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We need to stop talking about Israel and Palestine so much

And if we do talk about it, it’s time for constructive dialogue not pointless protests


 

It is sad day when the tone surrounding discussions of an issue at university campuses descends to such a point that individuals feel they have to form an organized group to promote such reasonable ideas as listening to the other side and recognizing that “none of the principal parties is absolutely right and none is absolutely wrong.”

But that does seem to be where we’re at when it come to Israel and Palestine. Students at McGill have formed a new group as “a response to too much inflammatory rhetoric on campus, as opposed to substantive discussion and dialogue,” one of the group’s vice presidents, Michah Stettin, told the McGill Daily. “We felt that there was a need to have a group on campus that was hospitable to numerous viewpoints.”

Omeq, the group’s name, comes “from the letters OMQ, which form the root of the word ‘depth’ or “profundity” in both Hebrew and Arabic.” Several of the group’s leaders are involved in the Jewish community and the group says the majority of founding members describe themselves as “critically pro Israel.”

The fact is that at universities across the country this debate has been hijacked by extremists. While the anti-Israel crowd is noisier and certainly gets more attention, there is a significant–and extreme–pro-Israel side on Canadian university campuses.

Groups like the Hasbara Fellowships take students to Israel for over two weeks of “pro-Israel education” and pays students on several campuses to advocate for Israel. Israeli army soldiers recently spoke at McGill, while Concordia Hillel has handed out pamphlets encouraging students to volunteer for the Israeli army.

When I was editor of the Concordian, I knew that almost any mention of Israel or Palestine would trigger a letter to the editor calling us biased towards one side or the other (if both sides called us biased towards the other then I knew we had done our job).

There is no other issue on Canadian campuses that is as polarizing and driven by hyperbole.

There is no event that gets students as much attention from the mainstream media as Israeli Apartheid Week and there is no other foreign conflict that gets as much ink in the student press.

Obviously, it is not just on campuses, the Israel-Palestine conflict gets a disproportionate amount of attention from Canadian media and politicians of all stripes.

Personally, I’m not sure why this conflict gets so much coverage and the other conflicts around the world, such as the conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara, get so little.

While I am certain that more students have strong opinions on these issues than most other foreign conflicts, I would argue that the far majority of students aren’t particularly interested.

And I think it’s time we stopped talking about it so much. Student newspapers shouldn’t be publishing the opinions of every armchair commentator with an opinion on this issue and the mainstream media shouldn’t be portraying the Israeli Aparthied Week bunch as any more than the small group that they are.

Perhaps part of my problem with this whole debate is that I really don’t know what either side hopes to accomplish on Canadian university campuses. I see nothing more than competing propaganda campaigns that will have no effect on the actual situation.

Certainly, there is room for discussion about all international conflicts, including this one, at Canadian universities. I think a group like Omeq is a good step towards moving toward constructive dialogue, rather than pointless protests.

Related: Why student politics and the Middle East don’t mix


 

We need to stop talking about Israel and Palestine so much

  1. I hate the wishy washy moral equivalency argument your piece here implicitly makes – that the conflict is somehow distant, and both parties are to blame, and Canadians can just wash our hands of it. Well it’s not true. Unlike the Western Sahara conflict, or the conflict in East Timor, Israeli military occupation is being financed by the North American governments and private sector. Developers in Toronto and Montreal build and sell condos in the West Bank – on Palestinian villages that host demonstrations every Friday.

    Canadian universities take up research partnerships with Israeli ones that do some fine work – like medical research – and also do some abhorrent work like building bombs that killed 1400 civilians in Gaza last year. We are not morally neutral. Our institutions in Canada support Israel, and while pro-Palestinian activists may be more vocal on campus, look at our Prime Minister – look at which side has more money and power right now?

    Instead of saying this critical issue needs less coverage, why don’t you cover more international affairs in this space? Why not interview Timorese or Moroccan students? We have them in our universities. A plea for more ignorance and less interest in a critical social issue is hardly unexpected from the pages of the modern Macleans, but it is still hardly something any “journalist” would be proud of.

  2. I don’t know if we should pay less attention to the issue although it’d be nice to see the rhetoric dialed down a bit. As long as both sides pretend the other doesn’t have any legitimate concerns, that the other side is solely responsible for the conflict, and that the ball is solely in the other sides court in terms of moving towards peace we wont get anywhere on this issue. I stopped really caring about this issue as neither side seems willing to compromise.

  3. This sounds like a positive step towards something more constructive. A hermeneutical approach to this complex conflict where there are two rights and two wrongs is needed or else it will remain in perpetual stalemate. It’s sad to see students get polarized and one-sided over an issue that none of them can fully comprehend. Instead of wasting their energies on propaganda they should find ways to solve this conflict by constructive dialogue where people feel safe and respected, not bullied and vilified. Good on ya, Omeq. I hope you can cut through the banter and actually use your educations for something positive instead of just wasting peoples time and obstructing my path to the Admin building on my campus. It’s annoying especially in the Canadian winter.

  4. Given that there is in fact no letter “o” in the Arabic alphabet, the premise that Omeq is somehow balanced and fair seems rather implausible. More likely just another Hasbara front trying to mask the Israeli occupation with “dialogue”.

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