On Oct. 22, President Obama and Governor Romney will engage in the last presidential debate, dedicated solely to foreign policy issues. Amidst the usual mix of rhetorical “zingers” and all-too-infrequent substantive exchanges, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sure to come up.
And that’s obviously a good thing; both candidates should feel compelled to articulate a position on a violent conflict that has been raging for more than half a century. It’s probably even more obvious that such public statements are only a first step.
But politics are not a spectator sport.
We, the board of J Street U, a new political advocacy group at Stanford, urge all our peers to join us in actively debating the issue here on campus.
Amidst the frenzied listserv culture of Stanford, this piece may come off as a shameless plug. The gravity of the issue, however, and what we believe is a hole in the current state of discourse, should dispel that impression.
J Street U is a national student movement acting on over 50 campuses in support of Israelis, Palestinians, and a peaceful, two-state solution. We are pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and pro-peace.
The fact that this conjunction may seem contradictory to some shows how much work we have cut out for us. And to those who agree that it’s possible, but are intimidated by or unaware of the staggering complexity of the matter – the tensions between the security needs of Israelis, the abuses Palestinians face under Occupation, the threats leveled to Israel’s very right to exist as a Jewish homeland, and the political and human rights of Palestinians – that is all the more reason to investigate and debate the matter in a thorough and civil way.
We are committed to providing a platform for speakers in an open and diverse discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On Tuesday, we hosted a former Israeli soldier from Breaking the Silence, an Israeli NGO dedicated to raising awareness about the stark realities of Occupation – and the effects military service in the West Bank has on Israeli soldiers. We also heard from a former soldier who served in the occupied territories in 2010 and is now a public advocate for Israel and a just peace.
To be sure, political advocacy groups for Israeli-Palestinian issues exist on campus. The advocacy, however, has generally been too one-sided to inspire genuine dialogue and debate. We are unaware of any events hosted by pro-Israel groups where Israel’s occupation has been unambiguously criticized, or conversely, of any pro-Palestinian events where the security needs of Israelis have been discussed seriously. (We are happy to be corrected with evidence of any individual instances of this, but the more important point is that no group has the mandate to confront multiple sides of the issue.) We maintain both that the occupation denies Palestinians fundamental political rights and that there are genuine security concerns for Israelis, who are continuously threatened by organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah that act to destroy Israel.
Obviously, an open discussion on the reality of suffering and injustice – on both sides – is not a solution. But it is a conversation that can be the basis for constructive work towards a solution.
We also want to recognize the support we’ve already received, most importantly from Hillel at Stanford. We are proud to be a Hillel group – part of a broad, colorful coalition of organizations that contribute in diverse ways to campus life. We’ve been supported by Hillel staff in our mission, and applaud their work towards creating space within Hillel and the Jewish community for challenging conversations like the one we had last night with soldiers on the implementation of the Occupation.
The health of the discourse at Stanford requires embracing an open dialogue on these – and all – issues. Though the realities of the Occupation and the threats Israel faces are painful to face, we cannot move forward in pursuing an end to the conflict without educating ourselves on what is actually happening on the ground.
Our hopes are not particularly high for the presidential debate, but they are for our talented and passionate student body. We hope to inspire civil debate and spread awareness – free from “zingers” and one-liners.
The Executive Board of J Street U at Stanford