Article
Written by Student Rights on 12 January 2010 at 2pm

Opinion: WHY ARE PALESTINIAN SOCIETIES ON CAMPUS NOT PRO-PALESTINE?

By Erica, a student at the London School of Economics (contact info@studentrights.org.uk if you'd like to write an opinion piece for us, too)

As Palestinian journalist Abu Toameh states, “being anti-Israel doesn’t make you pro-Palestine.”  It is easier to be anti-Israel than pro-Palestinian because then you never have to really articulate what you are for, only what you are against.  You never have to face difficult questions on the crimes of both Hamas and Fatah.  You can avoid the very real issue of suicide bombers and direct attacks on civilians by yelling statistics about the deaths of Palestinian children. You can avoid the very problems inherent within Palestinian society, like honor killings, that cannot be blamed on Israel.  At a University, you can pursue your agenda single-mindedly, without accounting for those around you.

Earlier this year, Student Rights covered the events at the London School of Economics on the “twinning” of the LSE Student’s Union with the Islamic University of Gaza.  As a student at the LSE, I spoke against this resolution not because I was against “twinning” with a Palestinian university in general, but because I disagreed with the sharing of LSE’s name and reputation with a Hamas-affiliated university.  Professors at the Islamic University of Gaza, unfettered and without criticism, have called gays and lesbians: “a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick”[1] and urge the killing of “Jews… no matter where they are, in any country… [w]herever you meet them, kill them.”[2]

I felt confident that it was surely only a shortage of information that propelled the “twinning” and that with the proper information, no one would want to directly alienate so many of their fellow classmates, during LGBT week no less.  I assumed that the Palestinian Society on campus was acting in a way that they thought would most benefit both LSE and the Islamic University of Gaza.  I was confident that my fellow students would never support something that was obviously deeply offensive and hurtful to students who were gay or Jewish.  How could they support this “twinning” knowing that their fellow student, standing in front of them, was the subject personified of this hatred?  How could they vote yes for this, all the while knowing that they would see me on Houghton Street and know that they had supported a measure that would make me feel like an outsider at my own university?

After all, while the resolution called towards working for some limited online resource sharing, the twinning is largely symbolic, with no real flow of textbooks or supplies moving between us.  If a compromise could be reached to twin with Beir Zeit, Al Quds, or another Palestinian University, why would the Palestinian Society not want do so?  Why wouldn’t they want to involve as many members of campus as possible in their goals?  If their goal is to help Palestinians, then why engage in what is only a symbolic exercise that would fractionalize the LSE campus by twinning with the most controversial of all universities in the disputed territories?  Is a resolution that is so divisive really the best way to further the support for Palestinians on campus?  Is the building of a checkpoint down Houghton Street the best way for the Palestinian Society to gain support?  More importantly, will either of these actions meaningfully help Palestinians?  

They won’t – they are divisive, mean-spirited, and cheap acts that generate publicity by their abrasiveness. Is the Palestinian Society at LSE attempting to alienate those who would otherwise support them?  If not, they must seriously reconsider their methods.  A truly pro-Palestinian society would want to use the talents and energy of as many students as possible to work towards helping Palestinians; not alienate their fellows through radical measures that are only anti-Israel.  I know that this cooperation is possible, because I saw it constantly at my undergraduate university.  

I went to school in a microcosm of a microcosm – New York University in the center of New York City.  The religious leaders of the Jewish and Islamic communities on campus, Rabbi Sarna and Imam Latif, were and still are the closest of friends, as are many Jews and Muslims within the university. This isn’t to say that there were never disagreements, but both in classes and out, the carnivals of insults that are so commonplace at LSE did not exist.  When the famous Danish cartoons were shown at NYU, the Islamic Center at NYU held a peaceful protest outside demonstrating against their showing.  They were joined in prayers by the head Rabbi and members of the Jewish community.  After the 2006 Israeli war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to students at a nearby university.  Imam Latif attended and later he and Rabbi Sarna held a joint discussion for students.  After the horrific shooting at Fort Hood, a joint ceremony was held and discussions – real discussions – happened all over campus.  They were happening virtually too: all over my Facebook mini-feed my friends from both communities exchanged respectful dialogue. Instead of working towards dividing their university and isolating those who disagree with them, the Palestinian Society could organize constructive, productive, and uniting events and actions that we can all support.  

Imagine the political capital that a Palestinian Society on campus could accumulate: instead of spending their time and funds on building a checkpoint on Houghton Street (as is being organized this week), what if they organized a spare clothing or book drive?  They would be hard-pressed not to find supporters - they would have one immediately in this writer.  As a believer in the power of free education, I’d be happy to spend my time organizing the donation of textbooks to Palestinians. Unfortunately, it is more fashionable to reduce a complicated conflict to a slogan, and to wave a Palestinian flag than to organize a textbook drive. I am pro-Israel and I am pro-Palestinian, but now, my only choice at LSE is to support a university whose founders and leadership call for my death.  I don’t mean to suggest that every student the Islamic University of Gaza shares this view (and indeed I hope they don’t), but how can I lend my name to an institution that so prominently puts forward this message? 

One officer of the Palestinian Society resigned earlier this year.  I haven’t spoken to him about it, but as a fellow American I can only imagine that he found the attitude of, simply put, waging a war on campus as alien as I do. The consideration and ideal of compromise that was natural for me to show and to be equally shown at my undergraduate university is strangely absent here at LSE.  I had real discussions at my undergraduate university – intense discussions coming from different viewpoints, but they began and ended with respect.  I’m disappointed that at the London School of Economics, an institution known all over the world for its diversity and intellectual vigor, we can’t compromise on campus or discuss as befitting the democracy we live in.  We aren’t yet politicians or political players; we are students who walk up the same staircases, use the same library, and complain about the same professors – why can’t we treat each other like we both belong here?


[1] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article575744.ece [2] A. A. Halabiyah, Friday Sermon, PA TV, 13 October 2000.