Op/Ed: Where’s the Inquiry?

On August 15, the Jewish News Syndicate published an article exposing a new class offered this Fall titled “Colonizing Palestine.” The course description blatantly states that students “will address crucial questions relating to … the Israeli state which illegally occupies Palestine.” This language is not merely inflammatory — it positions a one-sided narrative as truth from the outset of the semester.  Tufts should offer courses exploring both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Palestinian culture separate from the conflict. The Palestinian people, as with the Israeli and Jewish peoples, do not exist just in terms of the conflict, and framing it as such actually does a disservice to the rich peoplehood Palestinians share. Choosing to focus a course on the experiences of individuals that share a common identity is legitimate, but this focus must be made clear.  This course is quite clearly titled “Colonizing Palestine” and not “Palestinian Culture” or “Palestinian Perspectives in the Conflict.”

In the course description, there are no Jewish writers or filmmakers mentioned. Yet how can this class “explore the history and culture of modern Palestine” and have students “address crucial questions” without exploring the perspective and narratives of a real country they live in or border and the other major group of people living there? How can students properly examine this region and its complexities if their studies are limited a set of works that exclude any non-Palestinian perspective? Surely students of Tufts’ caliber deserve better.

By boiling a complex geopolitical issue down to the simplistic colonizer-colonized binary, this course delegitimizes the rightful Jewish claim to live in the land of their origins. Jews are of course indigenous to Israel — where else would Jews be from? Tufts University has defended this course because of the professor’s academic freedom, and while he has the right to teach on this topic and focus on Palestinian perspectives, a disservice is done to students looking for a holistic and nuanced perspective of such an important issue on campus and in the world. In fact, the university’s blind endorsement of “Colonizing Palestine” poses real threats to the academic freedom of students and quite literally denies Jewish indigeneity to Israel, something very personal to me.

I am a Jew of Israeli descent with Israeli family. I am entering my third year at Tufts with the same fear that I felt when I was called a “Zionist scum,” an anti-Semitic slur, my first year. Jewish students are frequently discriminated against in conspiratorial terms and age old tropes on Tufts Secrets, an anonymous Facebook page. I no longer question why Tufts Friends of Israel is the only culture club at Tufts that requires a security detail at the majority of our events. I have become accustomed to the rapid spikes in my heart beat when asked about my heritage, whereas I have found most Tufts students are prideful and open about their diverse and interesting identities. Any topic surrounding Israel has become so politicized on campus that I see my classmates actively avoid talking about the Jewish state. This course overtly labels my family as foreign settlers and colonists, as if it was a dynamic as simple as Europeans coming to North America. For me, Israel is not just another controversial topic discussed on campus: it is a part of my identity that I carry with me whether it is convenient or not.
In response to the backlash that this course has received, the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora wrote in a statement: “We will not let these spurious attacks derail inquiry at our university.” By offering a single narrative as fact with little information to challenge such an opinion, Colonialism Studies is doing just that: derailing inquiry at our university.