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Opinion

Israeli-Palestinian conflict deserves dialogue

Our campus should broach issues through discourse, not unproductive protests

Every campus has an issue that polarizes its students. Whether it’s racism, classism, sexism or support for a war, one topic can transform amicable students into bitter rivals. At Binghamton University, the issue which separates us is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We can allow this issue to continue to divide us, or we can address it head-on through open dialogue and acknowledgment of each other’s views.

I came to BU after graduating from Catholic high school with little knowledge of the conflict, and befriended both Palestinian and Jewish students alike. It was saddening for me to see the oxygen sucked out of the room every time the topic was broached. I saw tears shed and heard voices raised, but didn’t understand why.

This past fall semester, I was fortunate enough to take an Israeli-Palestinian Conflict course with professor Kent Schull. Students became agitated when confronted with facts about Palestinian refugees and settlements in occupied territories. It became clear that the situation could never be solved through rationalism alone because of the deep emotional connections that students from both sides attached to the issue.

It appears the tensions, once confined to isolated conversations, have reached a tipping point. Last week, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) protested outside of the Haifa Symphony Orchestra’s performance at the Anderson Center, only to be met with a counter-protest by pro-Israel students. Students held up the Israeli flag as their peers shouted, “Zionism is racism.” As I walked through the scene, I wondered: What do these protests accomplish?

Some might argue that any conversation, albeit heated, is better than no conversation. I disagree with that. What took place outside the Anderson Center last week was not constructive. No one’s initial opinion was changed. It is a mistake to translate passion for a political issue into radicalism. When attempting to address a situation as nuanced as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must pursue an aggressively moderate stance, recognizing that the only means of making progress is through cooperation between both sides, not coercion as we’ve witnessed in the past.

There are many ways to start a constructive conversation. Given the clear interest among the student body, let’s host a conference, inviting scholars and political activists from both sides of the debate to present their findings and receive questions from students. Many student groups could work together to provide this vital information so that individuals can make educated decisions instead of decisions based on fear and anger. In the meantime, advocates for a Palestinian state could seek to target Israeli institutions supporting apartheid-like policies rather than all Israeli institutions. Pro-Israel students could start a conversation on the many meanings and history of the word “Zionist,” providing another opportunity for the interested Binghamton University student to educate him or herself on the topic.

Just last year, a Hillel at Binghamton E-Board member was dismissed for merely helping to bring a Palestinian activist to campus. We need more individuals willing to demonstrate that level of maturity and patience for those with differing views from their own. The next time you hear an argument concerning this issue, speak up and demonstrate that such conversations are an opportunity to understand one another more fully.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.