A university should be a place for exchanging ideas and discussing sensitive topics. When 30 students staged a protest during Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor’s lecture at UC Davis School of Law last Tuesday evening, the intellectual integrity of that classroom was reduced to symbols of hate and hopelessness. The students would not engage in a conversation. They taped their mouths shut and walked out of the classroom as the Consul General begged them to stay and ask questions. But the students had already choreographed their protest. They knew how the evening would unfold before it began.
The topic of Tuesday’s discussion was “Israel Today: Challenges and Opportunities.” In publicizing this event, I did not mention Palestine, terrorism, rocket fire, recent murders or the heightened standard that is often applied when evaluating military action by Israel. The Consul General came to UC Davis to discuss the current climate in the Middle East, and how it affects Israel. The substance of his discussion, though, was irrelevant to the students’ reactions. Akiva Tor’s nation of affiliation was enough to spark protest and hate.
This type of knee-jerk reaction to Israel is anti-intellectual and counter productive to fostering coexistence on campus and in the Middle East. The Israel-Palestine discussion is being driven into a desperate hole of hopelessness by extremists and their liberal sheep, including young Jewish adults who are afraid of being framed as anti-liberal by talking about Israel – despite its remarkable track record in civil rights, clean tech, innovation and (yes) military tactics. Many of my Jewish classmates who do support a Jewish state did not want the Jewish Law Students Association to host an event about Israel, because they did not want to “deal” with the very reaction that was elicited by Akiva Tor. But by avoiding the Israel conversation, misconceptions remain unchallenged, and we passively legitimize illegitimate beliefs.
Academic institutions are our best hope for an open dialogue between parties with conflicting interests. Thus, blind subscription to any ideology should be heavily discouraged on a university campus. Our responsibility as students is to explore the nuances of important political issues. It is dangerous when individuals and communities develop deep disdain for a country based on buzzwords from ideologues – apartheid, colonial, imperial, military occupation. I call on students to think critically and do their homework before adopting anything and everything under the liberal label. If you’ve done your homework and are still confident in your blanket disdain toward Israel, then bring those ideas to the classroom and let’s have a discussion. My objective in organizing last Tuesday’s event was to spark a dialogue as part of a slow shift from hopelessness to coexistence of ideas – at least at UC Davis. However, I must ask the students who taped their mouths shut and walked out on a discussion with Consul General Tor – what is your objective?
You seek to shift a civil exchange of ideas to a symbolic exchange of emotions, as symbols and emotions are harder to deconstruct than logically, factually sound dialogue. Is it insecurity in your beliefs? Intellectual laziness? Or perhaps you really are that angry and hopeless, and by refusing to engage with Israel’s Consul General, you are urging the local and international community to also disengage with Israel, regardless of its actions. There is nothing Akiva Tor could have said that would have resonated. There is nothing he could have done that you would have seen. You came to our discussion not to talk, but to tape your mouth shut and complain that you aren’t heard.
This is disturbing.
I call on my colleagues to exercise their ideas and exercise them responsibly – for they are powerful and we are privileged in having the key to this power.