As a politically active, Jewish Zionist, my opinions differ from what seem to be popular opinions on campus, and I want to express my disappointment with our community when I saw the Israeli apartheid wall display last week. When I Googled the word “apartheid,” every definition I found described the history of racial segregation in South Africa between 1950 and 1991. In none of the definitions did I find any reference to Israel, Palestine, or the occupation. This indicates that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is not defined as apartheid; rather I define it as an unfortunate product of Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians. This incident has made it more apparent to me that Wesleyan is not always true to the values it proclaims to hold dear, specifically inclusion and diversity, which makes me question the acceptance I previously felt here.

I want to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism. Judaism is a religion with a long history of oppression and an inspiring reputation of overcoming adversity. Zionism is the belief that Israel should, and has the right to, exist as a Jewish state. Not every Jew is a Zionist and not every Zionist is a Jew. I happen to be both. My connection to the land of Israel is deeply rooted in my religious upbringing as well as in my personal journey of self-definition. My experiences traveling there have been religious, spiritual, and intellectually stimulating. I respect the decisions of anyone who identifies as a Jew and speaks against Israel, but personally, because I cannot separate my Judaism from my Zionism, the apartheid wall display struck me as a hate-filled personal attack. Wesleyan is supposed to be a place of inclusion, but the display felt like it was meant to ostracize certain community members.

I feared the return of this display because I remember seeing it in the lobby of Olin last year when I was a freshman. Coming from a community of mostly pro-Israel Jews, I had never been exposed to so many people who shared such an opposing viewpoint. When I saw the Israel apartheid display last year I was shocked. I saw it as an insensitive and dramatic representation of a complicated issue, which only stood to spread hate. As much as this display upset me again this year, I was surprised that my reaction was less intense. That fact that my view changed so dramatically is of concern. Have I become so desensitized by hate speech against Israel that this no longer shocks me? What does it say about our campus climate that someone like me, a Jewish Zionist, no longer finds such fault with the same presentation?

This year the display had a new addition, which a connection between Israel and Ferguson, Missouri. The display read, “From Ferguson to Palestine, Occupation is a Crime.” This artificial connection is offensive and completely nonsensical. Ferguson is experiencing civil unrest due to discrimination and violence perpetrated by police forces against African Americans. Although the display’s comparison between Ferguson and Palestine was not directly related to Israel’s treatment of its black population, this potential comparison is especially unfair considering that Israel does have its own minority population, Ethiopian Jews, and has put significant effort into incorporating Ethiopian Jewry into Israeli society. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Israeli government sent the Israel Defense Forces on numerous covert missions to bring Ethiopian Jewish refugees to Israel. They were given places to live and were taught the Hebrew language so they could be incorporated into Israeli society. To this day, no other country in the world has ever conducted a rescue mission of this nature and scale.

The military occupation of the West Bank by Israeli security forces began due to the tremendous increase in suicide bombings in Israel during the first and second Palestinian intifadas in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The terrorists perpetrating these crimes against innocent civilians were entering Israel from the West Bank. The security forces remain in place currently to protect those living in Israel, but in Ferguson, Missouri the police forces seem to lack this protective intention. Comparing the disturbing racism in Ferguson to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank delegitimizes any racially based argument against Israel, both by ignoring Israel’s efforts to rescue the endangered Jewish population of Africa, and by rejecting the country’s basic right to self defense.

The accusation that Israel is an apartheid state is easily refuted when compared to the realities of apartheid South Africa. For example, in South Africa, blacks had specific areas in which they were allowed to live. To my knowledge, in Israel, Arabs are permitted to live anywhere they choose. Arabs are an integrated part of Israeli society and share the same rights as every Jewish citizen. There are Arab doctors, police officers, army commanders, Supreme Court justices, and parliament members. In apartheid South Africa all of this would have been not only illegal but also unfathomable.

Israel is by no means the perfect society. There is still discrimination against Arabs in Israeli society but so too is there discrimination against people of color in the United States, not to mention the recent eruption of anti-Semitism in Europe. For those who condemn the mistreatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, it is important to note that most of the Palestinians living in the West Bank are under the administration of the Palestinian Authority. Some also refer to Gaza as “occupied territory” when in fact the Israeli military “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinians living in Gaza are ruled by Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization. All of this is to say that while it is true that the Palestinian people suffer injustice, it is most often not at the hands of the Israeli government.

Finally, and perhaps most disconcerting to me, is the decision to present this display during WesFest, a time when our campus is full of prospective students and families. It is important to note that the display was outside of Usdan, a high-traffic area, rather than inside Olin as it was last year. The apartheid wall reflects poorly on our campus and sends a message of hatred in the presence of our visitors. I am hurt by the rejection I feel now, but I value the emphasis on free speech at Wesleyan. It would benefit our campus to engage in productive dialogues about how we can improve the lives of those living in the Middle East while not alienating members of our community. I look forward to discussions about Israel and Palestine without the interference of hate.

Rubin is a member of the class of 2018. 

  • Arafat

    The following is the start of a letter written by Denis MacEoin.

    “Dear Students,

    As a concerned Edinburgh graduate, I write you with a sense of déjà vu, as I have done this before.

    I want to restate and expand on my objections to your 2016 motion and resolution to boycott the Jewish state of Israel. Let me put that a little differently: the only liberal parliamentary democracy in the Middle East, one of the very few genuine democracies in the world today. I would like all of you to read this; only your willingness to do so, at least to listen to the arguments of others, will justify your claim to be intelligent young people studying at a world-class university.

    At Edinburgh, I qualified with a first-class MA in Persian, Arabic and Islamic History, and went on to Cambridge, where I took a PhD in Persian Studies, dealing with a religious and historical topic in 19th-century Iran. After that, I taught Arabic-English translation and Islamic Civilization at a university in Morocco, then Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University in the UK. Later I accepted an invitation to join the Gatestone Institute as a Distinguished Senior Fellow. There, I research and write on subjects relating to Islam, the Middle East and Israel. I have written about forty books, think tank reports, and a long list of articles on these topics.

    I only write the above to explain that I am adequately qualified to address you on the topic of the Israel-Palestinian struggle. It embarrasses me to say that your grounds for passing a boycott motion are unworthy of anyone who claims to be well educated, intelligent, or well informed. Sadly, the reasons given in your resolution are childish, ignorant, and based on nothing but a series of lies or at best misunderstandings. If you stop reading at this point, I call you out as traitors to the most basic principles of academic work: the need for open dialogue, critical debate, and readiness to change one’s opinions in the presence of evidence. If you cannot abide by those principles, you are not fit to be at university at all. If your self-righteousness and your conviction that you are utterly right all the time cannot be changed, you will never understand what it is to take part in any intellectual debate. This is a letter that I hope many of you will read, in the hope that you are not frightened by dissenting opinion.

    So, let me begin with some simple points. I assume that most or all of you are feminists, that most or all of you insist on women’s rights and equal status for men and women worldwide. Now, as we are in some measure talking about the Middle East and the Islamic world, it is probably not necessary to spell out to you that no Arab country and no Islamic nation gives full rights to women, and that many openly oppress their female citizens. Forced veiling; beatings, floggings or stonings to death; women who have been raped treated as adulteresses and stoned; the legal status of half a man; bans on travel without permission from a man; women forbidden to drive cars, honour killings of women, female genital mutilation (FGM) of young girls, and non-consensual divorce are commonplace.

    I would have thought you might pass a resolution about Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Somalia or somewhere similar. But instead, you pass boycott motions about Israel. In Israel, men and women have equal status under law. Muslim women are free to wear veils and many do, but no woman is ever arrested or fined if she prefers not to wear one. Honour killings or FGM are punishable offences under Israeli law, but few take place. Women in Israel — Christians, Arabs and Jews — are free to walk on the beach in swimsuits, to go dancing in nightclubs, to live with male or female partners with or without marriage, to serve in the army, navy and air force, and to enter any profession, in or out of the government, for which they are qualified. They receive equal justice under law. They live lives identical to yours in free Western countries. So, if you are feminists, why do you sanction Israel and leave brutal misogynist regimes without a word of criticism? Does that seem like hypocrisy to you? It certainly seems so to me.

    You probably all support rights for LGBTQ communities. Perhaps you take part in gay rights parades, no doubt some of you are either gay or have gay friends, and none of you would tolerate psychological or physical abuse directed against people of diverse sexuality. But take a look at Arab countries and Islamic countries. In Gaza and the West Bank, they kill homosexuals by throwing them off roofs or beat them to death. In Iran, they hang them. In Saudi Arabia, they behead them. Under the Islamic State, they also throw them from roofs. Not a single Islamic country gives any rights whatever to gay men and women, to transsexuals or transvestites. In the Middle East, tens of thousands of gay people live in fear. But no one ever marches against these places, writes petitions demanding gay rights, or passes boycott resolutions against them.

    In Israel, gay pride marches take place in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There are no laws forbidding homosexuality. Tel Aviv has been described as the gay capital of the world. The Israeli army does not sanction soldiers who are gay. Israeli law protects people of all sexual orientations — and it does so because it is a country based on full human rights for all its citizens. This is not “pinkwashing”: using gay rights to cover up other abuses. It is gay rights in practice, which is why many Arab and Iranian gay people flee to Israel. Providing such protection only serves to make Israel even more hated by many countries surrounding it and even many farther away. This too is hypocrisy, pure and simple. To attack a country that defends the rights you demand for yourselves and your friends is morally unforgivable.

    You probably agree that all people should be free to worship and practise their religion openly, or not, under the protection of the law. And you all probably agree that religious people and atheists also should have the right to live freely, without persecution. No Arab or Islamic state offers that sort of protection. In Iraq and Syria, in Gaza and the West Bank, Christians have been killed in huge numbers or driven out. In Egypt, the indigenous population of Coptic Christians suffers severe persecution and sees its churches destroyed. In Iran, Christians are regularly arrested, and the country’s largest indigenous religious minority, the Baha’is, are openly persecuted. Baha’is are hanged, imprisoned, denied access to education, forbidden to work in any profession. Their holy places throughout the country have been systematically bulldozed and sometimes mosques have been built on the sites.

    In Israel, the Christian community is the only one anywhere in the Middle East to have grown in numbers since 1948. All the holy places of all religions — Muslim, Jewish, Christian — are actively protected under the Law for the Protection of Holy Places. The Baha’i religion has its World Centre (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Haifa, and its two holiest shrines there and outside the city of Acco. Pilgrims come from around the world. The Baha’is are among the most hated people for Muslims everywhere. But not in Israel. Yet no one marches to defend the religious rights of Baha’is in the Islamic world; no one brings petitions to the Iranian embassy to protect them or others from persecution; no one holds meetings to call for reform in Islamic states. Instead, people like yourselves pass resolutions condemning the only country that defends those rights for all its citizens and visitors. By siding with the persecutors and sneering at the only country that since its inception has actually implemented all human rights, you show nothing but contempt for those rights. That is not just sad, it is despicable.

    You are students, young people with your minds open to new sensations, new information, new questions, a galaxy of differing opinions, learning how to weigh and balance your own assumptions and those of others. You have access to the most amazing technologies and sources of information — resources that simply did not exist earlier. In order to access all this, you require freedom of speech, a world without censorship, a free press, the right to protest, and to question received opinion. If your government in Scotland or the UK banned books, imprisoned journalists, censored films, or prohibited campus meetings, you would be rightly outraged. You would march to defend those freedoms were there a threat to take them away. You depend on free libraries, uncensored newspapers and journals, and direct access to the Internet.

    None of those freedoms exists in any Muslim country. Not in Egypt, not in Jordan, not in Saudi Arabia, not in Iran, not in Pakistan. Censorship is rife, secular views are everywhere condemned. Freethinking bloggers such as Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia, several in Bangladesh, and many in Iran have been imprisoned, sentenced (in Badawi’s case) to lashes, or (in Bangladesh) assassinated. The majority of newspapers in these countries are state-owned. Books are banned and burned across the region. Television stations are closed down for the pettiest of reasons, as happened recently in Egypt to MP Tawfiq Okasha. There is no freedom of speech in Gaza or under the Palestinian Authority, and those who breach the rules are, as often as not, found with a bullet in their head…”