This week, Swarthmore’s Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine installed an exhibit in the Science Center quad which brings to light various barriers to education that Palestinian children in the occupied territories face on a daily basis. Foremost, as an organization of students committed to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution, J Street U supports efforts to raise campus awareness of this important issue. This is an opportunity to educate ourselves, to improve our understanding of another’s viewpoint, and to engage in constructive discussion about human rights in the Palestinian territories. Disagreement with another perspective is all the more reason to seriously engage it.
The timing of SPJP’s installation has struck a challenging nerve for many on campus. Because it was installed the day following Holocaust Remembrance Day, some have interpreted the exhibit as related to this critical and personal commemoration. Anonymous commenters on SPJP’s op-ed criticized the installation as “sickening.” The timing is coincidental and making connections between the two is inappropriate. Likewise, in public comments on Facebook, SPJP’s exhibit has been called “anti-Israel” and alluded to as an example of anti-Semitism. Exploring the harsh realities of the occupation – which threaten the daily lives of Palestinians and the democratic character of Israel – is necessary for those of us who care deeply about Israel and its future as both a homeland for the Jewish people and a democratic state. While these types of comments are not uncommon, they reveal a presumption of ill-will in others and too often have the effect of silencing disagreement and preventing productive discussion. Rather than assuming the worst of an exhibit that had not yet been set up at the time that those comments were made, we hope members of the Swarthmore community will determine their opinions based on their interpretation of the actual content. This would be no less true with an exhibit by a traditional pro-Israel group. We also encourage all, whatever their feelings about the installation, to bring their thoughts, questions, and assumptions of good faith to this Friday’s discussion of the exhibit in the Kohlberg Coffee Bar. The discussion will be co-hosted by SPJP and J Street U, and is open to all community members of all viewpoints.
At J Street U Swarthmore, we reject the idea that supporting Israel or Palestine comes at the expense of the other. As a group that supports a two-state solution to secure Israel’s future and a future state of Palestine, it is both possible and necessary to support the aspirations and dignity of both peoples, as the future of one is tied to that of the other. Furthermore, advocating for Palestinians’ human rights or criticizing some of the policies of Israel is neither anti-Israel nor anti-Semitic; indeed, many Jews and patriotic Israelis do so every day in their families, in their synagogues, and in the Israeli Knesset (parliament). Many do so because of their commitment to Israel, democracy, and Jewish values. Being pro-Israel does not preclude dissent, but demands it.
A two-state solution, including an independent Palestinian state, is the only way to ensure both a lasting peace and Israel’s long-term interests, which includes the protection of Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland and democratic state. A long-term occupation of another people is incompatible with those interests. We act for two states and oppose the occupation as an expression of our commitment to Israel and our understanding of Jewish values. Palestinian human rights and Jewish human rights cannot be separated.
We hope, then, that one would not presume SPJP’s exhibit is anti-Semitic knowing only that it supports Palestinian human rights and opposes an occupation that necessarily limits them. Whether you find it objectionable, challenging, intriguing, informative, or all of the above, we hope that you will bring it up at the community discussion so that we can try to understand and learn from your perspective, just as we are currently trying to understand and learn from SPJP’s perspective.According the the Swarthmore SPJP website, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel is absolutely necessary:
We, the members of Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine at Swarthmore College, have decided to pursue boycott as a tactic in hopes of contributing to the ending of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Since 1967, Israel has occupied these territories in violation of international law. As of 2005, Gaza is no longer under occupation, but remains under a state of siege.
The occupation has allowed for the consistent violation of Palestinian human rights through home demolitions, restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, violence by Israeli settlers directed toward Palestinians, the confiscation of Palestinian land and countless other attacks of the basic human dignity of Palestinian people. The siege of the Gaza Strip restricts the movement of basic resources, including food, reconstruction materials and sanitation technology, from entering Gaza. We see all of these actions as violations of Palestinians’ fundamental human rights. We believe boycott is the most effective, nonviolent tactic available to pressure the Israeli government to end these discriminatory practices and return to the negotiating table.
As a group, we intend to push the College to boycott or divest from companies which either support the apparatus of occupation or profit from the continued occupation of Palestinian territories. The group was specifically founded on Swarthmore values with a humanitarian orientation, and therefore, we wish to maintain our independence from any national organization. However, we are willing to work with other organizations that pursue similar goals.
Hillel International has indicated that J Street U qualifies as a member group.