The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not black and white. It is at its core a human tragedy enveloping the lives of millions of people in a daily political and ideological war of ideas and disputed history. It is tragic for the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza with constricted mobility and meager opportunity. It is also tragic for the Israelis who have been victims of countless terror attacks and are too familiar with warning sirens and bomb shelters.
Israel has a right to exist as the Jewish homeland. It is an open, and relatively thriving democracy in a region where such entities struggle to exist. Yet, Israel has its flaws with a scarred history and a political landscape prone to controversy. Too many American Jews grow up exposed to an Israel narrative that accentuates all the positive (of which there is plenty) and glosses over the negative. Today, though, Israel faces new threats and challenges that conflict with that ornamentally palliative approach.
The fear in acknowledging Israel's flaws is that such recognition opens Israel up to criticism, whether warranted or unfair. The combative arena that houses the Israel-Palestine discourse too often divulges into a world of "pro- and anti-", "argue and retaliate." Support for Israel and for the rights of Palestinians is not mutually exclusive. An environment must be created and willfully promoted from college campuses up through Washington that allows new thoughts to be expressed and talking points to be disposed. Wouldn't it be nice for "pro-Israel" students and leaders to admit that Israel occupies the West Bank and limits the rights of Palestinians who call it home while Palestinian advocates admit a failure of leadership by their political representatives who have rejected three peace agreements?
These concessions are like words stuck on the end of our tongue. We are aware of their existence but can't conjure the ability and, in this case, courage to declare them. Debates over historical narratives lead to nothing more than arguments. Textbook history is written by the winners and personal history is molded by individual experience. Those forces cannot be transcended.
As the new year has begun, new controversies have arisen leading to the same old back-and-forth. These ripe new topics for discussion, the American Studies Association's boycott of Israeli universities and the Scarlett Johansson SodaStream Ad, are nothing other than proxies for old battles won and lost. What starts out as ripe quickly becomes stale.
For Israel, the American Studies Association's boycott of Israel acts as an indicator of a larger trend that its politicians and supporters must realize. Israel is facing a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement which, while lacking a clear end goal ("BDS does not take any position on the political outcome or resolution of the question of Palestine," Omar Barghouti, the movement's founder, told The New Republic), visibly aims to delegitimize Israel by winning the public relations battle; a battle the Palestinians are winning. Evidence of this includes the European Union's formal prohibition with firms operating outside the 1949 Armistice line (the settlements) and United States Secretary of State John Kerry, long an advocate, supporter and friend of Israel, publicly speaking of the threats of economic isolation and boycotts Israel faces if current peace negotiations fail.
The SodaStream controversy falls into the same boat. SodaStream, an Israeli company, operates in the West Bank on disputed land in Ma'ale Adunim (an Israeli settlement in the West Bank), yet treats both its Israeli and Palestinian workers with respect . As the largest private employer of Palestinians in the West Bank, SodaStream has advocated co-existence. However, it's about the narrative and for groups like BDS: if the shoe fits, they'll buy it. Israel is an easy target. Palestinians struggle in both Lebanon and Syria due to a myriad of factors but those stories don't nearly garner the same attention as Israeli transgressions.
Palestinian voices vary in their opinions on BDS. While the movement enjoys support on college campuses and among many Palestinian citizens, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas doesn't fully endorse the movement. He supports the settlement boycott, but not the attempts to isolate Israel proper with "whom we have relations," as he says.
Dialogue is the only solution. For Israel, long term viability as a Jewish, democratic state in lieu a two-state solution could be demographically impossible. Two states for two peoples to express self-determination is the way forward. It is possible to be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine.
Israel is largely what is right in the Middle East. Israel must continue to be the country that best advocates for the rights and liberties of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and all minorities regardless of creed while remaining a hub for innovation and economic opportunity. In order for this to happen, it must remain open to fair rebukes from supporters and detractors alike.
Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion once said "In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles." While the Middle East outlook is rarely bright, it serves the best interests of Israelis and Palestinians on to expect a day to come when there will be a lasting peace.
Brandon is a past President of Tulane University for Israel and former Israel Programming Intern at Tulane Hillel.