November 24, 2014

GLICK | Tragedy and Travesty: Blindness on Ho Plaza

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The last thing I expected as I prepared myself for the unrelenting chill of Ho Plaza in November was arally about Israel. Hours before, the brutal massacre of four Jewish worshippers and one Druse police officer should have brought the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a momentary halt. The insanity and unmitigated evil of the attackers should divorce their actions from any discussion of occupation or settlers or two-state solutions. The blood spilled in that Jerusalem synagogue has absolutely no relation to the political agenda of anyone who seeks peace. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and surely no enemy of Students for Justice in Palestine — the group hosting the rally — explicitlycondemned the attack.

The tragedy ought to have been a moment of unity for all those on campus who are invested in the conflict, a chance to reaffirm a shared, bedrock commitment to political discourse. The Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, J Street U and SJP are all supposed to be groups that occupy different regions of the political spectrum, but who are all concerned with the same, political conflict in Israel and Palestine. The attack in Jerusalem — unlike this summer’s war in Gaza — had no relation to the larger, and undeniable political conflict. The only conflict of which this terrorism was a part is the apocalyptic religious fanaticism that has haunted those deserts for centuries.

And, yet, during my half-hour at the SJP rally, there was no hint of a desire to pause, to reflect, to have an ounce of reverence for the dead. On the contrary, there was a willful attempt to shut their protest away from the sensitive realities on the ground. The protesters — whether or not they were students were unclear — could not bring themselves to openly condemn the attacks, claiming instead that it was “irrelevant” to their cause célèbre: namely, the military occupation of Palestinian land and Cornell’s partnership with the Technion Institute in Haifa. That is, on its face, true. There are still children suffering in Gaza, under Hamas’s fundamentalist regime and the continued blockade by the IDF. There are still millions of people whose lives are interrupted by Israeli security measures in the West Bank, including by the checkpoints that SJP was, in particular, protesting on Wednesday. That blockade and those checkpoints are part of a broader political problem, however uncomfortable and tragic the consequences of that problem might be.

But in order to be a successful advocate for truejustice and peace, SJP must have the ideological maturity to call for a truce in the wake of unquestionable evil, and allow politics to subside momentarily so that our campus’ opposing Israel-Palestine factions can remind each other that, in the end, want more or less the same thing: peace. I would expect nothing less of the pro-Israel community, should it be faced with the prospect postponing its celebration of Israeli Independence Day if it were set to occur hours after a Jewish extremist committed an atrocity of similar magnitude.

Student organizations like SJP, that have the ability to so easily arrest campus attention, have the responsibility to consider the appearances of their actions. The fact that this protest went forward — and it was not postponed until after Thanksgiving, when the checkpoints will surely still be standing but the blood will have been hopefully washed from Jerusalem’s streets — disturbingly blurs the line dividing a more fundamental conflict between civilization and barbarism and the political conflict among those with genuinely differing visions of peace. We could spend countless barrels of ink parsing the shouting matches between SJP’s protesters and pro-Israel students, but nothing can remove the central question that Wednesday’s protest, with its flagrantly insensitive timing, raised: What does SJP want?

On a broader level, I hope that some members of SJP still harbor geopolitically realistic goals for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that takes into account the fact that six million Israeli Jews will not be leaving home — any more than the six million Palestinians for whom they seek justice. But on a campus level, insofar as SJP wishes to influence the thoughts of our student body and the policies of our University, I cannot perceive any positive agenda. There is a way to educate the campus about the horrors they see in the Israeli occupation; their event last week, “Education Under Occupation,” is one such example. But that constructive, education-centered vision is entirely irreconcilable with the tone-deaf activism that denounces “colonialism” and “genocide” the day after Jews were massacred because they were Jewish. Our campus deserves better.

I am left to assume that SJP wishes to continue our campus’ constant cycle of recrimination on this issue, because that is the only thing that will result from provocations like Wednesday’s. Instead of talking about the deeper meanings and roots of Zionism or Palestinian nationalism, instead of debating the meaty, infinitely interesting political and policy issues that have prolonged Israel’s occupation and stunted the growth of a moderate Palestinian civic society, we have once again been forced to retreat to our own ideological corners. Monday’s  “pro-Israel”letter to The Sun— though entirely justified — only reinforced the devolution of the discussion initiated by SJP, because it responded to the ill-conceived and noxiously-executed rally by reiterating the same ideologically inflexible battle cries that have dominated this discussion semester after semester.

The recent spate of violence in Jerusalem could have transformed the campus’ attitude towards Israel, giving us all a chance to recognize the truly painstaking complexities of a country that has, in recent months, been defined largely by its conduct in Gaza. But SJP’s deliberate refusal to recognize the latest and most gruesome attack ensured that there can be no lesson Cornell can learn from all this grief, there can be no glimpse of commonality that is so desperately needed from these feuding factions. Like it or not, this conflict is a defining political feature of our collegiate years, and we have a duty as Cornellians and Americans to understand it. If drivers of our campus conversation cannot take but a single moment to step away from slogans and understand what the consequence of their activism, then we need new drivers of our campus conversation.

Jacob Glick is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. Glickin’ It appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.