Between the Dome of the Rock and a hard place

Recently, President Mark Burstein and Provost David Burrows decided that Lawrence would not be joining the American Studies Association (ASA)’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The result was inevitably polarizing. On Lawrence’s Facebook group, the post immediately gathered plenty of yeas and boos, followed by some standard pro- or anti-Zionist rhetoric. As a Jew myself, I find myself caught up in a different type of conflict.

As an American Jew, there is an unavoidable disconnect with the horrors of the Israeli -Palestinian conflict. I am constantly challenged to have a stance on the conflict, but as an American, it’s difficult to understand the challenges of living the conflict day-to-day while still feeling a spiritual connection and sense of loyalty to Israel. It pits my own identity as a Jew against my identity as a scholar of political science. I want to defend my faith; but the deeper I delve into my studies, the more difficult it becomes to defend Zionism.

I feel constant pressure to take a firm Zionist stance on the issue. However, I know that like all conflicts, there are going to be points and counter points, and that those counterpoints need to be held with equal validity regardless of any racial, religious or other demographic background, something I have to constantly keep in mind as a government major.

My family (an aunt, an uncle, and nine cousins) in Israel is made of unwavering Zionists, understandably. They’re part of the conflict. They’ve served in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), and a few have nightmares to share from those experiences. Conflicts have sides. They’ve picked theirs. But being an American, I’ve never had to.

Part of my identity also comes from the belief that Israel is the spiritual home of my people. I’m not particularly religious with things like the existence of God or whether a god really did cause the ten plagues. That is common, especially in Reform Judaism, the most progressive and largest denomination.

What is also universal is our belief that Israel is our spiritual home and should serve as a respite from the slavery and mistreatment we’ve endured throughout history.

But the problem isn’t being approached within the context of biblical history. Rather, it’s approached in the context of modern history. The unavoidable truth is that anti-Zionism isn’t just for anti-Semites anymore; it’s a valid political opinion. It’s growing in Western society and as a scholar of political science, my faith-based Zionism is going to come into conflict with academic anti-Zionism.

In an academic discussion, I couldn’t just say that Israel should adopt policies x, y and z concerning Palestinians because we were mistreated for thousands of years and we deserve to live there. That argument is part of my faith, and I would never rely on it in an academic environment. I firmly believe it’s far more fruitful to look at the modern political issues such as economic opportunity, racial/religious segregation and other issues relevant to the conflict because the conflict is itself a modern political issue. The more I learn, the more complicated it becomes to defend my loyalty. When people ask me what I think, I often find myself at a loss for words.

Of course I want to say that nobody, not even Palestinians deserve to live in the slums of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Of course I think that a compromise should be reached and that both sides aren’t going to be completely happy whatever the turn out.

I think it’s ridiculous that rockets are flying over Israeli towns and that Palestinian civilians are being killed, but saying that there are two sides to the conflict and that there should be compromise is a cop-out. It’s like saying neither in a game of “would you rather.”  “Can’t we all just get along” is a pretty lighthearted critique given the gritty day-to-day experience of living in the conflict. Still, I believe that at some point Israelis and Palestinians will have to learn to coexist; but how that coexistence is arranged is not something my faith and my intellect can necessarily agree on.

The decision to reject the ASA boycott was, as discussed in the Lawrence Blog post, for the sake of intellectual freedom. If it were up to Burstein and Burrows, they would have likely never taken a stance on the school’s behalf if they could avoid doing so; but the ASA contacted Lawrence, and Lawrence was forced to take a stance, which is inherently unfair to a school that prides itself on intellectual freedom. It means we are in support of intellectual freedom in Israeli Schools when the boycott is addressing the apparent lack thereof.

As if my identity as a Jew wasn’t conflicted enough, the issue brings the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even closer to my personal life, a thought that discomforts and ultimately saddens me.