The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a global issue, with both sides drawing sympathy and ire from all corners of the world. Here at Georgetown, on-campus dialogue on the subject has had a less-than-shining history and attracts perennial interest from the university community.
Last year, Georgetown Students for Justice in Palestine erected a display wall in the Intercultural Center that was defaced by both Israeli and Palestinian sympathizers. Just last week, a swastika was found graffitied in Village C West, and a viewpoint published in The Hoya argued that campus discourse on the conflict is marked by implicit anti-Semitism [“Subtle Anti-Semitism,” The Hoya, March 24, 2017, A3].
Currently, SJP operates on campus in accordance with an anti-normalization policy, refusing to engage pro-Israel groups such as Georgetown Israel Alliance for fear of “normalizing” the political situation in the Palestinian territories and tacitly accepting Israeli sovereignty. SJP President Eman Abdelfadeel explained in a 2016 interview with The Hoya that “We don’t think it’s fair and it’s actually really, really absurd for anyone to suggest that an occupied people negotiate or talk or dialogue with the occupier” [“Pro-Palestine ICC Wall Vandalized,” The Hoya, March 22, 2016, A1].
This editorial board believes that SJP’s policy is antithetical to the development and sustainability of healthy campus discourse. First, the anti-normalization policy makes it difficult for students, particularly Israel’s sympathizers, to ascertain the group’s beliefs because dialogue is discouraged in the first place; an issue as nuanced as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires dialogue and interpersonal engagement, or else risks devolving into an echo chamber.
We understand the SJP’s rationale for the policy, which calls for ceasing interactions between groups that do not subscribe to the tenet of ending the occupation. They contend that dialogue creates a false equivalency between the two parties in which one serves as an oppressor to the other. However, this argument undercuts that a peaceful resolution to the conflict requires mutual coexistence and cooperation.
Further, the policy represents SJP to the broader campus, for better or worse, as an insular group that has no interest in participating in bipartisan solution building. This measure proves damaging for the GIA, as it cannot co-sponsor events with the SJP that challenge the organization’s views and hold it accountable. Rather than pursuing new solutions, both organizations follow the paths of the region’s leaders and refuse to engage with challenging truths presented by the other side.
Fortunately, J Street U, a centrist group identifying as both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, occupies a crucial ideological space in which it can facilitate conversation between differing viewpoints and endeavor to build consensus across camps. However, its work, like that of GIA, is impinged by the insularity of SJP’s anti-normalization policy.
As has been true for many years, both SJP and GIA are polarized and fail to generate nearly as much substantive dialogue as they could given the chance to mutually engage each other.
This change would not be immediate – rather, the process must take form first through individual members seeking to genuinely understand the other side and attend its events before this dialogue can expand to a systemic level. A constructive discussion begins in finding common ground between two beliefs and then working to expand this shared understanding, little by little, by conversation and joint projects.
Instead of simulating the obstinacy of the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process that both groups lament, SJP and GIA must work to bridge the divide. It falls to SJP to take the first step by normalizing constructive dialogue.
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