Boxerman: Israel-Palestine discussions lack nuance


Josh Boxerman, Guest Columnist

As a pro-Israel Jew, I strongly believe in the state of Israel. Yet, as a liberal American, I find many of its actions and policies antithetical to my values. At J Street, this is a contradiction we live and breathe. Any attempt to clarify the complex history and clashing narratives of Israelis and Palestinians into concrete, easy-to-digest talking points will inevitably fail to truly educate anybody. But instead of promoting understanding, such tactics are used to assert victimhood and sidestep one’s own problematic past.

We can see this dynamic in the Students for Justice in Palestine events during Social Justice Week, and the ensuing discussion in The Daily surrounding the use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israeli policy. The columns by Jonathan Kamel, reacting to the SJP events, and Dalia Fuleihan and Matthew Kovac, defending them, oversimplified the issues and whitewashed legitimate criticism.

The situation in Israel and Palestine is far more complex than a question of apartheid or not, but the discussion so far in this space hasn’t been. Kamel was right to point out that unlike in apartheid South Africa, minority citizens within Israel have full legal rights — in fact, there are Palestinians in the parliament and the Supreme Court. Fuleihan and Kovac were right to respond that Palestinian citizens of Israel are economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized. Both pieces skirt issues uncomfortable to them while emphasizing wrongs they see on the other side.

This pattern continued in the discussion of terror and occupation. Fuleihan and Kovac ignored the chilling effect of terror on relations by recalling its use in South Africa by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress — as if that rationalized targeting innocents. Kamel sidestepped the Israeli presence in the West Bank, refusing even to use the word “occupation” — as if he could make his readership forget the suffering directly caused by the application of Israeli power in the name of Israeli security.

But if you only focus on Israeli power or only on Israeli security, you miss the point. Neither side has a monopoly on suffering or violence. One-sided narratives cause us to miss the possibility for a realistic peace.

For decades, the discourse on the conflict has centered around the two-state solution. The United Nations has long recognized Israel within its original borders and has recently recognized Palestine within the West Bank and Gaza. The world sees that the future includes Israel and Palestine living side by side. The borders would be based on the pre-1967 alignment with mutually-agreed-upon land swaps and an agreement on Jerusalem.

The creation of Palestine secures the Jewish future with Israel as a Jewish and democratic state at peace with its neighbors. It also liberates Palestinians in the West Bank, granting them sovereignty and space to develop as a nation on the world stage.

The danger posed by the annexationist settlement movement as well as groups like SJP that oppose “normalization” — dialogue and compromise with oppressors — is that the window for territorial compromise will close. In Israel-Palestine, the resulting binational state would be one where no one feels secure, with politics dominated by competition between the groups. In a two-state solution, each would have a place to call their own, and Palestinian citizens of Israel would have a sovereign government next door to advocate for them.

We can’t erase wrongs that have already been done. We can’t un-bomb a bus or un-demolish a home. No political solution can bring back what’s been lost.

This is a disheartening idea. But it’s also incredibly powerful because there can be justice for some. There can be justice for the girl in Sderot who can’t sleep for fear that a rocket might fall on her head because of who she is and where she lives. There can be justice for the boy in Bil’in who fears that the Jesh (Israel Defense Forces) will come in the night because of the protests his father attends on Friday afternoons. By embracing a doctrine of peace above all else, we can truly advance social justice for them.

On campus, this means we need a new type of conversation that takes all perspectives into account. It means intellectual honesty instead of each side insisting its own cherry-picked “facts” are correct. It means inviting Hillel, which has a social justice wing, alongside groups like For Members Only and Alianza — and not dismissing it as a justifier of oppression.

At J Street, we maintain our convictions not through ideological rigidity but by a firm belief in people, pragmatism and progress. Traditional Israel advocates justify the current situation by their unflinching faith in the necessity of Zionism. We, on the other hand, justify being pro-Israel by an unyielding belief that it didn’t have to turn out this way, and it doesn’t have to stay this way. We invite students of all persuasions to join us Thursday at 7 p.m. in Kresge 4-435 as we tackle tough questions head on.

Josh Boxerman is a Weinberg sophomore and a co-founder of the Northwestern chapter of J Street U. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].