As an international student and, more consequentially, a Jewish American who has visited Israel and befriended a number of Israeli Defense Force soldiers, my perspective on the boycott, divest and sanction movement differs substantially from that of the majority of Trinity students campaigning to cut all ties to Israel.
Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) is the representative body of students in a global university that is trying desperately to publicise its diversity and growing international student population. But its stance on Israel is not conducive to any real progress other than a broad demonisation of a people who have no representation here. No one speaks on Israel’s behalf, so the issue is tucked aside, and the backlash of losing all contact with a hugely influential nation is diminished by the lack of voices who might miss it.
The last thing we need is to silence a minority voice before it has been given the platform from which to speak.
I come from an area in the states where my Jewish identity hardly makes me a minority. When I was thirteen years old, I went to at least a dozen bar or bat mitzvahs – a coming-of-age ritual for rising teenagers following years of Hebrew and Torah study – alongside other Jewish and Christian peers, the latter of which came to know certain phrases in Hebrew just from having attended so many bar or bat mitzvah services. I had my own bat mitzvah too, and in the seven preceding years of preparation and Jewish education, I heard a great deal about our cultural history. I knew of the century upon century of expulsion, discrimination, and slaughter by anti-Semites. About mass exoduses from countries where my ancestors were discriminated against and oppressed until their only option, if one did not wish to die a most gruesome death, was to flee. About how, in spite of all this hardship, Israel would be the guiding light, the final resting point, the rare haven that any Jewish person could call home. And when I first visited, such was the greeting: “Welcome home.”
No one speaks on Israel’s behalf, so the issue is tucked aside, and the backlash of losing all contact with a hugely influential nation is diminished by the lack of voices who might miss it
The Israeli state, when examined firsthand, in person, is not solely a place of conflict and strife. As I walked the streets, I met the people from both the Jewish and Arab quarters of Jerusalem and the Israeli soldiers who are sacrificing years of youth and in many cases, their lives. I did not experience this violent, hateful world depicted in Western media. Instead, I experienced a rather rehearsed coexistence, a balancing act between unwavering factions, both fiercely proud of their home – resilient, gritty, and human. Such a commonality makes the outwardly opposing sides seem rather similar at the core.
Israel is the pinprick nation that has drawn mass attention, breaking the rest of the globe into two camps: those who are pro-Israel, and those who are pro-Palestine. The issue, stretching back to 1948 and far beyond, causing division among more than just religious sectors, more than just geographic borders, more than just human rights activist groups, is a relentless and tedious one. Israel, already entrenched in a global spotlight due to its contested occupation of land, is demonised by world media on a large scale, drawing mostly uninvolved nations like Ireland into the fray of conflict despite any real personal impact, prior knowledge, or reverence for the long-winded and complex history of the situation.
And frankly, the positions we take as unaffected onlookers influenced only by news headlines is more dependent on our country’s political party system and where the stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict places us on a spectrum from liberal to conservative. They depend upon our exposure to the issue as it relates to our lives, not as it relates to the lives of those actually affected – and, as it stands, few students in Trinity have exposure to that perspective.
I don’t believe the solution for Trinity should be to forbid students from learning firsthand about a country and its people in every facet, be it through studying abroad, contact and discourse with Israeli academic and cultural institutions, companies, universities, and startups
The movement calls to withdraw contact, support, and investments from Israeli companies and institutions, cultural and academic. This is where students will be impacted, and I cannot say they will be impacted for the better.
I don’t believe the solution for Trinity should be to forbid students from learning firsthand about a country and its people in every facet, be it through studying abroad, contact and discourse with Israeli academic and cultural institutions, companies, universities, and startups that are helping the world advance in a plethora of ultimately beneficial manners.
There are aspects of the boycott, divest and sanctions movement I support with all biases laid to rest, particularly in the stance against oppression of displaced individuals, which is unacceptable on any nation’s behalf. Regardless of my cultural affiliation, an affront to human rights should be acted against. But such is the divisive nature of an issue that goes beyond the question of morality, stretching back centuries, backlogged with oppression from different sides and parties, against different ethnic and religious groups. How can I be a Jewish person hoping for a solitary, welcoming Jewish state, a place in which Jews will not be seen as a troublesome minority, as outsiders or interlopers, while also remaining weary of what such a state implies for another group of people who are suffering?
There are aspects of the boycott, divest and sanctions movement I support with all biases laid to rest, particularly in the stance against oppression of displaced individuals, which is unacceptable on any nation’s behalf
I can’t, and the grey area is not a place where vital, life-saving decisions concerning human rights can be made. This is why we take sides, why we polarise issues, choosing right or wrong, good or evil. It is easier to tell a story with a clear protagonist and antagonist than one with a bunch of segmented people, all of whom are flawed, all of whom feel passionately about the land from which they originated, all of whom think they are on the “right” side of history. Such a story might never reach its concise conclusion.
In lieu of this, Trinity students should not make so decisive an action against a nation that is full of people and institutions with the potential to educate and communicate with them in order to reach a more comprehensive understanding of a hugely turbulent storyline.