The problem with "Israel vs Palestine"

By Leah Soffer ‘14Contributing Writer

The Claremont Colleges pride themselves on being a community that focuses on learning through discussion and open dialogue, yet in my experience, the Colleges cultivate an environment that is hostile to controversial opinions, no matter how nuanced or well-supported they are. Furthermore, there is an overarching worldwide discourse of dichotomous views that leaves many students mute or apathetic to one of the largest issues facing the world today. In particular, college-wide discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that give equal weight to the Israeli and Palestinian voices are few and far between.

I often struggle with labels of “pro” and “anti.” I identify as pro-Israel because I believe Israel has a right to exist and a right to defend itself, but that doesn’t mean that I am anti-Palestinian. I would love to see a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state in the Middle East. From my experience, because I identify as pro-Israel, many of my peers view me as blind a supporter of Israel and consequently anti-Palestinian. This notion is simply false. To most people, identifying as any of these makes a strong statement pronouncing undivided and unquestioned belief. This assumed lack of nuance is toxic to our understanding of the conflict and the world. If we continue to let these labels define how we view others, we will never be able to generate meaningful discussions where we can hear multiple points of view in a respectful manner.

Because the discourse surrounding the conflict is constructed as an oppositional binary between Israel and Palestine, many students whose views fall along a wide spectrum of potential opinions are reluctant to take part in the discussion. A number of students have told me that even if their views generally align with Claremont Students for Israel or Students for Justice in Palestine, they don’t attendmeetings of either group because they are not comfortable with others associating them with a perceived extreme ideology regardless of the actual ideologies of the club.

As much as we say we encourage open dialogues here, I know we can do much more to live up to that ideal. As a student who identifies as pro-Israel, I feel my opinion is unwelcome and isolated on campus.

My peers see my opinion as invalid because I am Jewish and therefore “biased,” as if there are people who have opinions that are not biased. My peers are anxious about engaging in conversations with me because they perceive me to have a “strong” view. Just because I identify as pro-Israel does not mean that I do not want to engage in respectful discussions with those who identify differently. I’m sure there are students who identify as pro-Palestinian who feel the same way.

The conflict is a huge problem in the world today and it is something that needs to be discussed in a welcoming, and academic environment. I call on all students and faculty members to be more welcoming of all views. This is the only way we can learn to think clearly and independently, as Ellen Browning Scripps hoped we would.