The Middle East is an incredibly complex region. American college students, who live halfway across the globe, often hear one claim or read one story and make sweeping assumptions about what life is like there. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is the group that coordinates the annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” on campuses across the country. Their movement takes advantage of students’ tendencies to jump to conclusions and vastly oversimplifies the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
SJP paints Israel as an imperialistic regime that uses apartheid policies to systematically oppress Arabs and favor Jews. Through colorful art displays and impassioned statements, SJP generates sympathy for their cause and hatred and contempt for Israel.
In reality, Israel is not an apartheid state. Arab-Israeli citizens have the same rights as Israeli Jews — rights to education, healthcare, employment and voting, among other rights. In fact, Israel is one of the few true democracies in the Middle East in which citizens can actually vote for their own leaders. The Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and the Israeli supreme court both have Arab representation. All citizens of Israel are free to practice their religions peacefully, and there are strict protections against discrimination, such as the Employment Law of 1988. The assertion that Israel is an apartheid state is false. It does not contribute to productive dialogue, and it is insulting. It seems meant to criminalize the Israeli identity.
SJP also takes issue with Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In a statement emailed to the student body, Kenyon’s chapter of SJP claimed that the border wall “inhumanely limits the freedom of movement of Palestinians.” However, they neglect to mention why Israel’s checkpoints and border crossings exist in the first place. During the “Second Intifada” (2000-2005), more than 1,000 Israeli citizens were murdered in terrorist attacks according to B’Tselem, a human rights information center based in Israel. Palestinian terrorists could easily cross into Israel armed with bombs, guns or knives. This led to increased tension in the region and more aggressive Israeli policies. Thousands of Palestinians — many militants, but also civilians — were killed as a result. Since the security barrier was constructed in 2006, the number of terrorist attacks in Israel has decreased significantly, and both Israelis and Palestinians are now safer. Security checkpoints are a nuisance, but they are not manifestations of some evil Israeli system of oppression, as SJP would have us believe. Palestinians can enter Israel if they follow specific security protocol. In most cases, this process is as easy as going through customs when entering the United States. To me, that’s a small price to pay for saving lives.
Constructive criticism of Israeli policy is fair game. Educated and respectful discussions about Israel’s domestic politics can improve the country and contribute to the quest for peace. My pro-Israel stance does not mean that I’m entirely supportive of every policy brought forward in the Knesset. It does, however, mean that I support Israel’s right to exist as a secure and democratic state.
My vision for the region’s future is a two-state solution in which citizens of both Israel and Palestine can live peacefully, side by side, and enjoy equal freedoms, honoring both peoples’ right to self-determination. Unfortunately, we can reasonably suggest that SJP’s goals are contrary to this. Many SJP chapters align themselves with people who are fundamentally opposed to Israel’s existence and security (see Rasmea Odeh), and SJP will continue to attack Israel’s policies as long as Israel exists. SJP garners support by claiming to speak for an oppressed and vulnerable minority, but their primary goal is not “justice.” Their main objective is to speak against the state of Israel behind a “human rights” façade. Their work only escalates tensions, propagates falsehoods and makes peace in the Middle East less likely.
Ben Reingold ’20 is undeclared from Highland Park, Ill. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.