The politcal is personal on the IC campus when it comes to Israel and Palestine
Discussion surrounding the issue of Israel and Palestine has countless faces on the IC campus. The opinions are as numerous as the people that the issue affects.
A group that advocates for Israel education on IC’s campus is Hillel, run by the newly appointed Igor Khokhlov. “We adhere to certain standards for Israel. And frankly, we are very open to have a dialogue with any interested student group, as long as those students say that, ‘We are pro-peace, we believe Israel has a right to exist, we believe that it has a right to exist within secure borders, and there is a right for a Jewish state.” Khokhlov follows the organization’s focus of providing students with ways to experience Jewish culture. “If there is a student group that says Israel does not have a right to exist, we will not work with them.”
Hillel’s policies are based around the idea that students can be critical about Israel as a state so long as they are in agreement with Hillel’s particular guidelines about Israel. The organization also helps take students on Birthright, a trip for students of Jewish heritage to see Israel. “You get there…and it’s just mind-blowing. Students are connected to the country. They’re connected to Israel,” said Khokhlov.
“It’s easy for us to live in upstate New York and discuss what’s best for the country that’s being attacked every day. Imagine someone firing rockets from Cortland to Ithaca. That is the difference,” said Khokhlov, regarding the understanding of the state of Israel and its actions.
The connectivity of Birthright and other Hillel actions do not have their roots in political neutrality in the eyes of other political minds. Beth Harris, an Associate Professor of Politics at IC, is frequently involved in discussing Israel and Palestine on campus. “They won’t be going into the West Bank or really learning about the impact of Israel’s policies on the non-Jewish population.” For Harris, trips such as Birthright do not help to present alternate sides of Israel. “For people who are concerned with human rights, no less the Palestinians, who want to visit the West Bank and Gaza, there’s no trip or staff person. In fact, the institution would discourage students for going on that. They would say it’s too dangerous.”
Harris has her own connection to the issue of Israel and Palestine. “My professor who came in, he was also Jewish, came in quite upset,” she said. “There had been an attack on Heberon, a mosque, and while the Palestinians were knelt in prayer, he gunned them down…he was a Jewish settler, came from Brooklyn…I was pretty upset that somebody that was a doctor from the United States would think that was okay.” Along with the issue of human rights, Harris also found herself looking at her faith because of the event. “The other thing was, he justified his attack on Jewish teachings.” Harris regards this moment as a formative experience.
The policy of Hillel and the criticism of it are only two ideas of how to approach the Israel and Palestine issue at IC. Samantha Weil, the Chair of Israel Awareness-Elect for the Hillel Board of 2014, has her own views on Hillel’s perspective on Israel. “Because it’s such a complex issue, there are so many different opinions you can have about the issue around Israel that most people have conflicting opinions,” she said. “There are so many different beliefs about Israel that it would not make sense to endorse one of them, but to open up a forum that allows people to explore and learn about all different beliefs surrounding the state of Israel and its policies.”
Weil supports the state of Israel, but questions some of their policies. “Personally, I support the existence of Israel, but that does not mean that I support every policy Israel has. Just as I am a citizen of the US and am critical of its policies, I’m critical of policies of the Israeli government,” she said. Weil’s personal opinion is one example of the many that pervade the sphere of complications surrounding the conflict.
Involvement in the issue goes far beyond the Jewish community on campus. Kayla Streeter, a student involved with IC’s Protestant community, has gotten involved with the Israel and Palestine issue. “The first time I really heard something about it was in my youth group, where some of my friends were talking about their support for Israel. Through them I learned the Christian connection to Israel Biblically, and how that translated into a political support.”
Streeter’s involvement with her Christian faith and community gives her a unique perspective on the issue and how people form opinions on it. “I would have to say that what most people don’t really put into consideration is the sense of faith and how one’s faith or religion can be the leading influential drive in this conflict. What I found from my presentation and interviews is that people of the same faith can have different interpretations and focus points of their faith, which directly influence their relationship to an issue in that particular way.”
Even Katarina Andersson, an IC senior currently in Rochester, is heavily involved with the issue and its interpretation on campus. Andersson is involved with Jewish Voice for Peace and was involved with Students for Justice in Palestine during her time at IC. Andersson is a vocal supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign on Israeli products and trade. The idea for the BDS campaign comes from Palestinians and is inspired by the movement against South African apartheid.
Groups associated with Palestinian issues are directly involved with Andersson’s Jewish identity. “I do not oppose the state of Israel’s right to exist or believe that its Jewish inhabitants should leave. However, I believe strongly that in order for peace to be achieved, Palestinians need to be granted full and equal human rights in living alongside Jewish Israelis. I am proud to be a Jew, which is why I’m ashamed of how the policies of Israel betray Jewish values.”
“It’s common for criticism of Israeli politics to be labeled as anti-Semitism by Zionists. Many people have tried to dismantle non-Zionist arguments by saying ‘well, if you don’t stand unconditionally with Israel then you must just hate Jews. I feel victimized,’” said Andersson. “In reality, criticizing the policies of Israel has nothing to do with hostility toward any group of people. It has everything to do with the love of equality. For Jews, it has to do with the realization that we need to fight for justice for all people, not just our own people.”
The voices on IC’s campus, both faculty and student, showcase a variety of opinions about the Israel and Palestine issue that do not begin to cover the differentiations and subtleties of the issue’s politics. It’s a complex issue of identity, of politics, of human rights. The IC view on Israel and Palestine is one that hopes to reach the point of respectful dialogue in order to allow each of the many opinions to be voiced.
John Jacobson is a freshman IMC major who lives off a diet of crackers and meaningful dialogue. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.