[Editor’s Note: This column is the second installment of a two part series, the first half of which appeared in yesterday’s Sun.]
Last Friday, The Sun published what was defined as a news article about Asaf Shariv’s lecture on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process: “Israel’s Consulate General in N.Y. Defends Nation’s Strategic Actions.” Asaf Shariv is Israel’s consulate general in New York. In the article, the author mentions Shariv’s argument that “so long as Hamas’ leaders in Gaza refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, any peaceful resolution in the foreseeable future is doubtful.” However, what the author fails to mention in the news article is that Shariv also called Hamas — Gaza’s elected governing body — a terrorist organization. The article also ignores Shariv’s comment that Israel can only be a democratic state if there is a Jewish majority, a highly problematic statement on many levels because it establishes religious and racial hierarchy. Finally, the article’s author also omitted Shariv’s tasteless joke about killing off all Hamas (remember, this is Gaza’s elected governing body) and Hezbollah.
The point that I’m trying to make is that the argument goes both ways. The news article about this lecture completely fails to provide any perspective other than the Zionist narrative. To me, the article did not read as news, but rather as opinion — even as borderline propaganda. But what we have seen in this article is only a microcosm of the climate of Cornell’s campus.
Last spring, a group of concerned students decided to erect a display in the Arts Quad that served to memorialize all of the deaths that occurred from the most recent Gaza crisis. In all, around 1,300 black flags were planted into the ground (representing each death on both sides of the conflict), along with a few posted signs that provided facts, figures and quotes to contextualize the crisis. Within a day, the display had been vandalized. So, the original group of students decided to remake the signs and replant the uprooted flags. Two days later, the display was once again vandalized, but this time, in a more organized fashion: The black flags had been rearranged into the Star of David.
Writers from The Sun, with all their zeal, decided to interview the leadership of Cornell’s Jewish-affiliated student organizations, such as Hillel and the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee. However, many felt that The Sun sought the perspectives of these groups’ voices even before seeking the opinions of those that organized the event. Even though these groups had nothing to do with the organization of the display, they seemed to have somewhat of an acquired ownership of the situation that was unwarranted. This opinion can easily be gleaned from The Sun articles that were published on the issue last semester.
But The Sun wasn’t alone with skewed coverage. The Cornell Review decided to publish an “anonymous” letter sent to them from the vandals who constructed the Star of David with the black flags. It is also noteworthy that the University administration did not provide any support for the students who put up this display: The administration’s stance on the issue was to back away. Yet, I would argue that to be neutral on an issue like this is to lend credibility to those who vandalized the display.
It is important to understand that each and every incident that I have cited above is connected to a broader issue of silencing an already marginalized pro-Palestine community. Obviously, this is done on different levels. But publishing a one-sided “news” article, vandalizing a group of people’s expression, giving precedence to certain communities over others, publishing material produced by hateful vandals and playing neutral when you know that a community is under attack are all methods to suppress and marginalize any alternate discourse. These issues do not arise from within an ahistorical vacuum. To suppress a group of people on this campus so much that they become silent in their support for Palestine is to disconnect any sense solidarity and support there is for the Palestinian people.
In “After Gaza Protests, Groups Attempt Dialogue,” a Sun news article published this Sep. 29, the presidents of both CIPAC and United for Peace and Justice in Palestine are quoted as saying that the events of last semester did not produce a healthy and constructive dialogue on campus. This seems to imply that healthy and constructive dialogue can only take place through academic and scholarly events. Now, obviously, there is an important place for academic events, meetings and panels, but to indicate that the display from last semester did not provide healthy dialogue is somewhat ludicrous. It was the act of vandalism that destroyed any constructive dialogue, not the activism of the students who put up the display. Activism is necessary on many different levels in order to educate — it can’t just happen within the confines of a classroom. I want to emphasize that placing the issue literally out in the open (e.g. the Arts Quad) is advantageous for any pro-Palestine cause.
Furthermore, all parties involved have framed the Palestine-Israel issue quite problematically on this campus. The dominant sentiment is to frame the issue as solely a humanitarian issue or security issue. Yes, people are being oppressed and people are dying, but this is happening because these people are Palestinians and more specifically, because they are Palestinian Arabs. Poverty, segregation, a lack of education, a lack of an economy and a constantly looming military threat plague the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. Denying that this conflict is politically charged and racialized only serves to reinforce the hierarchical structures that are already in place in the occupied lands of Palestine. Any discourse on this campus that refers to this issue cannot be divorced from the political and racial ideology behind the occupation.
Cornell’s campus certainly has a long way to go to produce any sort of healthy dialogue with regards to the Palestine-Israel conflict. However, silencing an already marginalized pro-Palestine community limits free expression and gives more power to the Zionist narrative. For this reason, marginalized voices can’t continue to be undermined.