Annapolis On Campus

American political leaders have rightly painted today’s conference at Annapolis as the greatest hope for Middle East peace since 2000’s ill-fated Camp David. Yet for all the lip service paid to peace in the Middle East, few in America’s Jewish or Muslim communities seem ready to acknowledge that successful dialogue demands more than the criticism and finger pointing that has come to define it of late. The result has been a discourse marked by superficial overtures to cooperation masking deep-seeded intransigency.

True compromise requires introspection, mutual respect, and—most frightening to those who cherish the false comfort of hope in peace without abnegation—a recognition of the need for substantial sacrifice on the parts of Israelis and Palestinians alike. These qualities ought to be second nature to America’s academic institutions; after all, open conversation and a willingness to address the most challenging dimensions of an issue are what distinguish a community centered on open inquiry and uninhibited discourse.

University students are in a position to engage all sides in an honest conversation about the sacrifices long-term peace requires. More than any other political actors, they have the potential to demonstrate to the world what cooperation entails. Yet, rather than using their privileged place within the academic community to foster this sort of open dialogue and advocate for constructive change, American university students have instead focused their political engagements in ways that promote polarization and demonization, not compromise.

“Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” a five-day campaign organized by arch-conservative David Horowitz, is the most dramatic example of the disturbing and destructive direction campus activism has taken. Planned as “the biggest conservative campus protest ever,” the anti-Islamic blitz co-opted tactics typically employed by the radical left. During the week of October 22-25, Horowitz and his Terrorism Awareness Project staged protests, solicited speakers, and organized sit-ins at 114 college campuses across the country. By likening the contemporary Muslim world to World War II-era fascist Europe, Islamo-Fascism Awareness week sought to equate the sort of negotiation and compromise on which Annapolis must be built with the accommodation of genocidists, a strategy that renders long-term peace all but unachievable.

Although Harvard did not participate directly in Horowitz’s project—though former senator Rick Santorum did come to speak on the topic of Islamist extremism—the campaign remains frightening for what it speaks of today’s new brand of campus activism, at Harvard and elsewhere. Centered on criticism without attempting to be constructive, this campus discourse—of which Islamo-Fasicsm Awareness Week is but one manifestation—actively undermines the push for a just and equitable peace. It plays into the long-standing deception that peace can be achieved not by sacrifice, but by brute force; that our enemies today must remain our enemies forever; and that compromise and appeasement are equivalent terms.

American college students must refuse to play into this destructive and counter-productive dialogue. They must do what generations of political leaders—Israeli, Palestinian, and American—have found unreasonably difficult: To engage opposing sides not as enemies but as partners for peace, and to recognize that serious compromise requires sacrifice from all sides, starting today.

As Islamo-Fascism Awareness made frighteningly plain, far too much student energy has been devoted to the false notion that peace and security—for America, for Israel, or for any nation—can be achieved by mobilizing public opinion against “the enemy.” This vicious ‘with us or against us” worldview must be the first casualty of a renewed push for peace. Being “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestinian” must not be seen as competing allegiances, but rather as complimentary labels to describe those committed to a just and lasting peace.

Students must push for a campus dialogue that muzzles no one and renders no issues taboo. Within the parameters of respect for human dignity and the need for Israeli sovereignty and security, everything must be on the table. Student activists—Jewish and Palestinian alike—can and must have frank conversations about all dimensions of a two-state solution. Israeli citizenship law, and the identity of the Jewish state, the future of Jerusalem, the dismantlement of illegal settlement posts, the growth of radicalism on all sides, and the entanglement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the broader ideological struggle between radical Islamists and the West are just a few examples.

Annapolis will last only a day, but peace is a continuous process of reflection and compromise; a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of peace cannot be engendered overnight. While some American politicians may prefer to approach this process in periodic bursts that suit particular policy ends, student activists must push for a commitment to sustained and ongoing dialogue. They must educate their peers not only about Annapolis—critical as an awareness of the conference and the opportunities it presents undeniably is—but about the continued need for negotiation, openness, and dialogue as well.

Our universities should be an example of the cooperation and dialogue that represent the only avenue to peace. Anything less would be a betrayal of the free inquiry and honest dialogue that ought to define not only our universities, but the Middle East peace process as well.

Noah Hertz-Bunzl ’08 is a history concentrator in Leverett House. Paul R. Katz ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, is a history and literature concentrator in Mather House. They are both members of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance and the national Union of Progressive Zionists.