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The Wrong Type of Engagement

By Ariella Rotenberg and Ariel Rubin

Imagine waking up on a Sunday morning with the following notice on your door: “We must nurse our children and grandchildren on hatred for Zionists and for Jews... These bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”  This would be disturbing, out-of-context, and highly inflammatory.

The hypothetical posting of Egyptian President Morsi’s recent hateful statements on students’ doors across campus, like the “eviction notices” distributed by the Palestine Solidarity Committee last weekend, violate the tradition of open and intellectual discourse valued at Harvard. Evictions and demolitions are important issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict, as are anti-Semitism and incitement throughout the Arab world. However, presented without a balanced explanation, these issues are reduced to polarizing discourse that are counterproductive to reaching a mutual understanding. This was exhibited in the PSC’s launch of their so-called “Israeli Apartheid Week”— a dishonest and imbalanced method of engagement.

As two seniors writing theses on aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, we have actively sought out views that oppose our own and continue to work in an effort to understand contradicting narratives. Through our research and combined eight months of living experience in Israel over the past year, we found barriers to peace attributable to both Israel and the Palestinians. We realize the importance of employing a framework that engages with multiples perspectives. There are limits to this framework, however, when words are based in hatred rather than facts. The Palestinian Solidarity Committee has reached this limit in its portrayals of the conflict as one-sided, revealing either a lack of understanding of history or rejection of an honest, albeit challenging, conversation about the complicated reality.

The PSC’s use of the word “apartheid” is ahistorical, polarizing, and preventative of informed, fact-based dialogue. The implication of the comparison to “apartheid” is that the Israelis are racist totalitarians ruling over blameless Palestinians, with no consideration for the nuances and details of the conflict. Israel’s Declaration of Independence guarantees equal rights to all citizens irrespective of religion, race, or sex. It is a country where a Palestinian citizen of Israel serves as a Supreme Court Justice; where political discourse includes Arab elected officials who are hyper-critical of Israel; and where all citizens are guaranteed the same right to education. It is a country committed to peaceful coexistence, not a country with a systematic policy of racism. By using the misnomer of “apartheid,” the PSC explicitly demonizes Israel by squeezing the complicated Arab-Israeli conflict into the same racially driven mold that existed in South Africa. We take issue with certain Israeli policies and recognize that the state is not perfect, but we base our criticism in historically accurate facts. It takes only a very rudimentary understanding of the situation to appreciate the PSC’s gross misuse of the word “apartheid.”

The PSC as an organization consistently projects a dishonest voice that distorts the reality of the conflict. Last November, the group staged a “die-in” to show solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza under what the PSC deemed a so-called “unprovoked assault” from Israel. It is one thing to show solidarity with the people of Gaza, but labeling the operation as “unprovoked” is a deliberate neglect for the more than 10,000 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the previous decade. The PSC bases its activism in the Veritas Handbook, a 347-page “guide to understanding the struggle for Palestinian human rights.” Crimson columnist Daniel Solomon described it last week as “glib dismissals of Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism...indulg[ing] in conspiracy theories, that Mossad agents, not government-sanctioned campaigns of violence and terror, were responsible for the exodus of Jews from Arab lands.” The PSC’s mission statement states that it “does not prescribe a solution to the struggle; rather...believe[s] in supporting and amplifying the voices of those working against injustice.” If an organization is devoted to a struggle, that struggle should at least aim for a peaceful resolution built on mutual respect and understanding. Instead, the PSC polarizes the campus discourse through misinformation and inflammatory tactics.

We acknowledge the PSC’s efforts to bring attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict at Harvard. The PSC’s engagement, however, is a struggle based on publicity stunts and inaccurate buzz words— just as posting Morsi’s hateful statement with no explanation would have been—leaving no space for open discussion or reasoned debate. We call on the organization to delve into the intricacies of the reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict and to take on opposing narratives, especially when they challenge pre-existing understandings.

Ariel Rubin ’13 is a special concentrations concentrator in Winthrop House. Ariella Rotenberg ’13 is a social studies concentrator in Lowell House.

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