April 16, 2014

GUEST ROOM: Against “Dialogue”

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By MICHAEL MINTZ

Last Thursday, Student Assembly Resolution 72, which urged Cornell to divest from companies profiting from Israeli occupation and human rights violations, was tabled indefinitely. As a Cornellian and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, I find the events surrounding the tabling of the resolution to be incredibly troubling. The resolution, as well as the diverse group of students who came together to bring forward the resolution, has been subject to a well-coordinated smear campaign by student groups such as Hillel, CIPAC and J Street. S.A. members received emails from CIPAC which claimed that the resolution was part of a broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions effort “which seeks the elimination of Israel.” This, of course, is patently false — the resolution simply aims to end Cornell’s complicity in the illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories, an occupation which involves violations of human rights and international law.

I will not stand being called anti-semitic and racist (which I have personally been called) for fighting to have this resolution be heard by the S.A. It is not anti-semitic to be concerned with the destruction of Palestinian homes, the imprisonment of Palestinian children and the construction of illegal settlements. It is not racist to believe that occupied Palestinians should have the same rights and privileges as Jewish settlers.

The leaders of CIPAC, Hillel and J Street U Cornell claim that they are fighting against “divisive speech” on campus. For them, it is divisive and harmful to advocate that we end our complicity in illegal occupation. Instead, they call for “productive dialogue.” Absent from their dialogue is any means to pressure Israel to stop its actions in occupied Palestine. That absence makes plain the substance of the dialogue they desire: A dialogue which does not lead to action to end the occupation, but rather prevents action by insisting that we need to discuss the ongoing peace process and its supposed end point, the two-state solution.

Cornell students having abstract “dialogues” about the peace process has nothing to do with the material conditions of Palestinians, conditions which include poverty, statelessness and a racist militarized occupation. Indeed, the “peace process” has done nothing but to serve as a cover to hide an ongoing settlement project as well as a diplomatic device to distract from and normalize exactly that occupation. Discussions should be had, but they should have direct consequences on our role as Cornellians in the ongoing occupation. The resolution was meant to serve as a platform where Cornell students could discuss and decide whether they wanted to be complicit in the occupation — this discussion would have actual consequences. So long as we prevent ourselves from having this discussion, Palestinians will continue to be evicted, forced to go through checkpoints and denied a say in the occupation they face.

When the S.A. succumbed to the misinformation which surrounded Resolution 72 and tabled the motion indefinitely, it made clear that no serious discussion would be had. The sponsors of the resolution were prepared to introduce the resolution and respond to clarifying questions and comments. We were prepared for a vigorous discussion during the following weeks, when we expected the resolution to at least see a vote by members of the Student Assembly. The Student Assembly, similarly to the calls of CIPAC, Hillel and J Street U Cornell, refused to let that discussion take place.

We were under the impression, when we brought this resolution forward, that the S.A. would have the power to enact change once student voices were heard. We were under the impression that, had they passed Resolution 72, they would at least have some power to see that the University makes moves towards divestment from occupation. Apparently, according to Geoffrey Block ’14, vice president of finance for the S.A. — who made the motion to table the resolution indefinitely — “Cornell will never divest from Israel … divestment is just not something that is going to actually occur.” While I would encourage Mr. Block to read the resolution and recognize that we are not proposing “divestment from Israel,” I do think he makes a salient point — the S.A. is subject to the willingness of the administration to allow students’ demands to be not just heard, but acted upon.

This issue isn’t isolated to students calling for Cornell to divest from occupation. The S.A. has failed to address the recent tuition increase, refused to condemn the offensive “Cinco de Octubre” event sponsored by the administration and demonstrated incredibly poor judgment in its unfair funding cuts aimed at ALANA. Even when the S.A. does voice the concerns of students, as it did when it called for Cornell to divest from fossil fuels, it is routinely dismissed by the administration. If the Student Assembly is unwilling to address these concerns and unable to ensure that the University seriously addresses these concerns, then I have to question: What is the point in having a Student Assembly?

Michael Mintz is a freshman in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at mgm273@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

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