Keeping An Open Mind Matters

November 15, 2017

CAMERA Fellow Jenn Tischler.

The Arab-Israeli conflict remains a highly divisive issue on campuses across the United States—and GW is no exception. Students can often expect to see speaker events calling for the end of the alleged “occupation” of Palestinian lands, weeks dedicated to commenting on the supposed apartheid in Israel, and groups on campus demonizing Israel and calling for its destruction, whether overtly or not.

But we often face personal attacks as well, from Palestinian supporters that see no better way to convey their message than through derogatory and degrading confrontations. Rather than state their case or argue the possible merits of their point of view, they choose to attack Israel and its supporters and “win” the argument by beating the other side into silence.

A protest led by Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2009.(Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

A few weeks ago, I attended an event hosted by the local GW chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The night in question was advertised as a Palestinian Culture Night, but no mention of culture ever came up. Instead, the audience was bombarded with accusations against Israel, American Jews, and American Jewish organizations through catchy sound bites. I sat through this blatant propaganda quietly, intending to be respectful and hear what they had to say in person. As I was leaving, I was cornered by a few board members of SJP who recognized me. They claimed that I had come here to sabotage them and use the information they’d presented to us against the club. I was shocked but responded simply, that I had come to listen and that was all.

Their reply was simple as well. “We don’t believe you.”

Later, after they finally let me reach the door, I went to their Facebook page to read their mission and stated values. One line, in particular, stuck out to me: “We will not normalize the status quo by engaging in dialogues, discussions, panels, or other public forums where the participants do not recognize [our] fundamental tenets…” This statement, although dressed up in ambiguous terms, is quite simple in its essence. SJP is not interested in starting dialogue until the dialogue is already over.

By their own admission, SJP does not see the value in the exchange of opposing ideas. They are only interested in having a conversation on their terms, and will not open themselves to opinions that might be different from their own. When they do encounter an opposite viewpoint, they aggressively attack and accuse until the other side is silenced and the only voice heard is their own. This is not the way to peace; this is only a means of continuing to spread hate and intolerance among anti-Semitic voices.

With a topic as emotionally charged as the Arab-Israeli conflict, level-headedness and a desire for open conversation are vital. Regardless of our own thoughts, hearing other people’s opinions and acknowledging that everyone has their own point of view is a necessity in any conflict of ideas. Only through opening ourselves to those opposing viewpoints can we be truly educated on the multi-faceted nature of the conflict and move towards peace and recognition for both sides. If we shut ourselves off, as SJP has, then we only entrench ourselves further in our current positions and block any future movement towards coexistence.

I believe that peace and understanding can win against hatred and intolerance and so I will continue to fight for dialogue and mutual recognition. I call on every student in GW to do the same for the sake of progress and a hope for eventual peace—and to not take SJP’s behavior as anything more than a clear example of what not to do.

 

Contributed by George Washington University CAMERA Fellow Jenn Tischler.

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