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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Open Dialogue And Open Mind About Israel And Palestine A Must

Author: Wasim Rahman '02

In the Nov. 14 Middlebury Campus, two students, Amichai Kilchevski and David Schwartz, deliberately misrepresented and sensationalized efforts by their fellow Middlebury students to increase campus awareness of the Arab-Israeli conflict. As a leader in Palestine-awareness activism, I took their hateful commentary personally and write this column to explain to the members of our community why their statements are completely baseless.

To summarize their article, Schwartz and Kilchevski assert that they have elected to make "no response" to what they consider to be "a year and a half" of propaganda about Israel presented by Arabs, Muslims and other people of conscience in our community. Two weeks ago, however, they felt compelled to speak out because just as the Nazis used rhetoric to slowly convince many to hate and kill Jews in Europe, so too are the critics of Israel on campus brainwashing others into believing so-called "one-sided falsehoods."

Throughout their piece, Schwartz and Kilchevski label campus efforts to bring attention to the Israeli abuse of Palestinian human rights as "propaganda." They call upon the College community to "achieve understanding" and make other pleas for balance and moderation while, ironically, insisting that the opinions of those who disagree with Israeli policy have no right to be heard. Lastly, their article was precipitated by the showing of the film, "Jerusalem's High Cost of Living" by the Islamic Society on Nov. 8.

This said, why shouldn't you believe what Schwartz and Kilchevsky say? There are two compelling reasons. First, the authors of the article discredit themselves by making sweeping generalizations and unreasonable statements. The clearest example of this would be their suggestion that those who criticize Israel are analogous to Nazis during the 1930s. This is a blatant attempt to vilify those who sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians and criticize Israeli policy. By using such harsh language, the authors reveal their own biased and hostile point of view. Further, if the supporters of Palestinian rights on campus were as propagandistic as they suggest, one would expect a great deal of support for their criticism. Indeed, the authors of the article, who are both Jews and on the executive board of Hillel, pretend to speak on behalf of a larger concerned community.

Instead, you find many Jewish and non-Jewish students on campus voicing their concern that Schwartz and Kilchevski's analogy between Nazis and critics of Israel is offensive and wholly inappropriate. Their position is far too extreme, even for students who agree with those who are ardent supporters of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

For example, the day after the publication of the article, I spoke with Becky Ruby, co-president of Hillel. She told me that she found Schwartz and Kilchevsky's article to be "offensive" and believed that the authors were "just looking for a fight." Ruby and Rabbi Ira Schiffer, associate chaplain, met with each other prior to the publication of the article, agreeing that it was indeed going to become "a problem." She and I both agreed that if there was something that was destructive to an open exchange of ideas about Palestine and Israel, this article was it. Ruby had insisted that Schwartz and Kilchevski explicitly distance themselves from Hillel. It is important to note that while Ruby may not agree with the critique of Israeli policy on campus, she was not willing to see it vilified in the same hostile and malicious manner.

Several Arab (including Palestinian) and Muslim students approached me following the publication of the article, furious that their efforts to bring attention to brutal Israeli occupation of West Bank cities was being analogized to one of the most hateful and detestable regimes in modern history. I later spoke with the a member of the Dean of Student Affairs Office on the telephone, who told me that she felt the article presented no evidence to support its claims. To her, the article was a classic example of propaganda.

The second reason why allegations raised by Schwartz and Kilchevsky cannot be seen as credible or convincing is because their article contradicts itself. It calls for mutual understanding and argues that "the time has come for truth." While these statements may seem reasonable, they suggest there is only one truth, their own, which should be the only point of view heard.

The dissenting point of view, which was expressed in the film "Jerusalem's High Cost of Living," should be, in their opinion silenced, since it consists of "propaganda and lies." Moreover, Schwartz and Kilchevsky assert that this dissention is "harmful… to the world at large" for reasons they do not explicate. Middlebury students, we all agree, are smart enough to know what is propaganda. If it is so clear that films such as "Jerusalem's High Cost of Living" are propaganda, then why do Schwartz and Kilchevsky feel so threatened by it? Why is their reaction to it so incensed that they resort to vilification and simplistic explanations of good versus evil?

The fundamental issue for Schwartz and Kilchevsky is that the truth hurts. The world community, including the United States, has condemned recent Israeli aggression in the West Bank. International observers have expressed their dismay at the unwarranted use of force against Palestinian civilians. Neither Schwartz nor Kilchevsky can deny these facts.

Lastly, it is important to note that groups such as the Islamic Society, New Left and the newly forming Middlebury Student Movement for Human Rights in Palestine are proactive in their activism about Palestine and Israel. They begin the conversation about human rights, justice and terrorism (which includes state-mandated terror). However, Kilchevsky and Schwartz have made no attempt to begin dialogue and to help increase understanding. Instead, their most recent article made a very good attempt at ending it altogether.