 1995) that not everyone shares our reluctance to use human suffering as currency to purchase rhetorical points.
Tadros begins his argument by claiming that he does not intend to "raise questions about Israel's raison d'etre, legitimacy or right to exist." He then proceeds to attempt to cast doubt about Israel's legitimacy by referring to the War of Independence as "so-called," and continuing throughout the article to put quotation marks around the word "independence" when referring to the establishment of Israel. Tadros then attempts a calculating revision of history by arguing that Zionism and the birth of Israel depended above all on the forcible expulsion and terrorizing of Palestinians.
Tadros plays a dangerous game in attempting to claim a Palestinian monopoly on pain and suffering. We need hardly remind him of the countless of Israeli, European and American civilians murdered over the years in hijackings and bus-bombings, both by current Palestinian extremists like Hamas, and current moderates, like Yasir Arafat. We choose not to dwell on this, however, because to do so is to sully the memory of the victims by using their deaths to score debate points. This is something that we can no longer stomach.
Tadros also eschews historical accuracy by ignoring that the War for Independence was in fact an invasion of Israel by six Arab nations and that much of the Palestinian exodus occurred at the behest of these invading armies: as Glubb Pasha, former commander of the Arab legion, stated, "villages were frequently abandoned [by Palestinians] even before they were threatened by the progress of war."
His subtle attempt to undermine Israel's legitimacy by selective historical omissions and use of quotations is an attempt to have his argument both ways. Tadros clearly realizes that he will get nowhere with his argument if he explicitly calls Israel's right to exist into question. To do so would undermine his stance as a proponent of the "basic right of self-determination." However, by reducing everything on the Israeli side of the debate to "so-called" status, he can essentially induce the reader to question Israel's right to exist. Rather than strengthening his own argument, Tadros tries to get away with making the "other side's" relatively weaker.
Tadros' analogy to the tragedy in Bosnia is even more offensive because it is nothing more than a cheap and easy trick. The trick works something like this: find some notorious evil people and compare your opponent to them. By referring to an ongoing tragedy that has been in the news, Tadros tries to fool us into associating the horrible images we've seen of Bosnia, with the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a clever move because it forces the "pro-Israel side" to have to explain how and why the Israelis aren't rapists and murderers. This is essentially a variation on the old "when-did-you-stop-beating-your wife" strategy. If anything, Tadros is doing a disservice to the plight of the Bosnians by making such a ludicrous comparison.
We do recognize Tadros' point that Israel's record is not perfect. The Israelis are not always the moral supermen that Tadros and the rest of us would like them to be. However, for him to claim that the Israelis "have failed to come to terms with their past" is ridiculous considering that he has extensively quoted prominent Israelis to document past injustices.
Just as Tadros asked us to "consider the past," we ask him to consider the future. Building bridges of understanding requires honesty and sensitivity on both sides. We hope that, in the future, Tadros will be willing to join us in a constructive dialogue about the possibility of a peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. Joshua Lehrer-Graiwer '95 Jonathan Bresman '95-96 Co-Chairs Emeriti, Harvard Students for Israel
Mr. Bresman is a Crimson editor.
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