Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee

13Mar/13

Engaging on substance

On-campus debate and activism around the subject of Israel-Palestine is bound to be contentious and inflame spirits. However, responses which avoid substantive issues and devolve into defamatory allegations cross a line. In the past two weeks, the Harvard Crimson published two op-eds that obliquely accuse the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and its members of anti-Semitism. These accusations are patently false; they are made without presenting any actual evidence of anti-Semitism and instead conflate our criticism of Israeli human rights violations with hatred of the Jewish people. These attacks on our organization and the many dedicated people committed to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and equality should not be coming out the mouths of students who purport to be interested in an open and fair discussion and who have any measure of respect for their peers.

The most recent op-ed presented a false analogy between the mock eviction notices used by the PSC to inform Harvard students about the Israeli government’s illegal practice of home demolitions and a hypothetical notice posted on the doors of Harvard students with blatantly anti-Semitic statements made by Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi in 2010. First of all, whereas the PSC’s notices are based on facts and documented Israeli policies—something which no one has tried to contest so far—and make no reference to any religious or ethnic groups, the false equivalence relies on statements by an individual who has no relationship to Palestine solidarity activists, least of all here at Harvard. The authors of this latest op-ed, while seeking “open, intellectual discourse” thus repeatedly construct an analogy between criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism and in the process silence our ability to dissent politically without being accused of racial hatred. The desired and predictable result is that many Harvard students are now afraid to speak their mind on the subject of Israel-Palestine for fear of being attacked with this label.

The authors of the op-ed also accuse the PSC of “project[ing] a dishonest voice that distorts the reality of the conflict.” The PSC does not project one voice. The PSC seeks to offer a forum for many diverse individuals to discuss the question of Israel-Palestine at Harvard and in the Cambridge community. As such, in the past four years, we believe it would be accurate to say that the PSC has brought more Israeli and Jewish speakers to campus than any of our organization’s critics. These have included former Israeli soldiers, Israeli professors, and Israeli students and peace and human rights activists. These speakers presented their views and experiences both in conferences where they participated alongside Palestinian and American speakers and in events where they participated as the main guests. In our discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, furthermore, we have also included numerous American and European voices, providing a truly varied body of information available to all those interested in it.

The PSC, together with the Palestine solidarity movement, also accept numerous dissenting voices in their midst. This is evident in the closing event of Israeli Apartheid Week 2013 at Harvard, which featured Professor Noam Chomsky. Professor Chomsky disagrees with using the term “apartheid” to describe Israel—he says policies inside Israel proper are discriminatory but not apartheid, while he says Israeli policies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are worse than apartheid. Professor Chomsky disagrees with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and with the one-state solution. If our organization really sought to close down discussion on these issues, the diversity of opinion we bring to campus and the debate we try to promote among members of the Harvard and Cambridge communities would be vastly inferior to what they have been in the past years.

The authors of the op-eds might have noticed this if they had ever bothered attending one of our events, which are widely and openly publicized through our Web site, Facebook page, and plain old flyering, postering, and word of mouth. The question-and-answer and discussion sessions are open to everyone. We bar no one from attending the events we host. Anyone can subscribe to our mailing list. In fact, we do not think that there is a single Harvard student who can legitimately say that our organization has prevented him or her from voicing his or her opinion on Israel-Palestine in a function organized by the PSC. We have had debates in lecture halls, in dining halls, and on online forums. However, if supporters of Israel’s illegal policies think that they have not been given a legitimate voice in these debates, it is simply because they have never deigned to attend our events and now feign exclusion from behind their keyboards.

In reality, the PSC seeks to inform students with facts which present the realities on the ground. We discuss the policies of a state which has been oppressing Palestinians for sixty-five years now and then invite interested people to form their own opinions about this. The PSC’s mission is for equal rights, peace, and justice, something that would be evident if the authors of the most recent op-ed did not cherry-pick just a fragment of our mission from the PSC website. In fact, we actually argue for equality and base our mission on this principle: “The PSC is non-sectarian and believes that true peace will be reached only when self-determination and equality are guaranteed to Palestinians.” On the other hand, some Harvard students seem content with the discriminatory, illegal status quo present in Israel-Palestine.

The Palestine Solidarity Committee has a strong legacy of intellectual engagement, openness, inclusiveness, and activism. Our group consists of very diverse individuals who often differ in their personal views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, as a group, we are committed to peace and justice in Israel-Palestine. The red herring of anti-Semitism is a tactic used to silence us and make us out to be extremists. It is both unfair as well as entirely offensive, a blatant misappropriation of a form of racial hatred in order to prevent us from making legitimate political critique. Any fair evaluation of our actions, our statements, and our events presents us a group committed to freedom and equality in the Holy Land. Armchair critics should choose either to actually get substantively involved in this discussion, attend our events, and hear and address the varied perspectives we present—without necessarily having to agree with them—or to cease making fictitious charges against our organization, our movement, and our mission.

The Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee

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