This past Monday, Concordia’s Graduate Student Association hosted a public forum entitled, BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions): Do we have a role in the Palestine-Israel conflict? One of the panelists, Mary-Jo Nadeau, accused Israeli forces of targeting civilian homes, schools, mosques, United Nations shelters, and educational institutions in its recent assaults on the West Bank. When Nadeau, a lecturer at the University of Toronto, asked students “why [they thought Israel would] bomb schools and universities,” no one responded, myself included. Although I wanted to stand up, throw my clothes off like the woman in Titianic, and yell, “yes, yes Ms. Nadeau, please explain to me why Israel purposely bombs public schools,” I could not. I failed to be myself, thus allowing for yet another, very quiet Monday afternoon.
Hypocritical and slanderous statements like the ones made in this forum are precisely the reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has yet to be resolved. Leaders on both sides seem keener on pointing out the flaws of their opposition rather than making the admissions of guilt necessary for peace. While the Palestinian Authority doesn’t miss a chance to condemn Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, Israelis lament the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. Instead of pointing fingers, why can’t both sides not only admit, but stress their own wrongdoings?
I am a Jew. I am a Zionist. I am an ardent supporter of the two-state solution. I admit without reservation that Israel’s handling of the Palestinian crisis in recent years has been grossly ignorant and irresponsible. However, in Monday’s forum, there was no such recognition of guilt.
Panelists spent their allotted time criticizing the actions of Israel and failed to mention any responsibility on the part of Palestinians. As a result, the forum proved to be more of a slanderous outcry for action than a productive dialogue.
The BDS campaign, the central topic of Monday’s forum, is a movement which is, in my opinion, in a direct opposition to peace. It demands an end to “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” and for the complete dismantling of the security fence currently dividing Israel from the West Bank and Gaza. Such demands are not only one-sided, but are also prone to widespread misinterpretation.
Jeremy Ben Ami, founder of the pro-peace group J-Street, writes that “too many in and around the BDS movement refuse to acknowledge either the legitimacy of Israel or the right of the Jewish people as well as the Palestinian people to a state.”
In addition, singling out what could be called the only democratic state in the Middle East seems hypocritical. Why not boycott the likes of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Iran, where human rights violations are rampant and corruption widespread?
Yves Engler, one of the panelists, fervently argued for the boycott of Israeli made goods, yet fell short of supporting this year’s government sanctions on Iranian oil.
The situation isn’t improved by the fact that some of Nadeau’s statements are a bit misleading. Israel does not, in fact, intentionally bomb public institutions. Rather, it makes a considerable effort to avoid civilian casualties. Yet when Hamas continues to fire rockets from densely populated areas, it becomes increasingly difficult for Israel to fight its enemies.
With such a polarized debate, it is easy to point fingers and perhaps that is precisely what I am doing here in these concluding remarks. However, it is only to highlight the shortcomings of the panel. Instead of vilifying one another, let us be more commodious in our arguments so that we may come one step closer to reconciliation.