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The nakedness of the Senate

Published: March 28, 2008
Section: Opinions


In recent weeks the Senate has notched two notable decisions under its belt. First, the Senate voted on whether it should pass or vote down a resolution wishing Israel a happy sixtieth birthday. Then, this past Sunday, the Senate chartered, without any discussion , a club called Students for Justice in Palestine.

Students for Justice in Palestine is a national group that has shown through the actions of its members at other campuses that it is an extreme organization and far out of the mainstream, with the UC Davis chapter declaring on its Wiki page, “the main objective of SJP is to declare the existence of the state of Palestine with its rich culture, history and civilization that is bravely standing against global oppression and manifestation of racism, which is the Zionist regime of Israel.” It continues, “the Zionist regime is directly responsible for injustices, insecurity and bloodshed in the Palestine.” One of the founders of SJP, Snehal Shingavi, claims that the occupation of “Palestine” goes back to 1948, with the clear meaning being that Israel and its citizens have no right to exist and have their own nation.

This is clearly not your run of the mill club and despite similar statements from other chapters and innumerable instances of extreme activities, Senators chose to blindly charter the club, while silencing those who were there to speak about the dangers posed by this organization.

Adding to the absurdity is that significantly more time and debate was given to the chartering of Chak De Deis, a dance club, over SJP. A club that chooses to affiliate with an extremist organization deserves very close scrutiny and deliberation. Yet in Senators’ zeal to be “open-minded” and “fair” they neglected their duties to research and understand the issues at hand and chose to disallow those who came to speak about their concerns. After the club was chartered, one of its members, surprised himself, stated, “That was easy.” A group that is as controversial and extreme as SJP should not be given a free and “easy” pass. It should be scrutinized until everyone in the room has had their chance to speak and their concerns addressed.

When choosing to affiliate with an organization, a club immediately takes up the baggage of that organization, whether good or bad. If the main goal of the founders of SJP is simply to further the perspective and understanding of Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, then a name that reflects this better and an organization that does not have all the extremist affiliates of SJP should have been chosen. Choosing this organization to affiliate with was a very poor decision if what the founders are after is not an extreme agenda and immediately turns off many Brandeis students just by the nature of the name and what students associate it with.

Further, choosing to use “Palestine” in the name of the group is inexact and vague and brings up two issues. First, there has never been a Palestinian state of any kind in all of history. Second, and more disturbingly, is that the leaders of the group have decided not to define what constitutes “Palestine.” How can a group be named for something that is neither defined by the group as an entity nor by any physical space?

Dialogue and understanding is not made from the separation of groups into independent fiefdoms. There is an excellent framework in place at Brandeis that would do much more to further the stated aims of the leaders of SJP than to make a new group.

During the Senate meeting I mentioned Arab-Jewish Dialogue as a place for SJP members to go, and a member of SJP responded that there were no Arabs in it. Wouldn’t it make sense to have the members of SJP go to Arab-Jewish Dialogue and create dialogue rather than a new group? That they created SJP is evidence of the more extreme goals that are actually at play here.

Some have made the claim that because there are many Israel groups at Brandeis there is a need for SJP to represent the alternate view. However, the Israel groups are moderate in their stance and advocate for a two-state solution that would be fair to the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, while many SJP chapters pursue the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state and proclaim Zionism to be racism. Nice and moderate.

While claiming that talking about Israel made them uncomfortable, Senators apparently had a different standard when it came to SJP. To prove this point, and knowing it would fail, I attempted a similar procedure as that tried two weeks earlier against discussion of the Israel resolution, to gauge who was still uncomfortable discussing the issue, and magically, everyone who voted before to keep the Israel resolution off the agenda now wanted to keep SJP on the agenda, contradicting their statements from two weeks prior.

What a difference two weeks can make when discussing the Middle East. But it was not because talking about the conflict itself was making Senators uneasy. It was because talking about something that identified Brandeis as a school with a very deep Zionist and Jewish connection that made the Senate uncomfortable. Chartering without any debate Students for Justice in Palestine was a way to soothe a peculiar guilt about this history and the majority identity of the school overpowering minority identities. It’s the guilt about being a majority where nowhere else are you a majority.

There is a double-standard when considering what students cater to in each instance, at once claiming that not everyone supports wishing Israel a happy birthday and so voting not to vote on it, and in the other instance not even taking into account the valid and appropriate opposition from many students to SJP because of the misinformation it may spread and the discomfort it will cause for years to come. Apparently, the objections of certain groups count much more than the objections of students whom the Senate thinks it can simply disregard because they don’t raise hell when something unfavorable to them happens.

Voicing support for Israel is a non-partisan stance and is truly one of the few issues that joins both Democrat and Republican alike, but for Senators at Brandeis, it is controversial and not deserving of any discussion, while the Arab side is so unanimous that it need not be challenged in any way. The actions of the Senate say a lot about who is really winning the war of ideas – that Senators feel they should not discuss Israel because they have been desensitized into thinking that making a statement of support of any kind for Israel is controversial while feeling the need to not even challenge in any way the Arab side because that is the side with the “unheard” voice. Through the strategy of using victim-hood, SJP and its ilk has gained the upper hand by playing to the insecurities of many students.

Brandeis students need to realize that they cannot take the “Oh, it’s Brandeis so of course we support Israel” attitude for granted. If we continue down this path, when your children go here one day you will realize that what you once took for granted is gone. Disregarding the roots of Brandeis by choosing to decide that Israel is a controversial issue, but not the other side, is hypocritical. Brandeis will become just like very other school – except that other schools don’t have the guilt of a Jewish identity and will, and indeed do, wish Israel a happy birthday.

There is certainly a lack of dialogue and open-mindedness when those who come to the Senate to speak against a simple birthday resolution, on the premise that it would be something unbecoming of the Senate and would be inappropriate because some students may feel offended, are the same students who two weeks later come to the Senate asking for their club to be chartered based on the claim that it will be open and provide an avenue for dialogue and understanding. If the members of SJP truly longed for a two-state solution that was fair to all involved then they would have admonished Senators to pass the Israel birthday resolution. That they didn’t is indicative of the true motives of Students for Justice in Palestine and the friendly guise it seems to bring when in fact it is a very radical group that now has a new foundation from which to spread the extremist agenda that has been experienced at campuses across the United States. Brandeis students should be very weary.

Note: The writer is Senator for the Class of 2008 and one of three Senators to vote no on chartering SJP.