If one looked at the way students played out the Israeli divestment issue at Loyola, it was a slapdash effort at best. An issue that thousands of academics have studied was suddenly transformed into something black and white. But furthermore, we pitted ourselves against each other. We cheered for students who voiced opinions we shared and snickered at those who had opinions and stories that threatened our own narratives. And in the end, the resolution was put under the rug, and both parties felt hurt.
Hamas and Netanyahu are enemies, but we shouldn’t be.
To begin, I was against the divestment resolution because of its hopes to isolate our university from the Iron Dome. One of the organizations the resolution was trying to divest from was a company called Raytheon, due to its partnership with Israel in creating the Iron Dome defense system. The Iron Dome doesn’t target human beings, but rather creates a mortar system that intercepts incoming rockets before they make their impact on cities.
If Israel did not have a defense system to protect its citizens from Gazan rockets, would that make us feel like we are making the world a better place? Urging Israel to end its occupation in the West Bank and its siege on Gaza is one thing, but trying to “even the odds” of this conflict is abhorrent. That is not social justice but flat out vengeance. I am saddened that some of my fellow students cannot see the difference, and I am concerned that there are people on both sides who try to blend social justice with vengeance into some weird activist cocktail.
As I have said time and time again, though, Israel needs to end its occupation in the West Bank and its settlement construction in order to maintain the democratic values that its original founders intended. But I’m concerned the divestment resolution illustrated that Loyola’s student body wanted to bring justice across the world by denying Israel’s right to exist. That kind of campaign is something that I, and many others, cannot condone.
But I want to be proven otherwise.
A dear friend of mine named Hank Stillwell is for the divestment resolution, and after he wrote in The Phoenix against Fr. Garanzini’s statement, I reached out and asked if we could talk. Our conversation lasted three hours, as we talked about every issue from the student body, to the violence of Operation Protective Edge, to the first and second intifada and the future of the Middle East. At the end of it all, there were general agreements on the situation. We may still argue on some things, but a mutual respect emerged from our debate. That one conversation was the first time I felt the discussion about Israel and Palestine had improved on this campus.
So here is what I suggest. If the divestment coalition wants to prove its mission is for the sake of human rights and not for the sake of denying Jews a state, then it must explain its reasoning to the Jewish community. Therefore, I challenge advocates for and against the divestment measure to actually talk to one another. Grab lunch, have some coffee — just talk in an environment where you don’t need to impress anyone. Challenge each other when you disagree, and acknowledge when the other person has good points. Your discussion may not get any “upvotes” on Yik-Yak or “likes” on Facebook, but I guarantee it will result in a better resolution and campus environment.
Loyola’s student body is passionate and seeks social justice. That is a wonderful thing, and I am so proud of it. However, social justice does not come out of feelings of spite or revenge. I hope that next year, if the Middle East becomes a focal point of student government, some students will have the courage to talk in casual environments where ideas are challenged but individuals are valued.
The choice is yours, students of Loyola. If you want to sit in enclaves calling those who disagree with you uninformed, racist zio-nazi terrorists, be my guest. If you want to celebrate diversity without acknowledging that others may have different, and dare I say, valid arguments, go for it.
But I hope you prove me wrong.
Samuel Israel is a contributing columnist