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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Insufficient credentials

Published: November 5, 2010
Section: Editorials

This week, hundreds of thousands of people traveled to Washington, D.C. to hear comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert speak at the rally to restore sanity and/or fear. Inspired by extremism in politics and bias in the media, Stewart told the crowd “if we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

We wish Stewart would say the same to our campus about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Within the past three weeks, the Brandeis Zionism Alliance and the Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine have each brought speakers to campus to discuss this conflict. Heddy Epstein spoke about the abuses of Israeli power while Irving Roth defended the need for a Jewish state.

Neither of these speakers were experts in any field. They did not have PhDs in Middle Eastern politics or Israeli or Palestinian culture. Instead, foremost among these speakers’ credentials was that they had survived the Holocaust.

We have the utmost respect for Holocaust survivors and do not intend to belittle the weight of their experiences. But while we can appreciate them for their hardships, we question these clubs’ wisdom in bringing these speakers in place of experts on Middle Eastern diplomacy or Israeli government.

As of late, it would appear these clubs have been at war to decide which club can find the most extreme speaker to convince throngs of Brandeis students that their side is correct. Indeed, depending on which side of the aisle you sit, next week is either “Israeli Occupation Awareness Week” or “Israeli Peace Week.” The debate over the name of the week alone should serve as an indication that issues of this conflict run deep into geopolitics, religion and other complexities and nuances which neither Epstein nor Roth addressed.

Surviving tragedy does not an expert make. While we appreciate the roles these speakers have played as activists for their causes, these clubs have used Epstein and Roth and touted their speakers’ Holocaust survival as a means of legitimizing their points of view.

These speakers’ presence on campus is unhelpful without supporting academic analysis and fact.

We hope that next week’s speakers, many of whom do have degrees in the subject matter, will be better equipped to shed light on this matter.