Op-Ed: In response to ‘Israeli academic treks’

The recent opinion piece, “Israeli academic treks: single narrative at the service of occupation,” is an impassioned op-ed that seeks to make a case for why an upcoming Fletcher student-led spring break trek requires intervention from administrative authorities of the school. The article highlights serious issues with such academic treks, such as the political forces that drive many trips and the bias that goes hand in hand with it, the government funding that can make the ethics of such trips questionable, and the very troubling reality of single-sided narratives. All are valid problems and concerns. However, the author fails to make a convincing argument as to exactly how an upcoming Fletcher academic trek will be of service specifically to government occupation and oppression. It also fails to show how it will only present a single narrative. Above all, the article fails to provide any constructive solutions.

The author highlights a very present reality that the students will “mostly hear Israeli voices and not be exposed to the brutal and devastating aspects of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.” This is an important possibility to bring up. However, the author strips Fletcher students of their agency and completely assumes that the Fletcher students participating in this trip have zero ability to think critically and ask hard questions, which is a defining trait of most Fletcher students.

Additionally, he is assuming that the trek organizers will fail to work hard to ensure that not just one narrative is told. These erroneous assumptions turn his arguments into unfounded claims that certain aspects of the conflict will be ignored, as he fails to give substantive proof that this will be the case. The author acknowledges that one day will be given to explore different Palestinian narratives, yet the itinerary and organizers are unsuitable.

The reality of the time constraints of an eight-day trip should be apparent; but has he talked at length with the trips organizers? Has he discussed with them alternative organizations to partner with? Or the possibility of including more days to explore Palestinian narratives? No alternative trek foundations or organizations are given as suggestions within the piece. No actual solutions are presented when Israel and Co’s past funding from the Israeli government are highlighted.

The author further writes that, “there is a systematic effort to appeal to academic institutions to support Israel and its policies through the dissemination of its talking points and views in a clever and subtle approach.” Any government’s willingness to proselytize is strong, and can indeed be a dangerous tool used to oppress and subvert the masses. Highlighting this is very critical and important when discussing academic trips to Israel-Palestine.

But once more, the troubling truth of this opinion piece is written loud and clear: the author thinks Fletcher students are blind, ignorant, and easily led astray, either by “government propaganda” or pro-Israeli organizers. The author assumes the students will not do their homework on who is speaking, presenting and leading the different sections of the trip.

The one solution offered to the problems the author lays out is to turn to The Fletcher School administration to intervene. In exactly what way is not clear in the article. Instead, a nebulous and murky suggestion is given: the administration should “intervene” and set “best practices, guidelines, and most importantly… ensure that students are well aware of these political agendas before attending such programs.”

This call for the Fletcher administration to intervene is illiberal to students at best, and dangerous to students in the long run. As graduate students, we cannot have the administration hold our hand and shield us from unsavory viewpoints, arguments, people or government bodies.

It is not the job of the administration to ensure that only the “correct” narrative or history is fed to us, or to protect us from the wiles of government propaganda: as students, we must accept that it is up to us to be relentless in asking questions and challenging what is presented. When that directive is taken from us and instead given away to an administrative authority, we cease to be pursuing academic excellence. Instead, we become no more than shills of whatever position we are told to hold.

Furthermore, as students, learning is a collaborative exercise. If we were to have academic authoritative powers “intervene” into all treks that brush up against troubling and oppressive governments, we would need to abandon all travel. In fact, we would need to exit from the United States itself, given that rationale. Learning happens best outside the classroom; it flourishes through interaction and experience in situations no classroom can replicate. To intervene into a trek, either to force a boycott that everyone must adhere to, or to truncate it in some way, would be a disservice to all students, present and future, at The Fletcher School.

It is commendable that the author highlighted many troubling aspects and problems that could be present with this upcoming trek. Without such dialogue, there is no broadening of important discussions. However, the need to learn should outweigh the need to be right. If one cannot stomach the thought of a trip that includes an Israeli narrative, or indeed, a trip that could possibly include government propaganda, then one must produce an alternative. Or better yet, go on the trip itself and challenge the narratives presented directly.

But to curtail the ability of students to have the trek, based on the loose and assumptive grounds that it is purely Israeli propaganda that only further serves government occupation, is untenable to any liberal values, including the values of The Fletcher School itself. Let the students decide and discover for themselves through their own experience.