You can fool some people sometime;
but you can't fool all the people all of the time.
And now you see the light...
We're gonna stand up for [what's] right.
- Bob Marley, Get Up Stand Up
I wrote recently that, buoyed by underhanded tactics, a misleading presentation and wild accusations, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UC Riverside convinced the student senate there to adopt a resolution recommending divestment from certain companies doing business in Israel.
A month later, there is good news. The UC Senators, realizing that they had been made to hastily adopt a divisive and misleading resolution, decided to reconvene in order to hear, for the first time, presentations by opponents of divestment. Having heard these students, the senate voted overwhelmingly to rescind the SJP standard-form-like divestment resolution that it had adopted. The senators committed instead to working on Riverside-specific resolutions that foster dialogue rather than division.
Let me be clear: the student senators did not take sides - save that of the student body. Indeed, by reversing themselves in light of pertinent facts, the senators did not let their school be turned into a tool of global propaganda. And, no less important, they stayed faithful to the ASUCR constitution's calls for fairness.
But sadly, fairness was still lacking in the SJP's words.
SJP speakers invariably portrayed the Palestinians as one undifferentiated mass of perfect victims. It seemed unfathomable to those who spoke in favor of divestment (as well as the Palestinian activists who had come to support the SJP and whom I spoke to) that Arab leaders may have made mistakes, at times. The Israelis, meanwhile, were presented as or assumed to be absolute monsters.
The SJP's victim-vs.-evil narrative robbed the audience of vital context, deliberately confused cause and effect and, more importantly, promotes an understanding of the conflict that does nothing to further justice or peace. On the contrary, it inflames old hatreds and puts Israelis understandably on the defensive.
For example, when alluding to Palestinian statelessness, the senators were not told that Arab leadership rejected UN proposals to partition the British Mandate into a Jewish state the first-ever state of Palestine in 1947. References to "occupation" did not mention that Arab states illegally occupied the West Bank and Gaza from 1948 to 1967 (and then rejected Israeli offers of withdrawal for peace). There was in the SJP's words no acknowledgment that Palestinian governments were first put into place by Israel, and that if Israel still exercises security control over much of the West Bank today it is in large part because those governments rejected Israeli offers of withdrawal in 2000, 2001 and 2008. And there was, predictably, complete silence from the SJP regarding the fact that if Palestinians in the West Bank today live under different laws than Israeli citizens it is because they live under Palestinian laws and elected leaders, i.e., what they fought for.
I don't expect the SJP to have the same understanding of history as I do. One can, however, expect that exceedingly relevant facts not be systematically hidden from the senators merely so that a complex reality can be childishly recast as "apartheid."
But unfortunately, the SJP's caricatural rendering of the conflict did not end there.
One SJP speaker declared that all 1100-1400 Palestinians killed in the December 2008 war between Israel and Hamas (a terror group banned in the US) were "innocent civilians"; the rocketeers and gunmen of Hamas were simply exonerated. (The SJP speaker didn't adopt even highly-questionable Hamas numbers, which admit of hundreds of combatants. Israel holds that a majority of those killed were fighters). Similarly, the thousands of rockets fired by Hamas and others onto Israeli civilian centers after complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and that triggered the war were ignored as if irrelevant. Hamas' admitted use of human shields and its impact on the number of Palestinian casualties was also not mentioned. As a result, the Israelis were made to appear as bloodthirsty, slaughtering hundreds of innocents for no reason. I think a university discussion should be more honest than that.
And yet amid the habitual defilement of sacred terms like "genocide" and "massacre," the audience was reminded that Palestinians have to carry an Israeli ID card in order to cross Israeli checkpoints. Not a single supporter of divestment acknowledged that those checkpoints were erected because thousands of Israeli civilians were murdered or maimed by waves of horrific and senseless Palestinian terror attacks, or that ambulances were regularly used by Palestinian terror groups to carry bombs into Israel. No one recognized that checkpoints, although inconvenient, save countless lives. Instead, one speaker equated terror attacks on civilians with the lashing out of a bullied cat.
Perhaps most importantly, no one in favor of divestment even hinted to the fact that Israel was legitimately created by international law and that, under that law as well as agreements between the PLO and Israel, the West Bank is disputed territory subject to negotiations -- not, as the SJP has decided, "illegally occupied Palestine":
Not surprisingly, the legal expertise that enables the SJP to find egregious war crimes in every Israeli action suddenly disappears when the discussion turns to Israel's rights.
The SJP and other supporters of divestment at UCR essentially portrayed Palestinian leaders as children, never responsible for their own actions or the natural consequences thereof. And yet, to those same activists, those leaders should immediately be given the reins of a state in the most explosive part of the world. This may be risible, but the SJP's systematic coddling of Palestinians and dehumanization of Israelis is a very real impediment to peace. Peace and demonization never coincide.
The Palestinians, especially if they are to build their state, deserve better than to be turned into pity projects for the privileged. They deserve, like Israel, to be subjected to criticism, scrutiny and, when needed, soul-searching too -- because all are essential ingredients for a better future. And the Israelis deserve to have their rights and grievances acknowledged too. The Israelis are also human, they have also suffered tremendously, and their children do not bleed less red than anyone else's.
The Palestinians are a talented and educated people that accordingly deserve to be held to a high standard. In fact, holding the Palestinians to no standard while artificially exploiting human rights jargon to demonize Israel, as Students for Justice in Palestine is wont to do, is an obstacle not only to justice but very much to Palestine as well.
I say again: I unreservedly support the Palestinians' right to self-determination as much as the Jews'. I support two states for two people. And I understand that neither side is blameless in this conflict. When will the SJP say the same?
Follow Philippe Assouline on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@philassie