Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine

This is the official blog run by Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine. Here we will share original editorial and opinion pieces and re-post content from other platforms.

Month: April, 2014

Why the Wall? A Statement by Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine

KSJP erected an art installation in the atrium of Peirce in order to actively engage a broad segment of the Kenyon community. The construction of a physical boundary was an invitation for community members to reflect on the daily experience of navigating a familiar environment. While we all enjoy freedom of movement at Kenyon – Palestinians in the occupied territories do not. Though our art installation is only one third of the height of the separation wall, its presence in the atrium of Peirce is unavoidable and intrusive. The reality according to current plans for expansion is that 85 percent of the separation wall constructed by Israel will run through the West Bank upon completion. (1)

In clear violation of international law, Israel continues to expand its borders into East Jerusalem and the West Bank, imposing “crushing restrictions on freedom of movement and severely diminished access to jobs, hospitals, schools and families.”(2) Counter to the rhetoric of the Israeli government, the International Court of Justice has stated that it is “not convinced that the specific course Israel has chosen for the wall was necessary to attain its security objectives.”(3)

Despite the physical and psychological presence of the barrier, Palestinians in the occupied territories have reflected their politics of resistance against the oppressive structure through visual art that uses the wall as a canvas. Now in Peirce’s atrium we are all faced with something unfamiliar. In its presence we struggle to reconcile its meaning and its intention. We study it, we find ways around it, maybe we are fixated by it, or maybe we want to make it disappear. But for one week it stands. For one week we walk around it to acknowledge the experience of all the Palestinians whose lives are profoundly disrupted and damaged by the separation wall erected around them against their will.

Over the course of this semester, members of KSJP have worked very hard from the conceptual to the architectural stages of creating this installation.The school offered us a one-week slot to exhibit our art in the Peirce atrium and as the semester was coming to a close, we decided to seize this opportunity to display our work. We recognize that its overlap with Passover this year may have caused offense to some Jewish students. We regret this perceived injury for it was never our intention to offend anyone.

At no time, however, did we consider that people would perceive the celebration of Passover to be in any way relevant to the illumination of an unjust policy of the Israeli government. As the National Lawyers Guild has pointed out, to treat criticism of Israel as equivalent to criticism of Jewish people implies that Jews “around the world are culpable for Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians on the basis of their shared religion or ethnic and ancestral characteristics.”(4) We find this oversimplification of Jewish social and political identity to be troubling and intellectually unproductive.

On Monday, the first day of Passover, many members of the Kenyon community and KSJP celebrated their Jewish heritage and our art installation simultaneously. While some have expressed discomfort regarding the installation of the wall, others have expressed enthusiastic support. We invite you to join us as we reflect on the deeper meaning of these diverse responses.

KSJP cannot promise that our public expressions on campus will make no one uncomfortable. We cannot promise that our perspective will be perceived by all as fair. But we can promise that we will be here with you throughout action and dialogue. As we move forward, our obligation is to be accessible and to listen. Ultimately we believe that art has the capacity to educate and inspire, to challenge and protest. In this spirit we celebrate the rich history of artistic and political expression and find ourselves meditating on the following quotation by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored.”

 

(1) http://www.btselem.org/topic/separation_barrier

(2) http://www.hrw.org/fr/news/2004/07/08/getting-opinion-wall

(3) http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/3740E39487A5428A85256ECC005E157A

(4)http://palestinelegalsupport.org/download/advocacy-documents/NLG_Students_Rights_1011.pdf

On KSJP, Dialogue, and Anti-Semitism by Adam Bulmash

*Members of KSJP possess diverse perspectives and opinions. The following views do not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the group.*

I wish to thank those who have raised concerns that the fliers KSJP had posted, referencing educational challenges Palestinian children face consequent to Israeli occupation, were inherently biased.  It is certainly true that disparaging remarks regarding Israel can conceal anti-Semitic biases.  However, to infer anti-Semitism effectively silences dissent and subverts dialogue even when such a charge is unwarranted. As a Jew and as a member of KSJP who helped write the fliers, I can say that our intention, far from being anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, or anti-Zionist, was rather to raise concerns over the violation of Palestinian human rights.  Our criticisms are directed neither at Jews nor at Israel’s existence, but at specific discriminatory policies of the Israeli state. It is imperative not to conflate criticisms of Israel’s policies with anti-Semitism.  Attempting to ameliorate the woeful conditions of Palestinians under occupation is not equivalent to anti-Semitism. In thiscontext, the intimation of anti-Semitism merely serves as a distraction and a rationale for the perpetuation of hostilities and ignorance on both sides.

To contextualize their viewpoint, those concerned have proffered Charles Krauthammer’s article, “Judging Israel.”  Krauthammer argues that in judging Israel by “Western standards” during peacetime, as though Israel were not at war, we hold it to an untenable double standard. Israel is behaving, after all, in exactly the same way that Western nations have behaved during wartime.  In Krauthammer’s logic, to expect anything more of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism.

That Western nations have at times acted expediently and immorally during wartime is not in dispute. But is it reasonable to compare Israel’s “vulnerable situation” to a perpetual state of war? Does wartime and a nation’s need for security ipso facto grant exemption from concerns over discriminatory policies and the violation of human rights? Should we not take seriously the lessons of the French-Algerian War to which Krauthammer alludes, and understand Palestinian aspirations without perceiving them as an existential threat to Israel?  It is difficult to understand how limiting the educational resources and opportunities of Palestinian children in any way advances Israel’s sense of security.  Krauthammer might chafe at calling the occupation by its true name, but consigning yet another generation of children to an oppressive existence and justifying it by referring to a “vulnerable situation” only serves to perpetuate the rhetoric of demonization and the history of violence that has been the legacy of this region for generations of Israelis and Palestinians.

Only by conflating state policy with Jewish identity can Krauthammer equate “judging Israel” itself with judging Jews as a whole.  By this logic, the Israeli state speaks and acts for all Jews/Israelis, all of whom vote en bloc on Israeli policies.  Far from being a monolithic plebiscite, however, Israel is a nation of stunningly diverse identities and opinions, as well as a place of deep contestation, especially on matters involving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  Yet the implication that attacking the policies of the State of Israel is equivalent to attacking Jews renders any dissent coterminous with anti-Semitism and even ethnic self-hatred.  Although Israel is a Jewish state, it is not the hand or voice of the entire Jewish people or Israeli citizenry.  Israel is, after all, a democracy, and thus it can be no more said that criticism of its government is anti-Semitic/Israeli/Zionist than it can be said that criticism of Congress is un-American.  Ironically to assume that all Jews or Israelis act or vote en bloc is how they are perceived by true anti-Semites.

While I sympathize with those concerned with anti-Semitism, reducing the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to simplistic binaries is inconsistent with the ideals of a liberal arts education and limits the critical understanding which Krauthammer himself calls for.  We must dispense with a biased Procrustean framework that vilifies alternative interpretations of the conflict by invoking the specter of anti-Semitism. President Sean Decatur has himself noted that, “We often neglect the value of dissent on our campus—the importance of cultivating an atmosphere in which difficult topics are rigorously engaged, where opinions are openly challenged.” It seems to me that this is a propitious moment to open a critical and rational discourse that is worthy of Kenyon College on something that everyone agrees requires resolution. This is the shared responsibility of tikkun olam, the collective effort to join together the fragmented discourses that perpetuate sorrow for everyone, of healing the wounds of history.