Op-Ed: Divestment is a spectrum, and so is Israel/Palestine

Truthfully, I think describing something as a ‘spectrum’ is horribly overdone. It is very much a catch-all term that serves more as an appeal to the subject’s complexity than anything substantive. But I’ll try my best to justify my use of the word because, for once, I think it is very much applicable to this issue.

More importantly, I want to clear up some things about last semester’s controversial Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate resolution and explain why this issue has manifested itself in a far more divisive way than I had hoped for.

My grandmother was born in Jaffa, an area that encompasses Southern Tel Aviv. The precarious political climate that swept the area in the late 1940s forced her family to flee to Damascus, Syria. Coming to Tufts, I was shocked to see the intense and morally reprehensible views on this issue that exist on both sides. I like to think of myself as an objective observer because, despite a clear ethnic stake in this issue, my connection to Syria/Palestine has taught me a thing or two about the true nature of this issue.

It is of utmost importance that people understand how Israel and the Jewish people are conflated and vilified in many Arab countries. In Syria, students grow up learning anti-Israel propaganda that could sometimes be considered antisemitic. Conversely, propaganda of this nature very much exists in Israel as Palestinians are vilified in the same way. Israelis are taught from a young age the same thing that their Palestinian counterparts are taught: they are the enemies, we are the victims.

Thus, a peculiar animosity has been nurtured on both sides, and it is preventing any discussion that is even tangentially related to the issue of peace from being looked at objectively.

The resolution only stipulated divestment from four corporations (Elbit Systems Ltd, G4S, Northrop Grumman and Hewlett Packard Enterprise) that are complicit in the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. These corporations produce weapons, surveillance technology and prison systems designed specifically for use against Palestinians. To me, this was not at all about denying Israel’s agency. In fact, the resolution even called for a general human rights survey of potential investments on Tufts’ part, which is something that I wish, in retrospect, could have been presented to Senate instead. Just as Saudi Arabia is complicit in oppression, I too, believe that divesting from Saudi oil is of equal moral obligation. This is what I wanted the essence of the resolution to be. Instead, students on both sides made it a completely different issue.

This has become such a fiercely polarizing issue that the spectrum is being compromised. Whereas anyone with a simple sense of logic can see that systemic issues on both sides prevent us from moving forward, this fierce polarization throws out any semblance of logic and fosters a counterproductive rivalry instead.

In effect, the centrist polity needed to stabilize the spectrum is being upended and pragmatic approaches are being devalued in favor of emotionally charged confrontations. To be clear, this centrist bloc values both sides and in most cases would support a two-state solution.

So intense is this rivalry that students present during the resolution posted personal information about me online and slandered me on a mysterious website called the Canary Mission, accusing me of being a racist bigot and antisemite. I was devastated to read such hurtful statements about my character, when I very much detest antisemitism and believe in a two-state solution myself. In fact, I am just as critical of most Arab states as I am of Israel — but the Canary Mission won’t tell you about that.

What all of this has taught me is that we ought to discuss Israel/Palestine pragmatically; being pragmatic entails separating the nature of the state from the state itself. By supporting last semester’s resolution, I was denouncing Israel’s leadership and oppressive policies. I was not, in any way, denouncing Israel’s being.

Pragmatism would dictate that getting entangled in historical justification takes away from the truth of the matter: history cannot be undone, coexistence is the only option. The resolution took a stand against the oppression of the Palestinian people, but it did not wish to impose alleged antisemitic values despite accusations of this being the case.

And as far as Senate is concerned, it is clear that the debate was futile. The school made clear its stance against the decision, which brings to light the separate issue that perhaps TCU Senate exists to appease the student body rather than actually advance its voices.

The resulting confrontation only served to polarize the student body, a reality that has shown its true colors time and time again as this issue is discussed on campus. It is a vicious cycle that can only be broken by cooperation rather than confrontation.

Benjamin Netanyahu is not the peace process. Mahmoud Abbas is not the peace process. Dichotomizing the issue will get us nowhere.

Rather, the people are the peace process — and by separating ourselves from the leadership’s polarizing rhetoric, we can employ the necessary pragmatism to unite both sides. If you still want historical justification, I’m happy to tell you my grandmother’s stories of living peacefully alongside Jewish and Christian families in Jaffa.

Sami Asha