OPINION: A Return to Talking Instead of Attacking at NYU

Paulette goddard hall 79 washington square east
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / NYU has seen a rise in antisemitism in the past year.

By Eliran Oz '20 - College of Arts and Sciences. 

As a student at NYU I have seen the ongoing debate around Israel-Palestine first hand.

From BDS resolutions to Israeli Independence Day parades, to some of my friends sitting down with Linda Sarsour to discuss the idea of Zionistic Feminism, which Sarsour does not think exists but which they support vehemently. These discussions surrounding our future can happen, real conversations with people interested in hearing what the other side has to say. Personal convictions aside, that is how we as students get to greater understanding, by hearing what others have to say and having that conversation about where we see the world in the future.

There is a long history of peaceful protest in schools. From armbands against the draft during the World Wars to the March on Washington against Vietnam, even divestment to protest apartheid. For decades, students have been using their voices to promote policy, fight injustice, and support people around the world. Not only that, but along those protests there have been constant discussions about what’s going on outside our campuses the world over. Today is no different, as campuses are microcosms of the debates on policies from climate change fighting to abortion, to Israel policy. As one of the pressing issues of our time, we should be having this conversation.

But the issue I have had over the past three years at NYU, is that that conversation always seems to be skewed. Instead of having a frank conversation about issues of availability of abroad sites, a School Government (SGA) measure was used to explicitly to denounce Israel. Even as professors have had issues getting to teach at the abroad site at Abu Dhabi, likely because of being Shiite Muslims and others have been forced to misidentify their Jewish faith on visa applications, that conversation was set aside as “it had been covered already”, and the measure was solely focused on Tel Aviv. The debate around this denunciatory measure, called for by the SGA leaders to purportedly help students, was extremely biased, with the underhanded tactic of having different speaking times for the two sides heavily favoring those opposed to the abroad site.

Then, over the past year, we have seen everything from protestors burning Israeli flags to protestors assaulting students celebrating Yom Haatzmaut. Even a Commencement speaker went off-script, supporting BDS to the dismay of the University. People have been legitimately hurt because of what’s been going on, as was the result of that assault. I have seen it, stood and watched as celebrations were disrupted and protesters have been arrested for accosting other students. This isn’t what college campuses should be like.

The Israel-Palestine issue is immensely important and deserves discussion on college campuses around the world. But these discussions cannot be one sided endeavors. As a community we should grapple with important topics like the Israel-Palestinian conflict, trying to find future solutions focused and mediated through peace and incorporating what we are learning instead of just yelling at each other.

As part of the Bronfman Center, staff has been taking people of different faiths, backgrounds, and nationalities on a yearly trip to Israel to have that frank discussion on the future in the Middle East, in addition to birthright trips. There have been focus groups for people on both sides, and classes where there has been real discussion. But there have also been biased professors, departments against sharing academic knowledge such as the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, which recently endorsed a boycott of the Tel Aviv campus. The University administration has stood up to it, denouncing BDS as it goes directly against the core principles of learning institutions of increasing knowledge and enriching the world by calling for an academic boycott of Israel.

But more must be done: there must be a shift to normal conversations, to progress instead of denunciations. We are students: grappling with tough questions is kind of our job. It is our prerogative, as Jewish students, as students in general, and as people in general, to move forward on the right path, not hitting below the belt. We should not scream against the other side, call them names, and then call it a day; we’re better than that.