On Saturday, days ahead of its 71st birthday, Israel was bombarded with more than 700 missiles, leaving hundreds injured and four dead. My own family had to spend the night in bomb shelters to safeguard their lives. Fear coursed through my veins, but not solely for these reasons. I was scared because of a rumor a friend told me, or so I believed it to be. This rumor was a deplorable fact — a Jewish student approached the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) table in Glenn G. Bartle Library, only to tear up their poster and engage in aggressive behavior toward them.
I was shaken. Although I have my disagreements with the group, my experiences have taught me that discourse and dialogue trump any impulsive behavior invoked by emotions. I disagree with the actions taken by this individual, but our friends at SJP seem to have forgotten an important truth — that one student, one Jew, one Zionist, does not represent an entire community. I know this because I am a member of the Zionist community, and a proud member as well. As president of a Zionist, nondenominational, apolitical and pro-peace group at Binghamton University, I understand the value of creating a diverse platform for discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and welcoming all opinions, regardless of how contrary they stand to our group’s. I am spending my summer researching ways to establish a two-state solution because I am passionate about both sides of this conflict. However, most students in the Zionist community reserve the right to contest ideologies that are denouncing an integral part of their faith and beliefs, and retain their right to freedom of speech — as University President Harvey Stenger so eloquently stated earlier this week.
Because SJP is not chartered on our campus, the group does not have a mandate. It is notable to mention, nevertheless, that this group was born out of a prior chapter of SJP that was dismantled at BU in 2014. In the former SJP’s charter, it is stated that “At the inaugural meeting of Binghamton University Students for Justice in Palestine on January 31, 2014, a unanimous vote was taken to prohibit the leadership of SJP from engaging in any form of official collaboration, cooperation or event co-sponsorship with the following student organizations and groups, due to their unyielding support for … Israel: Binghamton University Zionist Organization (BUZO), Bearcats for Israel, … [Hillel-Jewish] Student Union.” After these organizations, along with other Jewish groups, posted an editorial on their convictions about Israel, SJP added more groups to their boycott.
I hope that if SJP on our campus becomes chartered, Jewish voices will not be silenced as they were in 2014. Tousif Khan, the president of SJP, alleges that there is irreconcilable tension between the Zionist and anti-Zionist community on our campus, citing that our community chooses to “resort [to] racist violence to silence [them].” Here, I will reiterate that the actions of one do not reflect upon a community of thousands. We are a community of individuals who support the right to Jewish self-determination in their ancestral homeland, and recognize that the young state is far from perfect, but maintain that belligerence is never the answer. Khan further claims that members of his group “are open to respectful discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” but SJP deletes students’ comments on their Instagram posts and block them if they seem to hold any views supporting the Jewish state.
Regardless, I would like to extend my sincerest apologies to those who were offended and hurt by Tuesday’s events. Tousif, I want you to recognize that although we hold disparate beliefs, we can still respect each other. Maybe next semester we can even have a panel to discuss our opposing views to reach further understanding about the future of the region. However, the only way we will ever reach peace is if we teach students how to learn about both sides, rather than dehumanizing and disparaging one side to reach a political objective. After all, this conflict is something greater than ourselves, and the fate of millions rests upon the decisions we make today.
Shiraz Otani is the president of BUZO and a junior majoring in political science.