Radical to Constructive: A Vision for Pro-Palestinian Advocacy Reform

By Ariella Axler

The notion that Palestine and Israel are mutually exclusive has become the norm in the political spheres of many college campuses. Once again, this past weekend’s National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference, hosted on the Stanford campus, exhibited the hardline nature of such groups.

The closed conference, with only three sessions open to the public, is in and of itself a sign of the movement’s aversion to dialogue. I am an avid supporter of Israel who enthusiastically endorses the official establishment and strengthening of a Palestinian state.

It is disappointing that the advocacy messages of the National SJP conference preach the opposite of respect and tolerance by focusing on blaming and delegitimizing Israel and the nation’s support from America, its strongest ally.

It is unfortunate how the conference and the key messages of “pro-Palestinian” campus groups, rather than emphasizing topics of Palestinian state-building, position themselves as hateful, anti-Israel cadres.

The theme of the National SJP conference, from “Margin to Center,” will have no concrete implications without a systemic change of pro-Palestinian advocacy. The Palestinian issue has been marginalized on this campus, and on campuses nationally, because the groups position themselves as extremist, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist haters.

And, despite the Jewish members of SJP who hold themselves as testimony that the movement is not against Judaism, anti-Zionism is a contemporary manifestation of anti-Semitism.

The radical nature of the National SJP conference is shaped by the historical affiliations and actions of the organization. Last year, the Electronic Intifada endorsed the National SJP conference on its site, and the group has previously placed eviction notices on the doors of Jewish students.

Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER) is not an official chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, but by sponsoring this conference, SPER dug themselves into a deeper hole of extremism.

The concentration of the National SJP conference on Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) goals epitomizes the hostile nature of the Palestinian student groups on college campuses. Masking itself as a form of “non-violent” protest, the fundamental idea of BDS that supporting one’s community means subverting another’s is the opposite of peaceful, conciliatory action.

It is important to highlight the positive, constructive aspects of the National SJP conference, such as the cultural and educational activities during the weekend. For example, “Raise the Keffiyeh: Celebrating a Night of Palestinian Culture,” was an arts event open to the public.

Promoting positive messages about Palestinian culture motivates more involvement in learning about the vibrancy of the nation. As well, an internal conference session conducted about combating Islamophobia has relevant applications to exposing distorted rhetoric in the national security sphere. Identifying specific aspects for political reform is much more effective than the generalized campaign of SJP that inevitably makes tangible accomplishment more difficult.

In seeking to bridge together the struggles of many communities, SJP generates a polarized, victim-aggressor dialogue — a strategy that counter-productively dismisses the accountability of a “victim.”

Firstly, the horrifyingly erroneousness parallels SJP draws between the conditions in Palestine, Apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the United States disregard the complexity of these tragedies.

Yet, even for those who see utility in bridging the struggles of the underdog, the “f-k The Man” approach is not effective for promoting progress in Palestine. Israel ending the condemned “occupation” will not solve the problem of intense rift in the Palestinian government between Hamas and the PA, dysfunction of leadership due to years of intense corruption under Arafat, and the dire impoverishment of the Palestinian people who have had no capable authority to develop the economy or build societal infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the past leaders of the Palestinian nation, like the SJP movement, have spent too much of their energy finger-pointing at Israel rather than focusing on creating their own prosperity.

The way in which the strengthening of Palestine on college campuses hinges on the weakening of Israel reflects a distorted message about the reality of peace creation between Israel and Palestine.

Development of a strong, flourishing Palestinian state, accepting of and in peace with Israel, is one of the greatest hopes of many contemporary Israelis.

A pro-Palestinian movement that redirects its efforts from fighting against Israel to focusing on Palestinian leadership reform and economic development would not just move from the margins to the center, but would actually have a tangible impact.

Contact Ariella Axler at aaxler ‘at’ stanford.edu