Opinion Submission: Pro-Palestine shouldn’t mean anti-Israel

Editor’s note: This article contains discussion of sexual violence. Resources and helplines can be found at the bottom of the piece.

Upon walking out from a pleasant Shabbat morning at Hillel with my Jewish peers, I found a bunch of students pitching tents on the steps of Brookings. I wasn’t so surprised to see this, as campuses around the country have been copying Columbia’s famous “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” But I was taken aback as I watched a girl I know is Jewish proudly chant, “When people are occupied, resistance is justified!” I was immediately overwhelmed by a sense of nausea as this phrase created a horrific image of what this girl was supporting in my head. I apologize for the graphic imagery, but I couldn’t help but imagine this female Jewish Washington University student sitting in the back of a room in Kibbutz Be’eri, nodding in approval as a Hamas terrorist rapes a young Jewish-Israeli woman. That was Hamas’ “resistance” on Oct. 7. I am in total disbelief that we’ve reached a point of such moral depravity at this point in history that a student at a top-30 school in America, much less a Jewish girl, could possibly chant such a thing.

I’ve tried to understand how we’ve degraded to such disappointing levels, and I think there is a trend that is both an example of the problem and directly causing it. Currently, the most popular names for the opposing groups on our campus have been “pro-Palestine” and “pro-Israel.” These labels trick the general public into a narrative that these two views are mutually exclusive.

We all have similar sets of shared values (i.e. justice, compassion, dignity, etc.), but these values often come into conflict within our own thinking. Instead of realizing our collective shared values, and that our competing opinions are based on our different sources of information and prioritized values, many assume that our core goals clash. 

Yet, as I’ve talked to my friends who hope for a victory for Israel in its war against Hamas, I have never heard someone say the Palestinians don’t have a right to self-determination in their homeland. I am aware this extreme position exists, but I think the vast majority of thoughtful individuals reject that notion. To be logically consistent, if one believes that the Jews’ indigeneity to the land of Israel grants them rights to self-determination there, one must also hold that Palestinians’ indigeneity grants them rights to self-determination within that land as well. This is overwhelmingly true among those I’ve talked to who are labeled “pro-Israel” at Washington University. Equally validating and valuing Jewish and Palestinian rights to self-determination is a necessary foundation before discussing steps toward solutions.

 So, just because people are pro-Israel does not mean they are anti-Palestine. Most who are labeled as “pro-Israel” have the capacity to support the human rights of the Palestinian people while also supporting those of Israelis, making them both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. 

Disappointingly, I’ve observed very different rhetoric in articles, at protests, and at the meeting about the divestment resolution from many of those who label themselves “pro-Palestine.” Zionism is the belief in the Jews’ right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. It is baffling to me that people who vehemently support the Palestinian right to self-determination are so quick to reject the Jewish right to self-determination. No, Zionism does not mean white settler colonialism. And no, Zionism doesn’t mean apartheid and genocide. These are misconceptions that have been spread with the intention of demonizing the Jewish state. 

I’m open to criticism of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, just like I’m open to criticism of the American government’s treatment of certain groups in the U.S.; but when people criticize the American government, we seldom see movements that don’t “believe in America’s right to exist.” And even if one verbally denies supporting the annihilation of Israel, calling for an unconditional ceasefire against a terrorist group vowing to repeat Oct. 7 over and over again until Israel is wiped off the map is just as anti-Zionist. Somehow, the oversimplified labels in the Israel-Hamas conflict have fooled the large majority of the most active “pro-Palestine” supporters into believing that they must be anti-Zionist in order to be pro-Palestine. These people have been convinced that the 3,000-year-old hopeful vision for Jewish self-determination is wholly mutually exclusive with Palestinian human rights. 

This misconception is expressed in chants like “from the river to the sea” and “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.” Aside from mirroring Hamas language, the first chant propagates a zero-sum mindset that all Palestinians from Gaza, including Hamas, must be allowed to immigrate to Israel; or worse, that the entire Jewish state should be replaced by an Arab state called Palestine. The whole point of the chant is that there will be no sharing and no compromise. Palestine, not Israel, will stretch “from the river to the sea.” Similarly, the second chant forces “pro-Palestine” supporters to be anti-Israel’s survival by asserting that the only possible solution for the conflict is armed “resistance,” which has historically come in the form of terrorism against Jews

In this mindset, there is no room for diplomatic, peaceful solutions to Israel’s perceived mistreatment of Palestinians. This chant only serves to justify the horrific violence that Hamas has carried out and continues to carry out against Jewish civilians in the state of Israel. Ironically, as opinion columnist Bret Stephens explains, this exact behavior is what has led so many innocent Palestinians to be killed, directly in contrast with “pro-Palestine” protesters’ stated goals. 

In spreading messages of polarization such as above, those who label themselves as “pro-Palestine” may actually be harming their own agenda by implanting this zero-sum outlook into the heads of people who believe in the Jewish right to self-determination. They are turning potential allies who fundamentally agree with their values of protecting civilians into perceived enemies who feel that they must defend Israel from those who seek its annihilation. 

If I lived in Israel, I could see myself as part of the moderate left protesting in Tel Aviv to take more care to protect civilian lives in Gaza. But as a student on this campus, I’m so overwhelmed by the anti-Israel rhetoric that I’ve fallen into the role of advocating for the 10 million citizens there and the 15 million Jews worldwide that are affected by this messaging. 

We’ve sunken to a level with so little capacity for nuance that we’ve lost the ability to have any productive conversation. The fact that Chancellor Martin has good reason to fear being accosted while walking outside on campus is not productive for encouraging change in the administration’s attitude toward this conflict. The fact that I’m physically afraid to walk near a protest with my yarmulke on my head, because Resist WashU’s protest featured a man with a Hamas headband and flag, limits our ability to dialogue about a solution that can guarantee a successful future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. 

Those who label themselves “pro-Palestine” have effectively become mainly “anti-Israel” and have in many ways neglected the exact goals they claim to be fighting for. Replacing constructive conversations with intimidating and even violent protests that spread hate against Israel is not helping protect the innocent civilians in Gaza who are being hurt by this war between Hamas and Israel. 

A recent article written by two Jewish students didn’t focus on peace for Palestinians; it just spread disinformation to vilify Zionism. The protests have most recently become distorted from protecting Palestinians and often focus on trying to prove a point about free speech and police brutality at our university. How did the Bear Day protest benefit Palestinian lives? According to a recent article, it was misdirected at incoming students in a way that will not truly affect the University’s investments. How did chanting that WUPD and the KKK are the same help Palestinians? How did pitching a tent on campus save Palestinian lives? From my perspective, all it did was attempt to lure police and the University into a potentially PR-damning situation. Which Palestinian’s life was protected as a result of 100+ people being arrested on the East End this past Saturday?

As we approach the end of school and graduation, I beg those labeling themselves “pro-Palestine” to reconsider their positions, tactics, and messaging. “Pro-Israel” advocates are not enemies surrounding the protection of Palestinian lives. We are simply at odds over the question of Israel’s survival — which shouldn’t be a question in the first place. Out of a desire to truly protect Palestinians as well as Israel and Jewish people around the world, I ask advocates to engage in action that produces tangible and measurable results toward helping Palestinians. 

To be “pro-Palestine,” one does not have to justify the horrific acts of terror that were committed on Oct. 7. To be “pro-Palestine,” one need not be anti-Israel. And being anti-Israel doesn’t make one effectively pro-Palestine. Disruptive and intimidating protests vilifying the Jewish state do not help the Palestinian people. I hope that by reexamining our deceptive labels and how they negatively oversimplify this conflict, we can find more effective ways to work together to actualize our shared value of human life, no matter its nationality.

The Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (S.A.R.A.H) provides confidential and anonymous support and can be reached at 314-935-8080 24/7 during the fall and spring academic semesters.

There are counselors at the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center, located in Seigle Hall, Suite 435, available confidentially to any University student. The office can be reached at 314-935-3445 or by email at [email protected].

The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at 1-800-656-4673 or via online chat at https://hotline.rainn.org/online 24/7.

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