Pro-Palestinian student groups should continue hosting events about anti-Semitism

Updated: Oct. 25, 2017 at 10:45 a.m.

Read an opposing viewpoint to this piece by opinions writer Henry Bartman here.

Waged relentlessly for decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is filled with nuances and subtleties that neither fellow opinions writer Henry Bartman nor myself fully comprehend. Therefore, it seems rather unlikely that two columns by college students are going to change the conflict’s status quo or even sway anyone’s views on the subject. But that is not the point of this column. Rather, I’m writing because I’m tired of the perpetuation of clearly false narratives – like the claim that those who are pro-Palestine must also be anti-Semitic – that play off of people’s ingrained biases and bigotries.

To state what should be obvious, a group that is pro-Palestine is not inherently anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. This is much in the same way that an organization dedicated to the appreciation of cheese does not have some deep seated hatred for those who are lactose intolerant.

I have a simple message: You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Despite fallacious claims to the contrary, the GW chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, known as the BDS movement, do not in any way advocate anti-Semitic beliefs or the destruction of Israel. Rather, according to Abigail Brook, a representative of GW SJP, the group’s criticism of Israel is solely grounded in Israel’s “killing and dehumanizing Palestinians.” When asked if SJP advocates for the destruction of Israel, Brook said they “would not advocate for a solution in which Israelis would be denied basic human or civil rights.” However, actions speak louder than words, and GW SJP’s actions speak volumes. In recent weeks GW SJP has hosted an event explicitly dealing with the subject of anti-Semitism and how to combat it. Additionally, GW SJP just recently disinvited a speaker from coming to GW when it was discovered that a member of her team was anti-Semitic.

In order to make his fallacious statements to the contrary, Bartman had to engage in some rather contorted mental gymnastics. To reiterate, his allegation that GW SJP is anti-Semitic rests on the assertion that SJP supports the non-violent BDS movement, which was co-founded by Omar Barghouti, who in the past has called for violence against Israelis. Putting aside the many steps necessary to arrive at such a conclusion, the crux of this argument rests on the deliberate misrepresentation of a statement Barghouti made about Palestinians having a right to armed resistance. Protocol 1 to the Geneva Convention of 1949 recognizes armed conflicts in which people are fighting against colonial domination as a way in which people can exercise “their right of self-determination.” Given that Barghouti is operating on the premise that Palestinians are fighting colonial domination, he would be correct in stating that they have a right to armed resistance. But recognizing that a right exists is in no way the same as an explicit endorsement of the exercise of that right. In his column, Bartman was only able to create an appearance of a link between SJP and anti-Semitism by distorting the facts.

For those who believe that one’s perception of a group being anti-Semitic should prevent them from holding events to combat anti-Semitism, I have a simple message: You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Brook said that SJP hosted the event with pro-Palestinian Jewish author and activist Ben Lorber last month in order to “discuss the actual increase of anti-Semitism today” so students “can greater learn how to counter anti-Semitism.” If you’re upset with a group because you perceive it to have a problem, you cannot get upset with that group for holding an event to combat that problem. If you truly care about anti-Semitism in our society and actually believe that SJP is anti-Semitic – which they are not – then you should be satisfied that they are holding an event that is teaching students how to counter anti-Semitism. For those with such genuinely held beliefs, a reaction of aversion to this event is nothing but hypocritical. In fact, those criticizing SJP for holding this event to discuss anti-Semitism, and how to fight it, are making it fairly clear that their true concern isn’t anti-Semitism.

I am personally alarmed at this tactic of claiming anti-Semitism where it simply does not exist.

At their heart, these fictitious claims that SJP is somehow anti-Semitic or trying to seek the destruction of Israel are malicious lies intended to inflame bigotry and hatred. Those spreading these falsehoods are simply worsening the conflict by creating a winner-take-all narrative of conflict that simply does not exist. In doing so, those who are supposedly fighting anti-Semitism are actually emboldening hatred on both sides by portraying this conflict as an us vs. them scenario. The results of such tactics are tragically ironic, as this dynamic creates a vicious cycle that only amplifies Islamophobic and anti-Semitic sentiments. What’s more, as someone who is Jewish, I am personally alarmed at this tactic of claiming anti-Semitism where it simply does not exist. Those who are falsely crying wolf are only making it more likely that when the big, bad wolf of anti-Semitism does rear its ugly head, people will have been made too callous to recognize the danger.

If you have a genuine criticism of SJP, BDS or any other Palestinian group or movement please, by all means, say it. There are certainly some people within the umbrella of the pro-Palestine movement that have views that are hateful and should be called out as such, just as there are elements in the pro-Israel camp whose bigoted and abhorrent advocacy must be similarly brought to light and criticized. I am not asking anyone to suppress such legitimate and necessary criticisms. But do not continue to spread these antagonistic and hate-filled lies. You are just adding fuel to the fire.

Stefan Sultan, a junior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Abigail Brook is the president of GW SJP. She is a member of the coordinating committee. We regret this error.

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