Isabelle Jung/Sun Graphics Editor

May 2, 2024

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | The Encampment is a Repeat of History

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To the Editor: 

Re: “Students Stage Pro-Palestine Encampment on the Arts Quad” (news, April 25)

35 years ago I was involved in another divestment movement at Cornell — that of divesting from South Africa’s Apartheid regime. It was my first experience of political activism, and much of what is happening now appears to be repeating what happened then albeit with an added element of racial/ethnic tension. We built a shantytown on the Main Quad, held protests in front of various buildings, invaded the President’s office and disrupted a Board of Trustees meeting. Did it influence Cornell’s investment policy? To this day, I do not know.

I have now lived in Australia for 30 years, and half of my American family is Jewish, and my Australian family are all Anglo. The protests feel uglier than they did in the late 1980s, but I am not sure they are all wrong. Palestine and Israel were and are colonial creations, with all the associated problems of such a nascence. It is undeniable that both peoples have had what can only be mildly termed “a raw deal.” But it is not in the world’s interest for the two sides to tear themselves apart, and continue prosecuting a conflict that debases everyone. It is only in the cynical interests of small groups on both sides, clinging to power.

Political opposition to the policies of Israel the nation is not antisemitism, just as opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa was not anti-white. Whether the anti-Apartheid protests my friends and I participated in all those years ago contributed in a small way to change in South Africa is unknowable, but change did happen. If there is no change in the situation in Israel and, yes, Palestine, then we are just setting ourselves up for another cycle of violence and protests, and in 35 years we will be in the same place.

— Dr MacLaren North ‘93

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