President, Tritons for Israel
As a student leader and voice of the pro-Israel community on campus, I left the A.S. Council meeting last Wednesday at a late hour with pride in the council, my community and, most importantly, my Israeli nationality. More personally, I left with dismay and hopelessness after what I had just faced inside the chambers on the fourth floor of Price Center East.
The room was divided before the open forum even started. With pre-made posters, shirts and informational binders for the A.S. Council, each clearly prepared by the student organizations in disagreement, the meeting looked more like a rowdy soccer game crowd than a formal A.S. meeting. When the public forum opened, student by student made his or her way to the microphone, carefully explaining why the proposed resolution is important or why it is unfair. While many students explained the rationality behind their arguments — backing it up with political sources, facts and possible consequences — many personal grievances turned into what looked to me like a pity fight. Each personal story — whether in Israel, the West Bank or Gaza — tried to be presented as more painful than the one before, and therefore more persuasive in the discussion of whether A.S. Council should vote for or against the resolution.
I found it absolutely dumbfounding that so many people saw the resolution as black-or-white. If it were passed, the pro-Palestinian community would have felt as if all its hard work on drafting this bill had paid off, but that it had left another community angry. If the bill were rejected, the pro-Israel community would have felt as if its fight to keep the community united was a success, but stayed apathetic in the cause toward helping the suffering of people in the region. It was as if I were the only one who noticed that we all shared one goal: to end suffering on both sides of the conflict.
My main issue with the whole resolution and its debate pertains exactly to this problem. If we all want the same result, why don’t we take the same steps to get there? Why do we continuously blame one side without looking at the big picture? Why is it that in the 21st century, as bright individuals who have been granted high education and great privileges — and at an age where everything is possible — why can’t we be more creative?
I proposed a solution to this issue. But before I get to that, I would like to explain how this bill, the A.S. meeting and this past week have affected me, because, so far, I have only represented my pro-Israel community rather than myself. Like every student standing in line for his or her turn at the podium, I wanted my turn.
As an Israeli citizen, I am obligated to serve in the Israeli Defense Force. This is a law, not a choice. Both my parents and grandparents served in the IDF, helping build the state of Israel, and my best friend currently serves as an IDF officer. The proposed resolution would have divested from a military operation that is part of my cultural and national identity. When I move to Israel after I graduate, I would like to know that my university supports that decision.
I also have the right to be safe when I live there, and therefore, I have the right to be defended by this military. While I understand that this may be a stretch from the intentions of the resolution to divest from weapons of war, had it been passed, the association between military spending and the IDF would have been clear. The association between “war crimes” and Israeli soldiers would have been there. Clearly, this resolution was more of a gesture than a step toward any improvements in the Middle East, and therefore, this gesture would have hurt me and my future decisions.
Secondly, the Guardian may think it’s an overstatement for me and my pro-Israel community to feel “unsafe” had the A.S. Council passed this biased resolution — but the truth holds that these anti-Israel sentiments across international campuses have caused much harm to student life. To single out the actions of one government has a dangerous effect, because of the associations people make with its country and its people. A UC Berkeley student was physically harassed while advocating for peace in Israel, insisting on the number of times the Israeli government had made peace negotiations. After the divestment resolution debate, swastikas were found on the UC Davis and UC Berkeley campuses. When Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was invited to speak at UC Irvine, he was booed off the stage, intruding on his freedom of speech. So yes — it is a very far cry to say that my community is in any way being ostracized right now. But I value my feelings very highly, and I did fear feeling unsafe on my campus had the council decided to pass this resolution.
My hopes for the committee, which will meet this week to draft a unified resolution, is to stay away from divestment talks. Look — everyone arguing over this resolution is pro-human rights. I am pro-Palestinian in the literal sense of that phrase. I recognize the suffering of the Palestinian people, and I want to help them. Instead of divesting from one source and inherently blaming it for its actions, let’s invest in a cause we all care about. Let’s raise money for Palestinian hospitals and schools in Gaza. Let’s donate our time and volunteer in the region, as many alternative spring breaks do. Let’s invest in a company that will ensure all people suffering in the region will get help. Let’s travel to the region together as a unified community and see both sides of the situation. Leave General Electric out of it. If we’re already letting the A.S. Council intervene with international policy, let’s actually utilize its resources. Let’s be wiser, tougher and more open-minded than ever before this week.