Letter to the Editor: ‘Underdog’ narrative is important, but so is truth

On May 15, 2017, Northwestern’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine invited a woman charged with complicity in the bombing of a supermarket and the murder of two Israeli students to speak for their Israeli Apartheid Week. As a liberal Jew who’s lived in Israel for a year and seen the obtrusive wall separating the State of Israel from its occupied territories, I’m all for being critical of the Jewish state when such critiques are merited.

I’m a staunch believer that one can be anti-the Israeli government, but still pro-Israel, just as one can be vehemently against Donald Trump and his administration without being “anti-American.” But there’s a stark difference between being critical of Israel and promoting its destruction. Likewise, a bright, fine line exists between political activists and terrorists.

Yesterday’s article in The Daily Northwestern blatantly disregarded these differences and, frankly, misrepresented the truth.

To begin, the article’s headline likens Rasmea Odeh to a community organizer instead of a convicted terrorist. The caption under the photo of Odeh said, “Palestinian organizer Rasmea Odeh speaks about her fight for liberation …” Odeh’s “fight for liberation” included the murder of two innocent Israelis.

The initial version of the article (having since been corrected, though after its printing and widespread circulation) failed to mention the 150 people who attended the vigil, including University President Morton Schapiro among many other university officials. This omission of facts is not only reckless journalism, but also completely discredits the widespread convictions of many students who do not see Odeh as an “organizer” as the article claims, but as a terrorist.

Furthermore, the original article falsely claimed that Hillel was the sole organizer of the event. In reality, students from Hillel, Wildcats For Israel and J Street U, three organizations with different visions, members, purposes and political leanings joined together to plan the vigil. Once again, this omission of facts undermines the significance of the vigil and the remarkable plurality of its participants: Jews and non-Jews, liberals and conservatives, students and faculty.

The article included a quote from Odeh in which she said, “I will continue the struggle … for self-determination and for the establishment of a democratic state on the entirety of the historic land of Palestine.” The establishment of a sovereign Palestine over the entirety of the land may initially seem reasonable, but in reality is coded language for the complete destruction of the State of Israel, the one Jewish nation in the world. This quote highlights Odeh’s radicalism but is framed as rational discourse.

By all means, oppose specific policies of the Israeli government that you find disturbing or wrong. But, please, do not label a terrorist as an “organizer,” or endorse the destruction of the State of Israel without mentioning that these are radical and offensive viewpoints.

The greatest test of a people, a nation or a group is how they address their own wrongdoers. I’m confident that Hillel, Wildcats for Israel and J-Street U would condemn any and all Jewish acts of terror and would never desire to bring such people to campus. Clearly, the same cannot be said of Students for Justice in Palestine who, instead of condemning them, laud them.

The article concluded with a quote about the “Israeli, Zionist and colonist” account being the dominant narrative that unfairly outweighs an “underdog narrative of the Palestinians.” While I wholeheartedly agree with the need for the “underdog” Palestinian narrative to be understood, I worry about our campus’s blindness to nuance.

The topdog, underdog analysis is irrelevant to what is true and moral. The ebbs and flows of history might anchor how each narrative is viewed at different times, but truth and nuance will forever be blind to the biased lenses through which each narrative is viewed. Don’t equate the underdog’s narrative to truth and justice, simply on the grounds that they are the underdog.

Joseph Charney, Medill freshman