Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Vampire Strikes Back. Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine: "no shame" in disruption of talk by IDF soldier

Jon Haber has famously likened the anti-Israel "BDS" (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) activists to a vampire: “no matter how many times a stake is driven through their heart, they keep trying to get up (albeit always a bit more decrepit and overwrought than the time before).” (1, 2): That description applies to the young Hampshire College students and mostly geriatric local activists who disrupted the talk by Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, an Israeli soldier, here some two weeks ago.

Undaunted by popular outcry and the administration’s condemnation (1, 2) alike, Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have attempted to present their side of the story in the College newspaper, and now also in another of their films, appropriately entitled “Not Silent.” (Full title:Not Silent. Sgt. Benjamin Anthony [IDF] at Hampshire (2/3/11)   see embed, below) These activist promotional (what’s the word for anti-Zionist “hasbara”?) videos are really a fascinating subgenre deserving of study in their own right. The formulaic approach lends itself to endless replication (e.g. 1, 2, 3)—or parody. The videos typically begin in the manner of a classic documentary with text (but no voiceover) identifying the event and setting, so as to instill an attitude of solemnity and gravitas. (Message: Clearly, we are in for some weighty lessons.) The narrative arc generally moves from planning and rehearsal to the climax at the disruption of the event itself (the precise treatment depending on whether filming is possible), and then a coda of celebration afterward. A little music (Middle Eastern or domestic), to indicate the mood that the viewer is supposed to effect—calmly resolute, jubilant, or mournful and reverent—is optional, but always in good taste. Pre- and post-event interviews with participants, who assume demeanors variously thoughtful, wistful, or tearful, impress upon the viewer that this is business both serious and sincere (oh, so sincere). The pre-event scenes remind me of nothing so much as those classic World War II films in which a group of earnest, representative young Americans methodically check their gear, nervously crack jokes, and reflect on their mission and the prospect of imminent death as they prepare to hit the beach or the silk.

Brendan O’Neill recently and provocatively called this sort of western bourgeois-liberal activism “more anthropological than political”: characterized by “a profound narcissism” and bearing disconcerting resemblances to the self-righteous and paternalistic mentality of classic imperialism. Perhaps it is therefore not surprising that the protests and films don’t really address the content of the event at issue. Aside from the fact that the ideal is to prevent the event from happening at all, they don’t need to engage its particulars: The indictment, verdict, and sentence are all known in advance. A set of generic terms and slogans suffices to characterize whatever the speaker might say: “illegal occupation,” “war crimes,” and “ethnic cleansing” invariably lead the list. “Apartheid” is always welcome, too. The corresponding keyword on the side of the righteous, for whom the prosecution speaks, is: “silenced.” The disruptors, refusing to be “silent,” will “silence” the speaker for having “silenced” the victims (for it is all about what O’Neill calls “the ultimate victimhood experience”). One size fits all, so it works just as well for an exalted ambassador or a humble non-com—or even a ballet troupe, for that matter. This is politics as performative act, in effect, political show trials as street theater.

The issues of war, peace, and justice are all too tragically real, but what O’Neill was trying to get at was the obsessive fixation on this one conflict alone, the reason that the issue has “become almost the exclusive property of Western middle-class radicals.” I see it in part as an expression of a sort of Wordsworthian enthusiasm, an understandable desire on the part of activists to be agents of moral salvation:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
The idea of disruptors speaking for the “silenced” victims is among the keys, for what we see is not just a “politics of pity rather than solidarity” (O’Neill), but also a kind of secularized evangelism with millenarian dimensions. There is a passionate longing to be able to make a difference in the world, to be—at last! in this messy world in hues of gray—on the right side of history in a clear-cut struggle between absolute good and absolute evil.

Thus the typical tactic of displaying and reading the names of children killed: a hagiography or martyrology (rather than a statement of political content). What more pure symbol of unmerited suffering could be imagined? The Church no longer venerates Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln or Simon of Trent, but the activists have found legions of other victims to take their place.

Of course, Wordsworth’s oft-revised poem about the French Revolution is apposite in more ways in one, for it was descriptive rather than prescriptive: in the words of Matthew Rainbow Hale, he was writing ”as a mature adult reflecting—nostalgically and remorsefully—on the unreliable, dangerous caprices of youth."

* * *

“Unreliable, dangerous caprices of youth” these may be, but we nonetheless learn a great deal from the deliberately crafted film.

• We learn about the motivations behind the action (5:09-5:34):

Lest the members audience just “sit there and imagine that it was . . . like someone coming to speak about agriculture or, you know, making cheese or something,” the disruptors would force them to realize that “This is a soldier coming from a nation-state that has the fourth-largest military in the world, that has been engaging in the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of the land.”

• We learn about the emotions of the participants at the demonstrations beforehand (3:30-4:26)
“all of a sudden there were these Israeli chants, and all of a sudden, there were these Palestinian chants . . . you know it was really just like a battle (laughs), and I was crying, and people that I had been talking right next to, I had been talking to right before, having the casual conversations with, all of a sudden, we’re just like, chanting two different things, at each other, like (snaps fingers): immediate enemies (laughs and smiles). It was intense, it was intense, and it was just, I guess, shocking.”
• We learn that some of the disruptors did not even know the messages of the protest signs they were holding. In one such case, the sign by chance inspired one of the more memorable confrontations of the evening.
“I was sitting in the audience and I was holding one of the signs that said—and I didn’t even know I was holding it [i.e. I didn’t know what it said]— I looked down and it said, ‘Never Again For Anyone’—and I’m sitting here listening to Anthony, you know, using Judaism, as the case is, to promote Zionism and to justify Zionism, to justify the oppressing, you know, based on the idea that Israel is an historic biblical homeland for Jewish people and that that completely negates the livelihoods of the thousand and thousands of Palestinians who have been living there for centuries.” (6:06-6:53)
She thereupon stood up and screamed (6:53-7:02):
“I am Jewish!—I have family that was killed in the Holocaust!—Never again for anybody!”
The Sergeant, in the shot heard ‘round the web (1, 2), replied,
“Excuse me, the lady who’s Jewish—the lady who’s Jewish—and therefore uses her Judaism as validity for her opinion, could you please give me the title of last week’s Torah portion?”
What had happened? (7:02-8:03):
“so I looked down at the sign and I wasn’t planning to say anything—that wasn’t part of the plan (laughs)—but I felt really compelled to, you know, state some kind of connection that I have, claiming, being anti-Zionist and claiming how, you know, being Jewish, and that, and that so many Jews are against Israel’s illegal occupation, and that I don’t think that is very understood.”
• We learn why the fate of the child martyrs so deeply moves the protesters. Interviews with the activists in the quiet “vigil space” in the lobby outside the lecture hall:
Q: You felt like you had to leave?
A: “It was just horrifying. He was just like, I mean first of all he was talking like, all in theory, like it was all like, as if, like as if there were no, like, Middle Eastern people in the room.”
[Revealing. And the Israelis in the audience: were they from Mars? Of course, it may be that the activists were using the wrong maps.]

As noted in my original report, the activists tried to disrupt the event by reading the names of Palestinian children (defined as legal minors) killed in Operation Cast Lead. The speaker, however, was prepared for this and acknowledged the losses of war by offering his own list of Palestinian children killed in Gaza. He then countered by asking the disruptors to name a single Israeli killed in the Second Intifada, which they could not do. This surprise tactic (though it should have been no surprise) did not sit well with the disruptors (that’s not surprising, either).
“He let us read, like, four, and then he read, like, ten. And, oh (on the verge of tears), it just felt like the most disrespectful presentation of these names that I’ve ever seen, and we had to leave, we just couldn’t—couldn’t—listen to any more.”
• We learn what constituted success (8:04-8:26):
Interviewer: “if you could talk about some of the important moments of the evening for you?”

“One of the most significant was when he announced that he could no longer continue. I think that was a huge success on our part, the success on the part of the disruptors and the power of the opposition in the room.”
• Finally, we learn of the complex moral reasoning, concerning free speech versus civil disobedience, which lay behind that success:
“I don’t believe that his kind of talk where he was dismissing Israeli, or rather, the IDF’s, war crimes, where he was dismissing the IDF and Israel’s role in the conflict, I don’t consider that non-violent, and I don’t believe that that has any place in any academic institution.”
“None of the action happened as it was planned, giving it not just, I think, for all people who were there, not with either, either, like side, but also giving me an impression that we had, and we had, just, you know, just sort of, gone over the brink, but, even, even, even knowing that, and even feeling that in the event, that I was, I have no shame whatsoever.”

Not Silent. Sgt. Benjamin Anthony [IDF] at Hampshire (2/3/11)

* * *
Mostly, we just learn that the disruptors people are very satisfied with themselves and their performance.

Not surprisingly, then, they are utterly unable to understand why they have made themselves so unpopular on campus and beyond. They cannot see the discord they have sown here, or the damage to the College’s name beyond our figurative walls.

No one could have objected to peaceful protest outside the hall or challenging debate within.  Sergeant Anthony spoke last spring at Smith College, apparently without incident.  And just this past fall, a founder of the (in these parts) much-reviled "Tea Party" movement spoke at Mount Holyoke College—under the official auspices of the College and its Weissman Center for Leadership, no less. Students protested outside but engaged the speaker in serious conversation.

The activists simply do not seem to grasp that, by taking their disruptive protest inside the auditorium, with the aim of silencing the speaker and ending the event, they crossed a line: of decency and common sense alike.

It is worth noting that even most of the faculty mentors of SJP tried hard to dissuade the group from engaging in this self-defeating tactic. The activists ignored that advice, but such, after all, are the dangerous caprices of youth.

The disruptors make a big point about not establishing moral equivalence. I don’t think anyone on the opposing side advocates that either. The path to peace begins simply with each side acknowledging the suffering and legitimate rights of the other and then daring to take steps to end the former and secure the latter.

The heroic actions in Franklin Patterson Hall on February 3 bring us not one step closer to that elusive goal.

“no shame whatsoever”: yup, that pretty much sums it up.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How Much Control Should Students Have Over University Life? And Where Did All That "Town-Gown" Stuff Come From?

Here at Hampshire College, a presidential Governance Task Force (which I have somehow ended up co-chairing) has just completed work on its draft report. The task was to identify and evaluate all mechanisms for decision-making, and then to formulate recommendations. We are big believers in maximum democracy and deliberative process, but it can be hard to strike the right balance:  too quick a process, and one doesn't get enough buy-in; too slow and drawn-out a process, and people feel exhausted and demoralized.  (the similarity between the culture of the College and the Town of Amherst is often striking).  The challenge, then, was to come up with ideas that would retain our strongly participatory system of shared governance while clarifying procedures and increasing efficiency. This afternoon, we met with the President to discuss next steps and implementation.

A key issue is the role of students.  Our system is distinctive and nearly unique in that it not only requires students to take a strong hand in designing their own programs of study (in close consultation with faculty advisors), but also gives them a strong role in the governance of the College. I'm not talking about just the proverbial "student government." Instead, students (among other things) take part in the deliberations of the five divisions of the College (akin to department meetings) and even play a role in policy-making and the hiring and promotion of faculty.  We have a student representative on the Board of Trustees.

Outsiders often ask me how this works, and even some faculty occasionally raise questions about the nature or scope of student participation. I happen to regard this participation as one of the strengths and pleasures of our system, so I respond by saying more or less what I've just said. Sometimes, though, I go further and put on my historian's hat.

The notion that a university is a business (really, a big corporation), housed in a miniature city, with students as its customers, is in most senses a fairly recent one.  In another sense, though—at least as concerns the business and the customers—it's actually quite ancient: it's just that the roles may be different from what the average person expects.

I always recall these passages from a favorite old textbook.
In the Middle Ages the word "university" (universitas) meant any corporate society or corporation.  A gild of merchants or craftsmen, a cathedral chapter, or a community of monks might be called a universitas, an organized group.  During the twelfth century the students at Bologna organized themselves into two groups or "universities" consisting of the Italian students (the Cismontane university, students "this side" of the Alps) and the students from north of the Alps (the Transmontane university).  These two "universities" of students were actually what is called the University of Bologna.

     The purpose of the organization at Bologna was twofold: for protection against exploitation by the townspeople who charged what the market would bear for food and lodging, and for assurance that the course of legal instruction should be worth the tuition fees paid by students to their professors.  Against the townspeople the students relied upon the threat of simply moving away en masse, a threat that was easy to put into effect because the university itself was simply a group of people, not a campus with buildings and grounds permanently located.  The university of students thus slowly gained the right to fix prices and rents and to regulate not only student life but the relations between "town" and "gown" (i.e. the students collectively, so called because of the clerical garb worn by the great majority of students who were in minor orders).  Against the professors the students relied on the threat of boycott.  Since the professors' income derived from students' fees, the organized students could dictate the nature of the curriculum and could enforce minimum standards of instruction by the simple device of not attending the courses of unsatisfactory professors.  In the earliest surviving statues of the university the professors were subject to minute and stringent regulations.  They were required to begin lecturing with the bell and finish within a minute after the next bell; they could not be absent without permission, and had to post bond for their return if they left Bologna; they were required to proceed systematically through the subject matter of the Corpus Juris, and not to omit or postpone difficult sections.  If a professor were unable to attract at least five students to a scheduled morning lecture, he was subject to the same fine as if he were absent without leave.

  —Robert S. Hoyt, Europe in the Middle Ages, second ed. (NY:  Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1966), 324

They made a strong impression on me when I first read them, and it's worthwhile to return to them periodically, just in order to maintain a sense of perspective. 

Come to think of it, the residents of Amherst (1, 2, 3, 4) might find those words pretty interesting, too.

I Hate This (BDS) Shit. But I Still Love Hampshire College (and so should you). What You Can Do.

Not telling you any secrets: I hate this BDS shit.

I hate this shit because it is unproductive.

The anti-Israel "BDS" (=Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, having failed to achieve one major success or to improve the life of one human being (Palestinian or other) on the face of the planet, seems to have become a parody of itself. Unable to effect actual change in the real world, it has dedicated itself instead to acts of political theater such as the protests here two weeks ago, which it somehow takes for reality. It's like a caricature of postmodernism. Or, as Jon Haber puts it in common-language terms, the activists' only goal seems to be "getting themselves noticed, even [if] they can only do so by acting like assholes."

Some may view that situation with Schadenfreude. I find it sad, actually. The disruptors claim that they are bringing attention to a good cause, but by making themselves the main story, they are actually distracting attention from that cause. More and more students are finally speaking up and reporting that, even if they were once sympathetic, they are now turned off and disgusted. Are anyone's interests—first and foremost Palestinian interests—served by these stupid stunts?

I hate this shit because it is destructive.

Because the BDS movement has no practical results to show for a decade of effort, its only certifiable accomplishment has been to destroy trust and poison the atmosphere on both the international and local scene. Attempting to demonize and delegitimize one of the parties to the conflict will hardly make that nation more open to compromise and taking risks for peace. On the college campuses, its great accomplishment has been to divide the community, to make people afraid to speak honestly about their differences or even to express their honest uncertainty. At a time when, more than ever, students should want to learn about the Middle East conflict, most avoid it like the plague, for fear of saying the wrong thing. Not exactly a sustainable environment for the endangered "groves of academe."

Nice work, activist dudes.

I hate this shit because it wastes my time.

I'd much rather be talking about books, buildings, and history.

I am pleased, to be sure, that my recent posts on the controversies at Hampshire have found many readers. However, that is hardly my main interest here, and it’s a bitter sort of success.

Until last week, my most popular posts were on topics to which I had a positive attachment, first among them, a report on the new monument to the Czechoslovak assassins of the Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich in Prague. It was a story about genuine political action and truly difficult moral and practical choices, about history, memory, and courage.

Likewise, I would rather be talking about the history of the newspaper or the challenge of preserving modern architecture—even the fine points of demolition delay laws, for that matter.

I am, then, in a sense both pleased and saddened that the pieces on these current controversies have suddenly earned the site so many new readers.

I hate this shit because it forces me to speak painful truths about the environment in which I work, though they represent only a part of a larger, more complex and positive truth.

So, what do I do when this happens? I try to do at least two things: to remind people of the wonderful and far more representative good things that take place at Hampshire College; and (my old teachers drummed this into my head), rather than simply criticizing political action that I do not like, to suggest positive counter-examples.

For a small, experimental, and far-from-rich college, Hampshire seems to figure in more than its share of news stories, and to rack up a rather impressive number of achievements. We're a Sierra Club "top ten cool school,one of the listed green schools, and one of the top-20 gay-friendly schools.

Already since the start of the year, President Marlene Fried has received two honors: just days after the IDF lecture, the annual Western Massachusetts NARAL "Protecting Reproductive Rights Award," which followed on the heels of the Judith Fleming Henshaw Award as "a champion of reproductive rights" in January.

Exactly a week after the notorious lecture—or rather, now-notorious disruptions—and in that same auditorium, my colleagues Aaron Berman, Omar Dahi, Salman Hameed, and Sayres Rudy held a panel discussion and conversation with students about the revolutionary popular upheavals in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.

Salman had recently founded the pioneering Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies here. Jewish studies flourish, as well. My co-teacher Rachel Rubinstein who, with her husband, Justin Cammy, of Smith College, co-edited a highly praised Festschrift in honor of literary scholar Ruth Wisse, recently published a fascinating monograph of her own on Jews and Native Americans. Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Music Marty Ehrlich has won plaudits for his latest album, Fables, in the "Radical Jewish Culture" series on the Tzadik label.  Poetry prospers no less. My co-teacher in our Prague program, Polina Barskova, who has has been described as "the youngest and only female poet to be nominated for the prestigious Andrei Bely Prize in Poetry," is now on the road, doing readings from her new book. Filmmaker Abraham Ravett has issued a CD of poet Charles Reznikoff reading from Holocaust, which draws upon the testimony of the Nuremberg Tribunals and Eichmann trial (and I'm pleased to add that one of my former students, Nasser Mufti, designed the insert of texts and photographs.)  Sandra Matthews just founded a new online journal dedicated to the history of Asian photography. Professor of  Peace and World Security Studies Michael Klare, an acknowledged international expert on military affairs and the role of resources in world politics, published "The Year of Living Dangerously: Rising Commodity Prices and Extreme Weather Events Threaten Global Stability" at the Huffington Post.

Teams of faculty and students involved with the innovative "DART" program in Design, Art, and Technology, which created a striking interactive installation in the Library entrance last January term, this year installed a new work "that explores the intersections of natural and artificial light" in the Bioshelter of the science building. This June will see the launch of our first summer program, in Food, Farm, Sustainability.

And this very week, students have been tweeting the subjects of their "Division III" (senior thesis) projects (1, 2). I am always proud to say that our students, on average, quickly become intellectually more sophisticated than the typical undergraduate (okay, so the antics of the hecklers pulled that average down a few points). Our curriculum shapes learners able to carry out independent research and think conceptually and critically rather than just absorb information, which is why it is often considered ideal preparation for graduate school. Half of our students go on to earn advanced degrees, and in fact, ranked by the percentage who go on to become professional historians, we are the number one school in the nation (ahead of such competitors as Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia). We rank eighth in the humanities as a whole.

Speaking of self-directed, innovative student work, one of the best examples is Hampedia (full disclosure: I am on the board of the organization that guides it).  Wiki-based web sites have become quite popular, and several colleges have used the platform to their advantage. But just compare and contrast: Three years ago, Smith College announced, to great fanfare, that it had created Smithipedia.  Many of the articles are still "stubs."  Hampedia, a totally student-initiated and student-driven project, is far more developed, with over 16,000 pages.

And even as you are reading the account of the recent disturbances in The Climax, pause for a moment to consider that the typeface family in which it is produced is a unique creation by a Hampshire student—and my advisee—David Ross. He produced it as part of his senior thesis project, which I chaired.  David also designed posters for all sorts of campus events and programs, from Salman Hameed's lecture series on Science and Religion to a staging of a Yiddish play, a senior thesis that Rachel Rubinstein and I supervised.  (so, we come full circle.)  That student went on to graduate school at Harvard, and David took a high-level design position. 

Our website and Twitter feed tell more of our story.

But what do do?

Hampshire College is big enough (in all senses of the word) to confront the challenge that faces us—if only we will honestly face up to them.  The good thing to realize is that, here as elsewhere, a small but vocal minority has been spoiling the atmosphere for the rest of us.  Faculty, as President Fried has said, must be leaders and mentors.  Student life staff are playing their role to demonstrate and foster civility.  But ultimately, it is up to the students: it is their behavior that is at issue here.

Especially at a place that, as just noted, emphasizes student initiative and participation in all aspects of campus life: It's time for those who are tired of anger and hatred to take back the conversation and the campus.

And in the wider world?

The great scandal of the BDS movement is that it portrays itself as marching steadily forward toward eternal victory, whereas it has in fact nothing to show for its efforts.  Has it changed one Israeli policy, eliminated one checkpoint, affected the bottom line of one Israeli company?

There is of course a huge array of organizations seeking honestly to ameliorate if not solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.  I've always tried to suggest those that bring Israelis and Arabs together in peacework, not least because they provide a visible model whose contours and even possibility seem to elude so many of our ideologically monomaniacal activists.

I have, for example, mentioned the Arava Institute for environmental studies, one of my favorites not only because we have an institutional relationship with it, but also because it brings together material and scientific as well as political issues.  It makes the point that environmental problems know no national boundaries, and that their solution, accordingly, depends on regional cooperation.

I've also mentioned IPCRI, the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information.  It has been voted one of the wordd's best NGOs.  More recently, it was designated one of the "Top think tanks in the Middle East and the "Think Tanks with the Most Innovative Policy Ideas/Proposals."

Another example, which I haven't mentioned before, is the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), a coalition of 70 NGOs (including Arava and IPCRI), which argues:
We must do everything we can to promote, support, and expand their work, especially now. We need not let vocal extremists rule the day. Large majorities on both sides support a peaceful end to this conflict, but they have not yet been mobilized. The people-to-people efforts ALLMEP promotes are the way to engage and empower these majorities on the ground.

Politicians need to see this public support if they are to make the historic decisions necessary for peace. And the day after any peace agreement may be signed, what infrastructure will be in place to make sure peace can survive and thrive if we don't build it now? Turning enemies into good neighbors is long-term, hard work.
I am fully aware that some will find these groups too conservative, and others, too radical; that some will find them dangerous, and others, utopian. There is nothing wrong with that. I may not agree with every policy of any given organization, either, and these are just examples.  We each make our own decisions. My point is simply that groups such as these represent a model: two peoples, committed to mutual recognition, practical cooperation, and peaceful resolution of the conflict. You may disagree with any or all of these groups or their specific policies, but at least there's something to debate. BDS, by contrast, precludes the very possibility of real debate.

In all these cases, then, sending off a check for even just $ 10 or $ 25 will do a lot more for peace than spending a semester devising "clever" plans to disrupt the presentation of this or that speaker with whom you disagree.

As the Arab Muslim Israeli diplomat Ismail Khaldi put it when decrying the BDS movements as “part of the problem, not part of the solution”: We should "stand with" those on both sides who "walk the path of peace" in the quest for an "agreement that recognizes the legitimate rights of both Israel and the Palestinian people."

Why should that be so controversial—at institutions of higher learning, of all places?

The Hampshire College "Climax" Covers the IDF/BDS Controversy

The Climax 4 Volume XV Issue 1
February 17, 2011

[p. 4]
Guest speaker, harassment of Pro-Israel students resparks debate

By Nara Williams, Contributing Writer

Towards the end of last semester, a Hampshire student reported being attacked multiple times for expressing support for Israel both at UMass and on Hampshire’s campus. The student, who wishes to remain anonymous. was called a “racist bitch,” “apartheid lover,” and was at one point physically pushed. After receiving an e-mail that was perceived as a death threat, she approached the dean of student life, Amnat Chittaphong.

The incidents were reported to Public Safety through the dean’s office. The student could not identify the persons involved in the multiple incidents as Hampshire students, as they were wearing hoods in all instances. Public Safety was thus unable to implicate specific persons in the incident, but had an outreach officer follow up with the student several times.

Interim President Marlene Fried responded to the incident by writing an open letter to the community in which she condemned the acts and reminded students that "'While conversations around Israel and Palestine are often loaded with emotions, it is our responsibility to ensure that they take place in an environment of respect and care for members of our community." Additionally, eight faculty members signed a letter of support.

In what became an ongoing dialogue, student group Students for justice in Palestine (SJP) responded to Fried with another open letter to the community. Representatives of SJP explained that the letter was a measure taken to make their feelings as a group clear and express that they in no way condone any of the harassment that occurred.

Students Promoting Israeli Culture and Information (SPICI) recently responded with a further letter in which they criticized SJP for making their letter "into a heated proclamation that unnecessarily attacks insignificant nuances in the President's letter and inappropriately defines personal identity as the authors see fit."

These tensions again rose to the surface last Thursday, February 3rd during a speech in FPH by a former frontline lDF soldier, Sergeant Benjamin Anthony.

Before the event, SJP launched a plan to interrupt the soldier through yelling various phrases. They were then to cast a banner and stage a walk out, as well as hold a vigil outside for this [sic] who didn't wish to come in.

Directly preceding the speech, there was some disorder. "Public safety wasn't letting anyone into the event, and everyone in the lobby started yelling and chanting at each other. The pro-Palestine side was chanting their chants and the pro-Israel side was chanting back in the same way. Someone dropped an Israeli flag over the banner and someone then dropped a Palestinian flag,” said a representative of SJP.

"When students were finally let into the lecture hall, the administrators stressed that they wanted everything to be civil and instructed anyone planning to interrupt the event to leave immediately. During the speech, however, members of SJP blew whistles and shouted attacks at the speaker.

At one point one member of the audience members, a non-Hampshire student, called other members "faggots." One member stood up and started yelling "I'm a faggot; I'm a faggot, you're homophobic this must stop." Eventually, public safety removed both members.

Public Safety otherwise reported finding everyone to be generally cooperative. Blocking the doors after a certain point in the evening was intended as a measure taken to enforce fire-hazard regulations, as the room bad reached capacity. "Of course physical violence cannot be tolerated." said Associate Director of Public Safety Ray LaBarre, “but we recognize the importance of dialogue and debate on campus. Our priority is to ensure safety without taking sides.”

Eventually the speaker had to stop his speech earlier, resorting to hold a short question and answer session and the event ended Following the event, members of SJP and others sang peaceful protest songs and ended the vigil.

Representatives of SjP reported that they felt it important to disrupt the event for a number of reasons. In their community letter, which was sent out before the event, they wrote "We find it reprehensible that at a time in which Hampshire is calling for increased ‘civility’ in our political discourse. a representative of the Israeli 'Defense' Forces would come to our campus in an attempt to gamer sympathy the 'hardship' he endured while serving his time."

The students involved bringing the IDF soldier to campus were upset with the interruptions. "Everyone deserves to be listened to", said Amir Fogel, a signer for SPICI. SPICI, who originally backed the event, pulled out several days before due to anticipation of a protest. The event was not intended to be an instigation."

Fried issued a statement the following morning informing the community of the disruptions and
reminding students of the need to be able to conduct "open dialogue and discussion."

Those who openly support Israel continue to perceive a culture of hostility on Hampshire's campus. The student attacked, who considered not returning for the spring semester, had to switch mods [student group apartments] and continues feeling afraid to go out at night alone, even on campus. The student also admitted knowing of "at least ten" other students who had experienced harassment, some of whom had even left Hampshire as a result.

FogeL who had an Israeli flag taken from his dorm room door last year, also attested to the climate of fear. “When someone takes my personal thing, my Israeli flag, a symbol of me, the message gets through that I’m not allowed to have that. I'm shut down for having an opinion, which is the worst feeling ever".

Students from all sides continue to express frustration with the polarization of the issue and the misconceptions that have arisen. Representatives of SJP express hope that despite disagreements, they wish to have a dialogue and ultimately establish similar views and hopes for the world. SPICI, Fried, and the members of the administration have also expressed the need for civilized dialogue and general education regarding Israel and Palestine.

* * *

[p. 5]

Open Letter from the Students Promoting Israel Culture and Information

(already reproduced here

* * *

[p. 6]

Open letter from the Students for Justice in Palestine

Dear Community Members,

We are issuing this statement as concerned members of Hampshire’s Students for Justice in Palestine to inform the community about the event that took place on Thursday, February 3, 2011. We feel that the letter that President Fried sent out the following day omitted crucial information about what took place that night and that it is necessary to clarify the nature of this specific event.

Sergeant Benjamin Anthony of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) came to give a presentation on behalf of his organization, Our Soldiers Speak. The sold purpose of this organization is to present the lives of Israeli soldiers and the wars they are a part of a sympathetic light with no mention of the Palestinian civilians who suffer as a result of these wars. As such, they implicitly and explicitly defend the internationally recognized war crimes soldiers like Sgt. Benjamin Anthony have participated in.

Appalled that a soldier from an occupying army was coming to speak openly on our campus, a multi-generational group of students and community members participated in a collective protest during the event. Our protest had multiple goals: to call attention to the fact that there was no space for the voices of Palestinians to speak to the injustices committed against them by such soldiers like Sgt. Anthony, to challenge his purported “a-political” participation in the occupation of Palestine, and to offer a safe space for support and remembrance of those thousands silenced, killed, and displaced by the Israeli regime. In the interest of transparency, we would like to outline the steps we took to carry out each of these goals.

SJP produced and distributed a pamphlet for the event that described the history of the organizations that sponsored their event, including their participation in Islamophobic, racist, and anti-Arab propaganda. From the beginning of the event, a banner was held up that read “Where is the Palestinian voice in this dialogue?”, while protesters held up signs with phrases including “Never Again for Anyone” and “The Wall Must Fall,” as well as the names of the 352 children killed during Operation Cast Lead. Over the course of the night, members and allies of our group stood up and raised their voices as a form of resistance to Sgt. Anthony’s narrative, and all of them complied with Public Safety when they were asked to leave the room. Those expelled from the lecture hall joined a vigil in the lobby, which offered an open space for song, silence, and honor for those who have died as a result of the occupation. The vigil allowed us to remember those who continue to resist, within the occupied Palestinian territories and internationally.

Our intentions in disrupting Anthony’s speech were to re-center the talk in a human rights discourse, and to condemn the human rights violations of the longest standing military occupation in the world. From the outset, the structure of the event itself showed a power disparity.

Only those in support of the speaker were allowed to sit in the front three rows, with the exception of a protester who uses a wheel~chair and two of her friends. Certain members of the audience were not only barred from sitting in first three rows but were immediately warned that if we attempted to go towards the stage we would be handcuffed immediately. The audience was also informed that nobody would be allowed to use recording equipment in the room. However, this was only enforced against protesters; a handful of Sgt. Anthony's supporters recorded the event without consequence or impediment.

Throughout the event the administrative representatives present fully cooperated with Sgt.Anthony’s agenda, which we feel discredited subsequent claims they made for fair and just “dialogue." In an move that is unprecedented at Hampshire, public safety officers guarded the doors for the entirety of the event and did not allow anyone to enter late or re-enter if they had left. Everyone attending was prevented from entering until the speaker gave his order. Each person was then lined up in a single file by a public safety officer. When one Hampshire student was assaulted and called a “faggot” by a supporter of the speaker, public safety officers initially moved to remove the Hampshire student who received the homophobic slur, rather than the person who used this threatening language. When two Palestinians in the room were referred to as “terrorists”, no action was taken. No attention was given to the safety of protesters when audience members suffered hate speech.
We understand this event as part of an effort to whitewash the IDF and to distract from growing international criticism of Israel’s human rights violations. As students in the US, it is our responsibility to critique our government and challenge our educational institutions for their unquestioning support of Israel’s atrocities. Whenever the Israeli government and its supporters attempt to gloss over 46 years of war crimes, glorify the construction of illegal settlements, claim democracy despite the blockade and bombardment of Gaza to overthrow its democratically elected government, legitimize the confiscation of water access, or justify the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes, they will be challenged with truth and justice.
We will not be silent.

Students for Justice in Palestine

* * *

[p. 7]

Another open letter to the Hampshire College community
By Robert Liota
Contributing Writer

Dear Everybody,

Three months ago, one of our fellow community members wrote an editorial piece in The Omen meant as a joke. It was in fact insulting to many on campus, and induced unease and even fear for some individuals' social safety on this campus. A dialogue session was held.

I think lesson a key lesson to be taken away from that incident is that, while we all have a right to free speech, that fact does not morally validate or condone saying something that is hurtful or endangering, nor does it release any individual from a responsibility to uphold a certain form of social contract as part of this community.

The reason I revisit that event is because the recent letter to the community from Students for Justice in Palestine has rather disingenuously turned a very serious caution about the social rights of individuals on campus into a spring-board for propaganda, one which also subsequently proposes that certain individuals should not be allowed on campus to speak. One that hinges on drawing a contrast between Judaism and Zionism that suggests that to be anti-semitic is not to be anti-zionist. True. But when it is framed as part of a response to hearing about both violent and threatening acts targeting an individual on campus, it seems to affirm these actions in making them distinctly different from each other, depending on whom they are targeting. That is wrong. Perhaps SJP did not intend to sound like they were condoning acts of violence- they certainly seem to be oblivious to much of the contents of the President's initial letter (it was sent in December, not January).

For instance, at issue in the President’s letter were not necessarily acts of anti-semitism. At issue was violence directed toward individuals in our community. What SJP is essentially demonstrating in their first paragraph (and subsequently in their entire letter) is that they take issue with acts or threats of violence, vandalism, and harassment of individuals when concerning anti-semitism. Definitely laudable. But then it proceeds to backtrack on itself and say, "But wait, what is really at issue in the letter is anti-zionism!" Or rather:

“However, what is very clear to us is that the letter issued to every member of the Hampshire community was not primarily concerned with acts of anti-Semitism, but with vocal opposition towards expressions of Zionism." (SJP, "An Open "letter to the Hampshire College Community")

First of all, the letter was not in fact concerned with vocal opposition toward expressions of Zionism. It was fact concerned with this:

"…students on this campus have been subjected to physical, verbal, and written harassment, and intimidation because of their political views in support of the state of Israel" [emphasis added.]

Nowhere in President Fried's letter does it condemn anyone for "vocal opposition" toward” expressions of Zionism. I would also like to bring up another criticism here, however—being in support of the state of Israel bears a rather vague association to Zionism. You can be a Conservative Republican and be against a woman's choice in bearing a child but still be in support of the States of America [sic], just as you can be a liberal Democrat and believe exactly the opposite but still pledge allegiance to the United States. So it is still a stretch to glean "expressions of Zionism" from "political views in support of the ·state of Israel," What if one's support hinged: on an Israeli state free of religious/racial directives?"

I could criticize SJP about the way they approach some of their activism for a very long time, but that would be getting away from the point of this letter, which is that this community has some serious problems with hostility. Rather than allowing President Fried's letter to resonate with a warning about it, SJP has decided to deaden it piggybacking on it with a letter that boils down to anti-speech propaganda. I think that's disrespectful of this community, and I think it hints dangerously close at excusing the actions that were described in Marlene Fried's December l7th letter.

While we all have a to free speech, that fact does not morally validate or condone saying something that is hurtful or endangering, nor does it release any individual from a responsibility to uphold a certain form of social contract as part of this community.

I ask both sides of the Israel-Palestine issue, as well as the community at large to heed this caution in general. And stop hitting each other. It makes Hampshire College sound more like a day-care for wealtjy brats than it aready is.

Sincerest love, appreciation, disgust, and/or respect,
Robert Liota

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Meditation: Is Support for the Existence of Israel the Only "Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name"? Hampshire College Students Express Concern Over Campus Climate

Yes, support for the existence of a United Nations member state. I am not talking about its policies (many of which I myself may disagree with).

On Wednesday, February 9, on the occasion of the semi-annual "Hampfest" information fair of Hampshire College student organizations, the "signers" (the College's term for the officially responsible organizers of a student group) of SPICI (Students Promoting Israel, Culture, and Information) issued a statement of concern regarding the events of last semester and the recent controversy over the talk by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier on campus.

As the letter makes clear, the students, who hold diverse religious and political views, did not take this step lightly. They spoke out because they felt they could no longer remain silent. The Hampshire incidents, one should also make clear, did not occur in a vacuum.  We may call our educational philosophy "distinctive," but in this regard, at least, we are all too typical.  The problem is one that is assuming dangerous proportions on many an American college campus, although the situation has not yet deteriorated to the level of that in the United Kingdom.

It used to be that homosexuality was forbidden and persecuted. Fortunately, we have moved beyond that sort of bigotry. Ironically, it seems that support for Israel is instead now the only "love that dare not speak its name"—on the college campus, at least (yet another way in which that rarefied environment differs from the real world). There are many things for college students and their professors to get exercised about, but this seems to be only one capable of polarizing an entire campus in perpetuity. Would that students were so energetically debating the impact of printing on the Reformation, the Frontier Thesis, or the causes of World War I (is one not allowed to dream?).
Sadly, the most distressing issue is not even the substance of the debate (people are, after all, entitled to their opinions), but instead, the silencing of debate. Examples are legion.  A year ago, students at the University of California at Irvine notoriously shouted down Israel's Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren (video: 1, 2).  Two days after the copycat episode at Hampshire this year, the Irvine students, who had already received University sanctions, were (more controversially) indicted for conspiring to disrupt a meeting. The day before the Hampshire event, Edinburgh Students for Justice in Palestine prevented a speech by the advisor to Israel's Foreign Minister. (for this, my father defended Scotland from Nazi invasion?) The irony: The israeli diplomat, Ismail Khaldi, is a Muslim and an Arab. (video) One of the things that is so striking is that the scenes at Hampshire and the aforementioned universities are almost interchangeable: same tactics, same ideas, same slogans in some cases. Khaldi has called activists of this sort "part of the problem, not part of the solution."

If the college environment is foreign to you, listen to experienced Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who writes for an Israeli newspaper. If this environment is familiar to you, listen all the more closely.  He reports being denounced as a Nazi and having to travel with security guards—but not in Israel or in the Arab states:
  During a recent visit to several university campuses in the U.S., I discovered that there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah.
  Listening to some students and professors on these campuses, for a moment I thought I was sitting opposite a Hamas spokesman or a would-be-suicide bomber. . . .
  The good news is that these remarks were made only by a minority of people on the campuses who describe themselves as “pro-Palestinian,” although the overwhelming majority of them are not Palestinians or even Arabs or Muslims.
  The bad news is that these groups of hard-line activists/thugs are trying to intimidate anyone who dares to say something that they don’t like to hear. . . .
  I never imagined that I would need police protection while speaking at a university in the U.S. I have been on many Palestinian campuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and I cannot recall one case where I felt intimidated or where someone shouted abuse at me.
  Ironically, many of the Arabs and Muslims I met on the campuses were much more understanding and even welcomed my “even-handed analysis” of the Israeli-Arab conflict. After all, the views I voiced were not much different than those made by the leaderships both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. These views include support for the two-state solution and the idea of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in this part of the world. (read the rest)
To be sure, the issue on campus is about Israel and Palestine. However, it is not a college's job to be pro-Israel or anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian or anti-Palestinian. It is a college's job to provide the tools and the space for those of its members who wish to determine and debate where they stand in that conflict—and, let us remember, the two parties have agreed to work toward a peaceful solution. If they have agreed that they can talk calmly about it, why can't we?

On an even more fundamental level, then, the controversy on campus is about the nature of an academic community. I am of course aware of the complex philosophical, legal, and political arguments about the nature, limits, and ideology of "free speech."  (So, no lectures, please.) But there is a very simple reason that last week's episode and the harassment cited in the student letter are unacceptable.  Here at Hampshire, we are all subject to the norms for community living, which are part of the official student policy handbook. Having just completed a two-year term on the Community Review Board, which adjudicates disputes involving community life, I am quite familiar with those norms.  The "rights that afford personal protection and ensure the college’s commitment to learning and the advancement of knowledge through free inquiry" guarantee community members—defined as including guests—"the right to freely express their ideas provided that the method of expression does not violate any other rights," "the right to reasonable security from threat or physical abuse or mental anguish," freedom from "Verbal threats to do violence, psychological intimidation, and harassment," as well as freedom from discrimination on the basis of "national origin" and "religion" and other "protected factors."

Clearly, a group of people whose members are unable to discuss their differences peacefully should not call itself a "community."  Just as clearly, it should not call itself a college.The situation has to change. Time is running out.

Here, now, the students' letter:
The signers for Students Promoting Israel, Culture, and Information’s statement on the incidents reported on in Acting President Fried’s December 17th letter and response to Students for Justice in Palestine’s reflection:

In light of recent incidents at Hampshire, and in response to the reactions of various groups on campus to those events, we feel that we must offer our own statement to add to the public discourse.

Violence or the threat of violence against any person for their beliefs, political or otherwise, is unacceptable in any context. The instances of physical, verbal, and written harassment, threats, and intimidation which were addressed by Acting President Marlene Gerber Fried and Special Presidential Assistant for Diversity and Multicultural Education Jaime Davila in their letter to the Hampshire community are examples of such violence, and we applaud both the administration and faculty for publicly speaking out in response to these acts. Furthermore, we trust in their ability to discern between actions fueled by ethnic or religious hatred and those of political intolerance; to suggest that they have not done so is as dismissive of the events that have occurred as it is cowardly.

We feel that is it is equally irresponsible to condemn the violent incidents and then immediately justify their basis, as the letter recently distributed by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) seeks to do to. This document turns what should be a statement in support of denouncing “threats and personal violence to students who identify politically with the State of Israel” into a heated proclamation that unnecessarily attacks insignificant nuances in the President’s letter and inappropriately defines personal identity as the authors see fit.

As the signers for a group that does its best to represent the wide range of affiliation with or support of Israel found within Hampshire’s student body, we understand the term “Zionism” as the right to Jewish self-determination. To claim that such a broad orientation is inherently aligned with current policies of Israel’s government and military is ludicrous; by the same logic of such a statement, anyone who believes in the foundational values of the United States is implicit in each and every one of the country’s institutionalized intolerances, military operations, and genocidal history.

At the intersection of our shared public position as representatives for SPICI and our respective personal Jewish affiliations, we feel a need to address the recurring introduction of antisemitism into discourse that concentrates specifically on anti-Zionism, often proffered without relevance or basis, or used to dismiss the validity of any Jewish narrative in support of Israel. (And here we must contend another point in SJP’s most recent letter that appears consistently in their rhetoric: that a Zionist perspective and Jewish identity are artificially “conflated.” While the SPICI signers see Zionism and Judaism as two very separate things, for many Jews a connection to Israel is an integral—if not defining—part of their personal identity, and ought to be respected as such.) It is our firm belief that anti-Zionist sentiments or actions are not inherently rooted in antisemitism, but the truth of the matter is that they can be and often are connected, especially within the Hampshire community. Each of the SPICI signers has been personally approached by increasing numbers of students expressing their discomfort with the antisemitism they face from their peers and educators alike, often but not exclusively apparent around anti-Israel demonstrations on campus. These concerns are legitimate, and they are worth the consideration of the entire community when voiced—and even more so when they are silenced.

Nor should the question of antisemitism be arbitrarily brought up in order to distract our campus’ conversation concerning the events that have occurred. In the case of the repeated acts of physical, verbal, and written harassment about which Hampshire’s acting president wrote in December, the victim was targeted for vocally supporting Israel, not for any religious or ethnic affiliation. To our knowledge, no individual or group has been publicly accused of direct responsibility for these incidents on our campus, and by no means are we in any position to place blame or point fingers in this regard. We do believe, however, that such aggression does have a source in the militarized rhetoric and political attitude that has become widely accepted in our community, a violently passionate form of “activism” that is practiced by some groups more heavily than others. Whether the perpetrator of a harmful act is a member of an organized group or not, responsibility for encouraging a discourse and environment in which the perpetrators felt that such action was acceptable must be introspectively acknowledged.

The scene in the Main Lecture Hall last week proved demonstrative of the need for such introspection. Despite our personal feelings about the event, (which were and are still varied) we attended Sgt. Benjamin Anthony’s presentation as SPICI signers and representatives of Hampshire’s Israel-identified community—only to find ourselves in the margins of an audience that was more focused on itself than on the stage: a crowd that was too absorbed in its own dynamics to actually consider the content of the evening’s remarks. Opposing views were polarized on all sides long before the day of the event, and consequently every banner-waving, flag-draped student in Franklin Patterson Hall that evening attended to expressly agree or disagree with the speaker; not one of them came to have their views challenged. Is that really all the integrity that’s left of Hampshire’s academic values?

Although SPICI did not plan, organize, or even sponsor this event, its student signers all support and commend the efforts of all Hampshire students to bring to our campus speakers with whom they identity and align themselves, regardless of our own personal opinions about the presentation or its message. To assert that any voice has no place at Hampshire is both small-minded and audacious in its lack of common respect and its defiance of the pursuit of intellectual curiosity for which Hampshire has stood since its very inception. Every member of a community of ideas should consistently challenge their own perspectives, and be challenged without being threatened.

It is our sincere hope that this letter, which was very difficult for us to write and even harder to sign, will contribute to a conversation that must be held throughout Hampshire college, by students, staff, faculty, and administration alike.

Hampshire College President Again Criticizes Intolerance, Affirms Need for Open Dialogue in Wake of Disruption of Talk by IDF Soldier

 As visitors to this site will know, tensions over the Middle East conflict are a divisive issue here, as on other college campuses.

Those tensions have, if anything, increased, as reflected in incidents of the past semester, and now, the disruption of a talk by a soldier of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on February 3.

Still, there are hopeful signs.  Sometimes, it takes a wake-up call such as this to create an opportunity for progress.

In the first place, reaction here on campus, as far as I can tell, is largely negative: Many students report being turned off by the behavior of the hecklers, which they found obnoxious and embarrassing.  Those who have been silent are speaking up. Voices along a broad political spectrum, are saying: "Enough!"

In the second place, the administration has been quick to intervene. As noted earlier, on the morning after the talk, interim President Marlene Fried issued a statement informing the community of the incidents and affirming the right of students to invite speakers who present their ideas peacefully and "to have opportunities to think through issues and be educated about them" without obstruction or interference.

Then, at the monthly faculty meeting on February 8, she made a point of explicitly addressing this campus controversy at the start of her presidential report. As she put it with deliberate understatement, many would have heard that "Issues around Israel-Palestine have become rather acute in the past week." She went on to thank those faculty who have been "trying to create a reasonable climate" and to express the "hope that," rather than shouting and arguing, "people can actually learn something" about the region and the conflict. She urged us to do more to improve the intellectual atmosphere, for "we are really leaders for our students and mentors for them." She noted with approval that moderate students have been suggesting the creation of "round tables" where the Middle East could be a subject "for dialogue rather than trying to win someone over to another point of view."

As noted earlier, two college deans made firm statements on the need for free speech and civility at the event in question and have, along with other staff from the offices responsible for student life, been working for some time to create precisely the dialogue that President Fried called for.

I am aware that some, both here and in the outside world, regard the President's statements as not strong enough. Obviously, although the principles are not in doubt, there is always room for debate as to the precise nature of any response, depending on the dynamics of a given situation.

There can, however, be no doubt as to President Fried's commitment to free speech and civility: they are matters of public record and long standing. A philosopher by training, Marlene works in the field of civil liberties and reproductive rights, which is itself no stranger to controversy.  I know from my own years here with her how she herself strives for fairness and openness in the classroom. For example, in a community in which students overwhelmingly and instinctively favor a "pro-choice" stance, she takes care to present fairly the "pro-life" position and to ensure that there is room for its advocates to be heard.

On balance, then, I think one should be cautiously optimistic until given reason to think otherwise.  The administration is publicly on record as having voiced the right sentiments.  Rather than arguing that they should have been conveyed in other words, rather than fearing the worst, let us hope for the best: namely, that the words that were spoken will be translated into action.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Artifact of the Moment: A Book, and a Belief in World Cultural Unity Amidst Diversity

11 February

Beginning a new rubric, which I had been meaning to do for quite some time.  "Artifact of the Moment" (and yes, I did actually agonize quite a bit over "artifact" versus "artefact," since I somehow want to incline toward the former— but even leaving aside the various etymological arguments, this is the United States in the 21st century).

At any rate, it's an excuse to do something else and, I hope, slightly more than just show and tell. Saying that it does not have to be the equivalent of an elementary-school activity does not mean that it has to rise to the level of a museum exhibit, either.  Large institutions themselves have come to realize this; witness the very successful programs of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and Library of Congress. As individual bloggers have likewise shown, there can be value or at least pleasure in the simple sharing of images and brief commentary, for information and stimulation of conversation.  Matthew Battles brought an edgy intellectuality with a popular touch to the discussion of odd objects over at gearfuse.  Among my own nearby blogging friends and "Tweeps," Marian Pierre-Louis regularly posts images of New England gravestones at "The Symbolic Past," while, over at ArchivesInfo, Melissa Mannon shares finds from the world of ephemera and more (this week, appropriately enough, it's a vintage Valentine's Day card).  And friend Anulfo Baez, the ever-interesting "Evolving Critic," introduced readers to the furniture—rather than architecture— of H. H. Richardson (who knew?).

Given the upheavals of recent weeks—and the world-historical events of this very day—in the Middle East, I'm going to start with an object testifying to the European desire for cultural interchange and symbiosis.

frontispiece and title page:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, West-oestlicher Divan [West-Eastern Divan] 
(Stuttgart: Cotta, 1819)
556 pages, and 3 unpaginated leaves rare uncut, unbound copy (approx. 11.2 X 19.5 cm)
[=publication 1819 D in the Hagen inventory]

 The engraved frontispiece, in Arabic, reads: "The Eastern Divan by the Western Author," reflecting Goethe's concept of a broad and cross-cultural "world literature" (Weltliteratur) that was the patrimony of all humanity:
“I am more and more convinced,” he continued, “that poetry is the universal possession of mankind, revealing itself everywhere, and at all times, in hundreds and hundreds of men. . . .National literature is now rather an unmeaning term; the epoch of World literature is at hand, and every one must strive to hasten its approach. But, while we thus value what is foreign, we must not bind ourselves to anything in particular, and regard it as a model. We must not give value to the Chinese, or the Servian, or Calderon, or the Nibelungen; but if we really want a pattern, we must always return to the ancient Greeks, in whose works the beauty of mankind is constantly represented. All the rest we must look at only historically, appropriating to ourselves what is good, so far as it goes.”

(1827) Conversations with Eckermann
Goethe had been working at least since 1814 on poetry inspired by the great fourteenth-century Persian lyric poet "Hafis" (Hafez). However, as he explained to his publisher Johann Friedrich Cotta in 1815, the latter's gift of his edition of Hafis's works in a translation by the prominent Austrian orientalist Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856) lent the effort new impetus.  The goal, Goethe said, was  "to connect, in a cheerful way, the West and the East, the past and the present, the Persian and the German, and to allow the customs and habits of thought of each to overlap."

In writing the Divan, Goethe did not so much try to copy the poetic form of the ghazal (German: Ghasel; rhyming couplets and refrain, in the same meter), as to evoke its spirit and feel. (Contemporaneous German authors of a later generation, such as Friedrich Rückert and August von Platen, pursued the goal of closer poetic imitation.)  The poems also reflect his interest in and respect for Islam.

Some of the pieces appeared separately in various periodicals and serials in the coming years, but it was only in 1819 that the complete collection appeared together. As editor Konrad Burdach put it in the great critical-historical "Weimar Edition" (WA) of Goethe's works, "There is not much to be said in praise of this first edition; although the printing dragged on, it by no means turned out to be particularly accurate." (WA 6:355) The firm of Frommann in Jena  began the work in December 1817 but did not complete it until August 1819, a situation that Goethe finally denounced as irresponsible.

There were all kinds of misprints, from minor typographical errors to garbling of proper names, only a few of which were corrected in the index (for example, rendering "a cygnet" (baby swan) as "a weakening" or "debilitation.")  Of the mistakes that went unnoticed, some were basically harmless but annoying, whereas other garbled names or obscured the intended meaning. There were some corrections. The most significant change was to the title of the fourth poem, "Talismans" ("Talismane"). The printer mistakenly used a far longer early title, "Talismans, Amulets, Abraxas, Inscriptions, and Seals" ("Talismane, Amulete, Abraxas, Inschriften und Siegel").

In the handpress era, text was set by hand (composed) from individual letters, line by line, and then arranged in pages (imposed) and printed on both sides of single sheets of paper, folded together to produce "signatures" (Bogen; Druckbogen) which were then stitched together in gatherings: in this case, "octavo" format, meaning 3 folds of the sheet, to produce a signature of 8 leaves or 16 pages. After the book was given a permanent binding, the page edges were trimmed of excess to remove closed folds and yield a volume of the proper size. (The copy depicted here is rare not only because it is a first edition, but especially because it somehow survived all this time unbound and uncut.)

The typical method of dealing with misprints was simply to add a list of errata (Druckfehler). If the mistakes were caught in time, they might be corrected, though this was not always simple. Corrections that resulted in the addition or deletion of more than a few letters could throw off an entire page, which could in turn affect the rest of the sheet. Circumstances permitting, a middle ground between doing nothing and starting over with a new sheet was to "cancel" and replace just the offending leaf (2 pages) or conjugate pair of leaves (4 adjoining pages). In German, the insert, or cancellans, was referred to as a Carton. This is what happened here, for Goethe ordered the reprinting of the quarter-sheet containing pages 7 through 10.

Here, the translation of the poem , from a late nineteenth-century edition:
God’s very own the Orient!
God’s very own the Occident!
The North land and the South
Rest in the quiet of His hand.

Justice apportioned to each one
Wills He Who is the Just alone.
Name all His hundred names, and then
Be this name lauded high! Amen.

Error would hold me tangled, yet
Thou knowest to free me from the net.
Whether I act or meditate
Grant me a way that shall be straight.

If earthly things possess my mind
Through these some higher gain I fnd;
Not blown abroad like dust, but driven
Inward, the spirit mounts toward heaven.

In every breath we breathe two graces share—
The indraught and the outflow of the air;
That is a toil but this refreshment brings;
So marvelous are our lifes comminglings.
Thank God when thou dost feel His hand constrain,
And thank when He releases Thee again.
(Stanza 1 is a poetic rendering of text from the Qur'an, and stanza 3 is derived from the Qur'an. The closing stanza draws upon the thirteenth-century Gulistan [rose garden] of the great Persian poet Sa'di.)

Speaking of the compass points:  the opening lines from the opening poem, "Hegira," seem most timely today, when the Mubarak government fell, following the collapse of the Tunisian regime and the overwhelming South Sudan vote for independence:
Nord und West und Süd zersplittern,
Throne bersten, Reiche zittern,
North and West and South are crumbling,
Kingdoms tremble, thrones are tumbling;
It sometimes pays to listen to a poet.


German text
• English text

Friday, February 11, 2011

President of Hampshire College Issues Statement Criticizing Disruption of Talk by IDF Soldier

As noted in recent posts, Hampshire College Students for Justice in Palestine and associated outside protesters disrupted a talk by a reserve soldier of the Israel Defense Forces last week.

The next morning, interim President Marlene Fried issued the following statement.  She was not present at the event and could therefore speak on the basis of only second-hand reports.  Nonetheless, it was unusual that a statement was issued at all, and so soon, especially coming, as it did, on the heels of her sharp recent condemnation of harassment and other violations of community norms arising from tensions over the Arab-Israeli conflict:

4 February 2011

Dear Hampshire College community,

One of my pledges to you as your interim president is to keep you informed about events and concerns on campus that matter to us as a community. In that spirit, I write to speak to you about two matters.

First, I want to share details, as I understand them based on reports from those in attendance, of an incident surrounding a speaker on campus last night and the request that individuals who would not permit him to be heard leave the lecture hall so that others who wished to hear might do so.

The speaker was invited to campus by a student group, as is common practice at Hampshire. While the administration neither endorsed nor invited him, it has been my position throughout my 25 years at Hampshire that student groups should be able to invite their own speakers to campus, so long as the speaker's views are expressed peacefully. It is important for students to have opportunities to think through issues and be educated about them.

A large audience, drawn both from the Hampshire campus and the surrounding area, and holding diverse views, attended the talk, which was entitled "Reflections of a Front-line IDF Soldier." Knowing that the audience held passionate and differing views about the topic, a representative of the dean of students' office asked in advance that everyone allow the speaker to give his views, with time to be provided for a question-and-answer session afterward. That request was made again at several points during the talk. Individuals who continued to make it impossible to hear the speaker were asked to leave so that others might hear him. They did so quietly with the exception of one individual who continued to blow a whistle until a public safety officer in attendance told him that he would have to leave. No one was arrested. No charges were filed. The officer walked to the door of the room with the individual as he left the lecture hall.

The second topic I want to address is a letter posted to the campus announcements this morning on behalf of SJP. I want to thank the students for their thoughtful letter, and to assure the community that I had an opportunity to read and respond before the letter was distributed on campus. I also want to be very clear that I do not hold the positions that the letter attributes to me.

As I stated in my earlier response directly to the letter's writers, I would appreciate an opportunity to meet with SJP and/or participate in a more public discussion where we would each be able to clarify our position. I would hope this would also further the ability of others on campus to have open dialogue and discussion on these issues.

Marlene Gerber Fried

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sound and Fury at Hampshire College as Protesters Disrupt Talk by IDF Soldier

As noted in an earlier post:  Exactly a week ago, on the evening of February 3, 2011, reserve Sergeant Benjamin Anthony of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), gave a talk in the Main Lecture Hall at Hampshire College. He founded the organization, "Our Soldiers Speak," in order to share with the general public the experience of military service in one of the world's most controversial conflict zones.

Here, as promised, is the longer report.  Because the events of the evening provoked so much rumor and controversy, I will present as complete an account as possible, based on extensive notes.

* * *
Supporters and opponents, and perhaps just those who actually wanted to learn something—so hard to tell: a shame that there is no identifying emblem for the neutral and honestly inquisitive, equivalent to all the keffiyehs and Israeli flag temporary tattoos that I saw—milled about in the lobby of Franklin Patterson Hall as police secured the room.

The atmosphere as the large crowd waited with growing impatience was boisterous. Given that we were approaching Superbowl Weekend, it reminded me of the pre-game tailgate parties of the opposing teams (okay, without the beer, food, or good humor).

Although pro-Israel students unfurled an Israeli flag and sang a traditional song, most of the “pre-game” activity came from the other side. The anti-Israel students of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) enthusiastically chanted, “End, End the Occupation!”, “Free, Free Palestine!”, and “Our People Are Occupied, Resistance is Justified!”

Many other pro-Palestinian attendees came from outside the College. The local unit of the “Raging Grannies,” led by peripatetic activist Ruth Hooke, sang songs against war and for freedom in Gaza. Most of the other outside protesters likewise appeared to be rather long in the tooth: at the least, three to four times as old as the students.

Students for Justice in Palestine also distributed their own mock(ing) program for the event. As always, they were well organized.

That surprise it mentions? A nice example of their always effective organization: when one unfolds the pamphlet, it yields a mini-placard: convenient, environmentally responsible, and a good way to avoid any institutional strictures against display of protest signs when visitors are checked at the entrance to an auditorium.

Finally, the security staff let the audience enter—single-file and using only one of two sets of doors—as they counted each person.

* * *

Special Presidential Assistant for Diversity and Multilcultural Education Jaime Dávila and Assistant Dean of Students for Community Advocacy Amnat Chittaphong launched the event by speaking strongly and eloquently about the need for learning and civil dialogue in a college setting.

Next, event organizer and recent graduate Samantha Mandeles (pointedly wearing both an IDF t-shirt and a keffiyeh wrapped around her neck) introduced the speaker. She closed by citing Judge Learned Hand on the virtues of humility and uncertainty when seeking the truth.

We were told that, for reasons of security, and at the request of the speaker, the audience could not record the presentation itself. After the introduction concluded, I accordingly turned off my camera.

As the event began, there was strong applause for the speaker, and then, strikingly, the room fell quiet. Both supporters and opponents were clearly curious as what he would have to say; the tension was palpable.

Sergeant Anthony is an accomplished speaker with a strong stage presence, though he of course did not change the opinions of those who came in order to protest. As one might expect, he speaks with an English accent tinged slightly with Hebrew. His English style, however, is a more elevated and formal one than most of us are used to either in American academe or, in particular, here in the “Happy Valley.” Despite the seriousness of his subject and the occasionally tense interactions with the audience, he managed to inject some levity into the evening’s talk, both in his offhand references to such notorious Israeli foibles as heavy smoking and atrocious driving habits, and occasionally in his ripostes to critics in the audience. Throughout the evening, he kept his cool and treated his interlocutors with courtesy.

It was of course apparent from the start that the positions of the speaker and the protesters were irreconcilable. Agreement was out of the question. The only question was: could a conversation nonetheless take place, if only a debate rather than a dialogue? Soon, however, it became clear that the real question was: would he even be allowed to complete his talk?

Unlike peace advocates who support the “two-state solution” affirmed by Israel and the PLO in the Oslo Accords of 1993, and subsequently underwritten by the “Quartet” of great powers and endorsed in principle by the Arab League, the protesters, adherents of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement (1, 2), seek not changes in Israel’s policy, but the delegitimization and elimination of Israel—a United Nations member state—as such, which they regard as a racist and colonial enterprise. (If there were any doubts tonight, the chants of “One State!” and references to a "sixty-year" occupation of Palestinian land—i.e. dating back to the founding of the state in 1948 rather than the 1967 war—made that clear.)

For Sergeant Anthony, by contrast, that state, created in accordance with the United Nations Partition Resolution of 1947 is both a refuge and a fulfillment. His basic message was: the State of Israel (its official name) was the logical and necessary outcome of a Jewish history of exile and persecution stretching back some 2,000 years—a restoration of the nation on its historic soil, and in practical terms, the only guarantee of Jewish safety. In this view, the Jewish people can be safe only when it is self-reliant and not dependent on outsiders for its preservation: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are the guarantor, and that is the common motivation behind the service of its citizen-army, individual political views notwithstanding.

* * *

Sergeant Anthony began by noting (as in the event description) that he had served at the front in several recent military campaigns, inside and outside the borders of the country, to help her “to rid herself of the scourge of terrorism.” [derisive laughter from the audience]

Unfazed, he continued. His point, he said was not to bombard people with facts and figures that anyone can get from the internet. He likewise explained that he was not a government official or in any way sponsored by the military or the government.

Attempting to emphasize again that his aim was to help outsiders to understand the personal experience of the soldier, he said, “My political view is no more relevant than any of yours.” Many in the audience, misinterpreting the remark as dismissive of their views, rather than a self-effacing gesture on his part, responded with hisses, establishing the pattern for the evening.

He was, he continued, “merely an individual who has carried out raids, arrests, patrols.” A straightforward yet in this setting somehow provocative formulation.

His ground rules for the evening were: after the talk, any respectfully asked question would get the best answer he knew how to give; he would not pretend to have knowledge he did not have.

He added, “I do not in my mind equate terror or terrorists with Palestinians or Arab people.”

He set the context by talking of several recent actions in which he had been involved, for example, the Lebanon war of 2006, a stationing in Hebron, and action against Hamas, whose continuing rocket barrages from Gaza placed a million Israelis in constant danger. To the foreign observer, the names of the towns where attacks take place are just headlines, whereas to Israelis, he said, they are the places where the soldiers, their families, and their friends live.

When the civilian population of the country is under constant threat, the soldier “knows what must be done, and thinks—and I’ll say this directly—world opinion can wait.” This “action,” he said, has “nothing to do with either political ideology or religious fervor.”

Immediately, the "action" began here, as well.  A heckler stood up, blew a whistle, and shouted, “Occupation delegitimizes Israel!”

Sergeant Anthony: “if I may continue, following that involuntary outburst by the gentlemen over there.” [laughter]

There were more hisses when he said that the IDF defended all Israelis: Christians, Muslims, and Arabs, as well as Jews. He cited the example—and names—of Arab-Israelis who lost their lives in the rocket bombardment from Lebanon in 2006.

He then went on to expand on the mentality and experience of the soldier.

“No soldier relishes going to war—if you doubt that, ask yourselves how you would feel if given ten minutes to prepare” for a mission that could cost your life and the lives of your friends. But one nonetheless goes willingly, he said, when the task is to intercept a band of terrorists planning an attack against civilians inside the borders of Israel, with the intention of murdering “children as they sleep in their beds at night.”

The soldiers, he said, fight simply in order to defend their homeland. A reference to that homeland as “Israel, the home of the Jewish people,” provoked another chorus of blowing whistles.

Heckler: “It has been occupied Palestine for over sixty years!”

[further demonstrations]

Assistant Dean of Students Amnat Chittaphong interrupted to remind the crowd of the ground rules.

Israel, Anthony explained, had never known full peace or been free of threat: “For an Israeli soldier, the battle is one into which they are born. The clock starts ticking at birth.” It was not a fate that they would have chosen voluntarily.

“There is nothing glorious about war, and anybody who believes that is sorely mistaken.”

A student suddenly stands up and shouts that, “As-a-Jew” who had “lost relatives in the Holocaust," she cannot support the racist State of Israel and its policies.

More commotion. Some members of the audience rise, in agitation. Some protesters walk out.

Amnat intervenes again: “If you are going to peacefully leave, please do so.”

A heckler again blows a whistle.

Sergeant Anthony: “Excuse me, the lady who’s Jewish—the lady who’s Jewish—and therefore uses her Judaism as validity for her opinion, could you please give me the title of last week’s Torah portion?”

The student apparently declares that she is not religious or words to that effect (it is hard to hear, for other hecklers begin to shout at the same time).

[Clearly, she had no clue as to the nature of Parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18), or for that matter, anything much having to do with Judaism, as such. It's a shame, actually, because, as chance would have it, it is one of the most profound and influential but also challenging portions in the Hebrew Bible.  It introduces the pilgrimage festivals such as Passover, establishes numerous moral values, and assures the Israelites that they will take possession of the Promised Land.  It contains the then-radical and still relevant principle of equal justice under the law as well as the obligation of charity.  It contains the famous command concerning "eye for eye, tooth for tooth"—which later outside critics took as an inhumane doctrine of vengeance but rabbinic commentators always understood to mean compensation and proportional justice: the punishment should fit and not exceed the crime and apply to all (1, 2). It contains the commands to protect the widow, the poor, and the orphan, which furnished some of the key principles of medieval chivalry as well as modern social justice. Perplexingly, it predicts that God will drive out the previous inhabitants of Canaan, yet also commands, "You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt."
Jewish scholars have been debating the meaning of these difficult texts for centuries. I would have loved to see the questioner and the speaker debate them in the context of his talk, not least because the Sergeant is religiously observant.  How does the text's explanation of the laws of justice speak to them about the doctrines of "proportionate" and "disproportionate" military response? Does the Torah really command violent conquest and even what some see as ethnic cleansing? (for that matter, do archaeologists think things really happened this way?)  And what about the concept of the "stranger": Who is the "stranger' in the blood-soaked and oft-conquered "Holy Land": the Jew? the Arab? neither? both? Of course, one cannot debate what one does not know. Yes, as chance would have it:  a lost chance.]

Hecklers continue to shout; hard to make out all the words.

A moment later, order breaks down completely. Members of the audience begin to take out their cameras. (as do I, for just those few minutes)

Responding to Sergeant Anthony's assertion that the student "uses her Judaism as validity for her opinion," a heckler in a back corner of the hall stands, shouting: “You use your Judaism to in order to occupy Palestine, which is illegal!” [following words indistinct]

[whoops of approval]

Sergeant Anthony repeats (in vain) the request to the  biblically illiterate student.

The heckler, gesturing and shouting again: “The entire world has ruled the occupation illegal!”

Hecklers begin the chant of “Free, Free, Palestine!” and then, “Stop the Show, Stop the Show, Take Your Racist Lies and Go!”

At this point, an Arab student from Hampshire gets up and shouts with passion that he wants to allow the talk ("show") to continue because he has something that he really wants to say to the speaker.

[applause from some quarters, more heckling from others]

Amnat begins to speak again, and calm returns:

“Those of you who want to stay for the Q & A, you may stay. Those of you who want to make comments now, you can make them outside the door, please.”

[some members of the audience begin to leave]

“And I really do not want to take this microphone again, and the only reason why we have to go to this extreme, if I want to remind the Hampshire community, [is] that a message went out in December, if you read it or not”

Heckler: “there was a message yesterday, as well.”

[other indistinct cries from hecklers]

[Amnat’s reference was to the letter sent by President Marlene Fried condemning threats and other forms of harassment against pro-Israel students. The heckler was referring to the response by Students for Justice in Palestine, which had been issued on the same day as the lecture (both reproduced here.)

[Amnat, continuing]: “that there were students, [heckling] there were students, [laughter] who have been physically harassed on campus [murmurs] from this past semester alone. [various murmurs and: “not true”] And that’s why we are taking these measures because we want to remind you all that [if] you are going to have an opportunity to be respectful here, then you need to help maintain that within our community.”

[more heckling, some scattered applause; against this backdrop, Amnat concludes:]

“And you can have your viewpoint, regardless of what view you have, when the time is appropriate…”

The Arab student now calls out, “Don’t talk about physical harassment with that man by your side!”

[more heckling, some laughter]

At this point, the speaker decides to cut short the presentation. He will wrap up within ten minutes and then take questions as long as people are willing to stay.

“I speak here to supporters of Israel.”

There are more hisses, as he refers to “the privilege of serving in uniform,” but, he continues, “there is no greater privilege than having your time and attention,” especially those who on campus persist “in light of the great efforts, as we are witnessing, to delegitimize not only the State of Israel, but also the people of Israel.” [hisses, then drowned out by applause]

“There seem to be two words with which the State of Israel is associated.”

Hecklers: “genocide?” “war crimes?”

His answer: Milchamah (war) and Tikvah (hope), noting that the latter was the title of Israel’s national anthem.

He then recounts an incident that had deeply moved him:

He had been called up for duty, apparently during the Lebanon War of 2006. Soldiers rushed to the base. In one car was a friend, his father at the wheel. The soldier briefly embraced his father, then disappeared around a corner to smoke a cigarette and don his battle gear. When the Sergeant spoke with the father, the latter broke down in tears, because of the mother’s concerns. And now the father himself was off to join his own unit, because every man was needed. The Sergeant assured him that he would take care of the son. The next time they saw each other was during the mourning ritual at the man’s house, for the son had in fact been killed. These, he explained, were among the experiences that haunt every soldier every day.

“No one,” he says, “need ever school the Jewish people on the virtues of peace.”

“I’ve seen the fallen bodies and the severed limbs strewn about the ground I walk on. I’ve seen the blinded and the dead.”

Among the soldiers, “All [that] all of them has is a hope that they will no longer have to make war.”

“Despite the fact that I’ve seen this great cost . . . despite the fact that I dream, it is likely that I will have to do it again.” [Israelis are liable to be called for reserve duty up to the age of 45]

“Never for a moment do I despair.” His hopes, he says, are “not ethereal.”

Heckler: “Are you recruiting?”

At the start of the lecture, Sergeant Anthony had read the Hebrew phrase that, he explained, was inscribed on the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] that every IDF recruit, regardless of background, received. He now (as promised) translates the passage:
When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.
(Deuteronomy 20:1)
More heckling from several corners, e.g.: “Israel gets 3 billion a year from the US.”

* * *
As the question-and-answer period began, the Sergeant asked for just two things: that people present questions rather than statements, and that he be allowed to answer fully without interruption.

This proved, in point of fact, to be difficult as concerned both the questions and the follow-up.

Truth be told, I found the exchanges very disappointing. They were disappointing because I could think of many questions that audience members could have asked, and to which I myself would have liked answers. On balance, the Sergeant, in his talk, defended Israel’s wars as moral and Israel’s army as a moral army. Many critics disagree. I would have liked to know: Does he ever have moral doubts: big or small, about policy or procedure?

For example, Israelis and many foreign peace advocates alike defend the existence of the state, yet many do not support—on various grounds, practical or moral—the permanent post-1967 occupation of all the territories formerly under the control of neighboring Arab states.

The Sergeant mentioned that he had been stationed in Hebron: How did he feel about that? Did he believe that he was justifiably there because Jews had returned the heart of the historical land of Israel? (in this case, a city in which the Jewish population was massacred in 1929). Did he instead regard the occupation as a practical but temporary necessity? A necessary evil? a moral and unacceptable evil? And what about the specific duties of the soldier under such circumstances? Some Israelis simply refuse to serve in the "territories" (for which they face the modest punishment of only a few weeks in jail). How does he feel about that?

What, then, of the daily actions of the troops in the territories? If a protester had happened to glance at a recent issue of the New York Review of Books (it used to be that "intellectuals" read it religiously), she would have found a lengthy piece on a new book of testimony by the Israeli soldiers of “Breaking the Silence,” who report on what they see as the grand crimes and petty cruelties of the occupation. Of course, critics, although not denying that injustices and mistakes take place, promptly responded that many of the incidents were inadequately documented or atypical, and certainly not reflective of any official policy. The sergeant has been there. What light could he shed on this debate for those of us who spend our time in libraries rather than on patrol?

All democratic nations have codes of moral conduct for their military, and Israel’s new handbook has even been used as a model in the United States. (1, 2, 3) In the eyes of its defenders, the IDF is the most moral army in the world, which puts the lives of its own troops at risk in order to avoid harm to the innocent. Nonetheless, in the eyes of critics, the IDF is a brutal and aggressive force that shows insufficient regard for human life. How could Sergeant Anthony's experience help us to assess these radically divergent claims?

Everyone knows that war is horrible, and that asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency operations, which pit the well-armed, disciplined troops of state actors against irregular forces that hide among the civilian population, are especially messy and pose agonizing moral as well as practical choices. Israel has been accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in such situations. Are those crimes real? If so, were they the result of contingent circumstances and the fog of war? of negligence? or policy? Most recently, the "Goldstone Report" (the popular name for the "Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict") condemned Israel’s actions in “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza. What hurt Israelis most was not just the accusation of widespread wrongdoing, but the accusation of deliberate and wanton killing of civilians. Critics of the report adduced extensive evidence of their own to refute this charge (1, 2, 3) . Again, what light can the Sergeant shed on this debate? What orders are soldiers given? How do soldiers in extremis behave? Training materials attempt to teach soldiers how to reconcile established abstract moral principle with the security needs of the moment when split-second decision-making is required. What is it like for soldiers to face those choices in real time when real lives—their own, those of the enemy, and those of innocent civilians—are on the line?

Now those would have been good questions, and tough ones.

Because Sergeant Anthony was speaking as an ordinary individual, the questions should have addressed him in that that capacity: his personal convictions, experiences, and feelings.

Instead, most of the challenges to the speaker were in fact really just naked statements of grand policy and abstract opinion with the fig leaf of a question mark, along the lines of: you live in a state that is the epitome of evil—how do you justify that?

• There was an exception. The best and most heartbreaking question was the first.

It came from a Lebanese student (the one who had, incidentally, cried out to the hecklers and asked that the Sergeant be allowed to speak). With evident emotion, he described the destruction in Lebanon in 2006: tall buildings reduced to rubble, people forced to evacuate their homes on short notice, the killed and the wounded. The Sergeant, he said, had spoken about his own people and his own suffering.

“What about my brothers and sisters you have killed? What about the things I have seen?” “Is that all there is—your suffering?”

• A: Sergeant Anthony responded by comparing the situation of Lebanon with that of Sderot (the first Israeli city within rocket range of Gaza), the point being that Israel, unlike Lebanon, was under constant attack  directed explicitly against its civilian population. A ten-year-old in Sderot, he said, “never knew a day without rocket fire.” In the first place, the Lebanese, whose civilians were not deliberately targeted, at least had adequate warning. Israelis, by contrast, did not. In Sderot, one had barely 15 seconds. In the second place, the Israelis, who were accustomed to attack, had shelters.  All buildings were reinforced. Schools and playgrounds were located underground or had shelters. Young people were allowed to congregate outdoors only if within a few steps of a shelter. Drivers there were forbidden to wear seatbelts, because the time it might take to unbuckle when rushing for a shelter might mean the difference between life and death.

And if anyone had any doubts, he said, they should just note that the preferred time for the attackers to launch rockets—especially if they had only a single one on hand on a given day—was 1:00 p.m. Did anyone know why? The reason, he explained, was that this was when schools let out, and children were on their way home. In Sderot and in the north during the Lebanon War, masses of the populace had to flee their homes or live in shelters. That was the only reason the loss of life was not far greater.

Around this time, a visiting instructor, who had been making interjections throughout the evening, stood up and interrupted with a lengthy question that challenged the whole procedure of the question-and-answer session and much more.

Sergeant Anthony replied, “Sir, if people want to attend your lectures: with the greatest of respect, they’re welcome to do so.” [laughter]

• Q: A woman who said, “I identify as a Zionist’ [loud hisses] explained that she had always felt it was important to hear “both narratives.” She said she therefore regretted “the fact that we cannot allow him to speak.” “If we can’t do it [i.e. have a civil discussion] here, it is unlikely anyone will do it over there.”

[more disruption]

“Have you spoken anywhere where there is, unlike this place, a civil and deeply respectful conversation?”

Heckler: “Where there have been Palestinians?”

“Why yes,” the Sergeant replied. He had spoken in over 120 locales around the world, and there was only one exception, when an audience member threatened him physically.

Heckler, sarcastically: “Welcome to Hampshire!”

And, Sergeant Anthony added,  actually, most Palestinians, too, were ready to engage in dialogue.

[there followed several other exchanges]

Hecklers: “Your racism is disgusting!” “You’re a propagandist!”

At this point, another disruption:

Some pro-Israel idiot (evidently a UMass student) seems to have called a pro-Palestinian student in front of him a “faggot,” which led to a shouting match and the eventual ejection of the offender by security staff. A hateful disgrace, and a distraction from an already deplorable episode.

• Q: student, referring to one of his earlier statements to the effect that Israelis did not want war, and would certainly not have chosen to live like this if it had been up to them, asked: “You said you 'did not elect' this lifestyle.” How could Israelis say this “in light of ethnic cleansing”? “How do they not 'elect' this lifestyle and these campaigns of war and genocide?”

Evidently, she did not understand that he was using “elect” in a more traditional or elevated sense of “choose” and therefore construed it only in its narrower political sense, so the whole thing degenerated into a rather pointless and extended exchange about politics and elections.

Be that as it may, it was of course valid to point out that Israelis "elected" the governments that carried out the policies she condemns. The Sergeant addressed the question on several levels. As for genocide and ethnic cleansing, he replied, one should look at the other side: he read from the Hamas Covenant, which contained a passage from Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna on the land of Palestine as a waqf [sacred religious trust], declaring that Islam would obliterate Israel. He then cited a passage from Mahmoud Abbas to the effect that no Jew would be allowed to live in the future Palestinian state. Finally, for contrast, he read the list of 18 Arab Members of the Knesset [Israel Parliament], with their party affiliations, which came not just from the Arab List or fringe groups but also, from the full range of mainstream parties.

As for the question of occupation, he reminded the audience that Israel had withdrawn completely from both Lebanon and Gaza, and that the result had been only more attacks. In the case of Lebanon, the result had been a massive rocket attack that forced the residents of northern Israel to live in shelters or flee, bringing ordinary life to a standstill. Cities were abandoned. Lebanon had been a purely military occupation as a result of terrorist attacks. In the case of Gaza—where there had been longstanding Israeli civilian settlement—Israel had uprooted every last settler but left an extensive infrastructure—such as greenhouses—intact, as a source of future economic development for the Palestinians of Gaza. And what had been the result? Practically the first thing the Palestinians did, he said, was do attack and destroy the greenhouses. And the ongoing response had been rocket fire at Israel.

“The only Israeli in uniform still in Gaza is a soldier named Gilad Shalit.” [who was kidnapped and has been held in captivity for nearly 1700 days]

Heckler: “Then get the hell out!”
Heckler: “Occupied people have the right to resist!”

• A student begins to read the names of Palestinian children killed by Israel. Demonstrators stand up throughout the hall and, one by one, read off names. Clearly, a carefully planned, well-organized effort.

Sergeant Anthony allows them to do so. Then:

“Can I read you my list?”

[surprise and chaos]

He proceeds to read the names of ten Palestinians under the age of 17 killed in Operation “Cast Lead” in Gaza.

He notes that it is only a selection. And then:

“I challenge any of you here to furnish just one name of just one Israeli killed in the Second Intifada.”


“I rest my case. That is absolutely disgraceful.”

• Q: What are your plans for the next five to ten years?
• A: “I learned that anyone involved in war and conflict would be foolish to plan for such a long period,” but if he could choose, he would think of founding a family, acquiring a home. “My primary ambition is to be ‘a free people in our land’” [a reference to the national anthem].
“The greatest freedom that I can possibly enjoy is to be free of conflict, to live in peace.”

• Q: “A lot of the villages [sic] mentioned [an incorrect allusion to the cities bombarded in the rocket attacks of 2006] were among the 700 destroyed in the Naqba [Palestinian term for the “disaster” resulting from the creation of Israel].” The Sergeant had called the IDF defensive. However, imperial powers had created the Palestine Mandate and had “manipulated the desperation of the Jewish people in creating Israel” “How do you see the existence of your society as a colonizing or occupying power in relation to that legacy?”

• A: “Israel as such is not occupied territory.”


Noting in advance that he was not a historian, he proceeded to describe his view of the arc of Jewish history. He affirmed again that he has “no hate for Arabs, Palestinians, Muslims.”

[hisses again from the audience]

He then said that he was interested only in his own people. Clearly, he was saying that this is the area of his knowledge and the focus of his concerns, but given the previous reaction of the hecklers, the audience took this remark as a sign of callous self-absorption and indifference.

Among the facts that he considered relevant were the long history of Jewish suffering. He did not want to harp upon the Holocaust because the pattern was longer and it was sufficient to cite the list of persecutions, expulsions, the Inquisition. Although the expulsion from Spain is the most infamous, he reminded listeners that similar actions took place in many lands, including his native Britain (all the Jews were expelled in 1290 and none were officially allowed back for almost four centuries; they did not enjoy full civil rights until the mid-nineteenth century).

And not only in Europe: he reminded (or in this case, more likely: informed) the audience that some 850,000 Jews lost their homes and property throughout the Middle East and were forced to flee when the State of Israel was founded. They were the forgotten refugees, he said. (1, 2).

His conclusion: “The Jews are not persecuted and killed as before—but this has been the case only for 62 years—exactly since the time Israel was founded.”

“The glorious reality is that I have a place that I can call home.”

In order to explain why he felt the need for such a home, why he had decided to leave England and settle in Israel, he told a story from his own history. Once, when he and his three brothers—identifiable as Jews from their head coverings—were walking to school in England, they were set upon by a group of thugs. “My elder brother was beaten to a degree that I cannot fully narrate.” He was, Sergeant Anthony said, “unrecognizable.” He was held up and punched till beaten unconscious, and then, while lying on the ground, kicked and "stomped and hit with bricks.” He suffered bone fractures and extensive internal injuries, and his face became a bloody pulp. In the midst of the assault, one of the attackers cried out, “Don’t stop until he’s dead.” In attempting to help and protect his brother, Anthony only earned a terrible beating himself. Bystanders did nothing. And, when his younger brother knocked on nearby doors attempting to get help, there was no response. So serious were the injuries of the elder brother that he underwent three liver transplants in the space of a week after the attack. Just this past year, Sergeant Anthony visited him as he underwent yet another operation for wounds that have never fully healed, physically or psychologically.

Two attacks on Jewish youths—the vicious attack on an individual on the streets of a modern English town, and the salvos of rockets on the schoolchildren of Sderot—in a sense thus formed the bookends for the talk and the argument concerning the State of Israel and the role of the IDF.

• Q: follow-up question (actually, the rules notwithstanding, again, a statement): “You have a state at the expense of another people.”
A: “I agree,” he said, “but there is no parallel whatsoever to be drawn between the suffering that the Jewish people underwent” over the centuries and that of the Palestinians more recently. The latter, he said, “do suffer anguish,” “but they are blessed with the ultimate gift of life on their kindred soil,” whereas the Jewish victims of persecution are no more: “the dead Jews have no life and no one to mourn for them.”


• Q: “Why did you come to speak here?”

Heckler: “money!”

A: “Just out of interest, why do you think it was ‘money’? no subcontext? . . . Your assumption is incorrect, but my assumption about your assumption most likely is correct.”

[I myself did not necessarily consider the question antisemitic in the simple sense, though that is what would of course first spring to mind. Rather, I assumed it to reflect a belief in the power of lobbies or other organizations of the sort alluded to in the SJP mock program. That may or may not be an antisemitic trope, depending on one’s point of view, but it does not have to do with the desire for personal enrichment implied in the simple version of the stereotype.]

Why does he come here? In fifteen to twenty years, he said, today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders of society and policy-makers.

“There has been a complete and utter erosion of the truth of what goes on in Israel . . . I stood in those boots, I wore that uniform, and each time, I did so proudly. I do not apologize for it.”

Summarizing the results of the evening:

It has been “a great privilege, and a humbling one.” “The majority of this has been instructive. I’ve learned a lot from you, and maybe you can learn from me. It is wonderful to engage in a civil dialogue.”

[This was either courtesy or what rhetoricians would classify as litotes.]

“I came here to have an honest discussion and I believe we have had it.”

[No argument here: there was no doubt as to where the speaker and his critics stood.]

Looking at the situation of the Jewish people and the State of Israel against the background of millennia, he said, “In the context of our history, it really has not been better” (hisses)

He concluded by saying that, as one raised “in the land of the BBC” [that will mean something to some people, though not to all], while still a student at the University of Manchester, he had conceived the idea of joining the Israel military, “and in my boundless arrogance, I felt that I would be the one to bring humanity to the IDF. It was those soldiers who schooled me in what it means to be humane.”

Heckler: “Read the Goldstone report!”

[further expression of protest]

Israel supporters stood and sang, “Od Avinu Chai…” [Our Forefathers Still Live, the People of Israel Lives”]

Palestinian supporters chanted, “One State, Equal Rights!”

Thus ended the event. It was certainly an instructive experience, in more ways than one. Whether anyone actually learned anything is another matter altogether.

(Students for Justice in Palestine celebrated with enthusiastic song and dance in the lobby until security staff announced that it was time to close the building.)

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