Israeli Issues at Dartmouth

Multiple Israeli-Palestinan activist groups are active on Dartmouth’s campus.

Multiple Israeli-Palestinan activist groups are active on Dartmouth’s campus.

Dartmouth students pay an extraordinary amount of attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict, far more than expected for a small rural New England college. From the protest at former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s speech earlier this year to the Dartmouth Radical’s Israel Issue, anti-Israel activities here seem to be a common feature. While not as publicized, the pro-Israel movement on campus is equally strong, with many lectures and events every term highlighting Israeli issues, politics, and culture, as well as exploring the Jewish connection to Israel. For those unfamiliar with the various groups that are party to this debate, it is important to differentiate between their often blurred lines.

The two Jewish organizations on campus play a large role in discussing Israel. Chabad at Dartmouth is a branch of a national Orthodox Jewish movement. It takes a complicated approach to Israeli issues for religious reasons, generally adopting a conservative approach to the Israel question. In spite of (or because of) this, Chabad’s Birthright Israel trip has been quite popular. While Dartmouth College Hillel does not take an official stance on Israel, this branch of a national organization for Jewish students often hosts events relating to Israeli culture, history and holidays that are open to the entire campus. Hillel also runs a Birthright Israel trip and encourages student involvement.

Three Israel-Palestine-related political groups are active on Dartmouth’s campus. J Street U is a branch of a national organization and shares many members with Hillel. The largest of the campus political organizations, J Street takes a firm pro-Israel, pro-Two State Solution view of the conflict. It hosts many events and falls on the moderate to the liberal side of the conflict. Dartmouth Students for Israel is a smaller organization with members from both Chabad and Hillel. DSI is a local group that includes campus American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) members under its umbrella. Both DSI and AIPAC are decidedly pro-Israel, with members often leaning towards conservative views on the conflict, although J Street members also participate in AIPAC and DSI events. The third campus group, Students for Justice in Palestine, is unique, with the smallest membership among the three. The national SJP is an unofficial, loose coalition of college groups, so the Dartmouth SJP is free to create its own policy. Unlike the radical national movement, the SJP at Dartmouth has proved itself to be more moderate. Its members often attend J Street events and hold views on the conflict only slightly more liberal than those of J Street.

With many references to the “liberal” and “conservative” views of the conflict, it is best to define them for the uninformed. The traditional narrative of Israel’s genesis holds that over many years, Jews facing persecution in their homelands around the world immigrated to what was at first a province of the Ottoman Empire and later a British “mandate.” These Jews bought and settled land in the territory, many joining traditional, often socialist, farming communities with the desire to return to a Biblical way of life. These communities were targeted by local Arabs who resented the Jewish presence and their comparative prosperity. The British declared their intention to turn the territory into a “national home” for the Jews, yet simultaneously began to limit Jewish immigration. With both Arab and Jewish opposition to British rule, the British withdrew in 1947. With conflict between Jews and Arabs intensifying, the UN drew up a plan to partition the land into Jewish and Arab states, which was accepted by Jewish representatives and rejected by Arabs. Jewish organizations then came together to declare independence in 1948, and a civil war ensued. The new country would be a Jewish State, but not a theocracy, and would guarantee religious freedom. The surrounding Arab countries also declared war on the new State of Israel, vowing to “push the Jews into the sea.” As the formerly far-fetched Israeli victory became more likely, many Arabs fled out of fear or on the recommendation of Arab leaders. Some were also deported by Israel troops. After Israeli independence, many wars ensued, with the current status quo seeing Israel in control of the entire territory, including parts designated for Arabs in the original UN partition.  Despite many attempts at peace, every proposal has failed, either due to insurmountable issues or rejection on the part of Arab leaders.

The principle issues debated today include, in a general order of importance: the right of the Arabs who left Israel in 1948 to return, the fate of the lands originally designated for Arabs and taken by Israel, the control of Jerusalem and other holy sites, and the recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. One of the greatest barriers to the resolution of these issues is the fact that the above history is not universally accepted. As with any important event, there are many sides with many differing viewpoints. Alternative tellings place emphasis on the deportation of Arabs from the newly formed Jewish State, as well as real and alleged actions against Arabs on the part of Israeli forces.

A recent opinion piece in the Daily Dartmouth outlined these views. The writers of this piece are coincidentally two members of SJP, just as the writer of this piece is the President of DSI. While both articles are by default biased, there is a more important commonality that is not immediately evident. Unlike the protests and diatribes of groups such as RealTalk and the Dartmouth Radical, both articles are committed to respectful dialogue.

We often throw round the words “respectful dialogue.” Despite it being no more than a remote, almost intangible ideal, it seems to be the goal of almost every reasonable person when it comes to very important issues. This article began by saying that the attention paid to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Dartmouth’s campus is extraordinary. It is not extraordinary because of the radical protests that have clouded campus this year. In fact, the protestors represent a miniscule yet incredibly vocal claque in the broader Israel-Palestine conflict. They are nothing unique: all over the country, all over the world, career protestors have taken up the degradation of Israel as a flagship cause. In fact, we here at Dartmouth are blessed by the comparative scale of our protests: we have yet to see any of the infamous “Apartheid Walls.” What makes our campus extraordinary is that we have a true respectful dialog regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. SJP, DSI, and J Street members regularly go to the same lectures. They talk with each other, they agree, they disagree. They do not yell, they do not scream, they do not deride each other or each others’ backgrounds. I may disagree with what I read, many may disagree with my words, but none of us will tell the other their opinions are illegitimate. Here at Dartmouth, we strive for peace. We may have vastly differing views on how it will be achieved, but we know one day it will come. We know this because here at Dartmouth, the process has already begun.