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"Tension on Campus."

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    Tension on Campus. The phrase has become unfortunately common at a wide range of universities, including our own Rutgers University. From San Francisco State
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 3 5:39 PM
      "Tension on Campus."

      The phrase has become unfortunately common at a wide
      range of universities, including our own Rutgers University. From
      San Francisco State University and the University of California at
      Berkeley; from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada to the
      University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, universities with active,
      growing Palestine solidarity movements and campaigns for divestment
      from Israel are being tagged with a new concern about "tension on

      This "tension" is described in a number of ways; "making Jewish
      students feel unsafe on campus"-despite the involvement of a number
      of Jewish students in the very movements accused of causing this
      tension, "creating an environment of hate," "causing discomfort
      among students," "making people afraid to be Jewish on campus,"
      and "poisoning the dialogue." However it is described, it usually
      returns to a thinly-veiled allegation of anti-Semitism and demands
      that, in some way, this tension be stopped.

      In any environment of strong debate, mobilization, protest and
      organizing, there can be, will be, and, in fact, should be, a
      certain amount of discomfort, tension and conflict. These conflicts
      exist not because of hatred or intolerance, but because there is a
      very real and meaningful difference between calling for liberation
      of the Palestinian people and ceasing U.S. aid to their oppressors
      in Israel, and demanding support of the Israeli government at all
      times. The student and community based movement for justice in
      Palestine is an antiracist movement at its core-it is based on a
      demand for full equality for all citizens of Israel (and end
      to Israeli apartheid) and recognition of human rights for all
      citizens of historic Palestine-the rights of self-determination, of
      freedom from foreign occupation, of liberation from colonialism, of
      return of refugees. These rights are denied Palestinians-citizens of
      Israel or residents of the Occupied Territories-because they are
      Palestinians, and specifically because they are not Jewish. The
      movement for justice in Palestine stands in solidarity with the
      Palestinian people inside and outside the Green Line in declaring
      that this form of state-sponsored racism and oppression is
      unacceptable and indefensible-and should not be supported with our

      Those who, in response, defend the actions of the Israeli state, its
      guiding ideologies, laws and practices, who declare that "Wherever
      we stand, we stand with Israel," are defenders of state racism,
      military occupation and the denial of human rights to Palestinians.
      This defense of Israeli actions is in direct opposition to a
      movement demanding liberation for Palestine, and in direct
      opposition to a movement declaring that, as Americans and others,
      government, university and corporate money should not go to prop up
      the racist occupation regime. Rather, however, than addressing that
      direct opposition and conflict of beliefs, defenders of Israeli
      government policy have resorted to raising concerns about "tension
      on campus."

      The university is envisioned as and expected to be an environment of
      open debate, innovative ideas, incisive questioning and analysis. Of
      course, it is also supposed to be an environment of tolerance of
      difference. However, what we are witnessing in much of the
      discussion of "tension on campus" is not a concern about tolerance
      but rather a demand for silence and an utter lack of any toleration
      of viewpoints critical of Israel. We are told that open debate is
      negative, dangerous and harmful; that political ideas make others
      uncomfortable or unsafe. Criticism of a government strongly linked
      to the US government is rephrased as dangerous, anti-Semitic and
      intolerant -creating an environment where many truly are afraid to
      share their concerns about Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

      Indeed, open debate may cause an amount of "tension." There is a
      very real conflict between defense of racism and opposition to
      racism-but this conflict is not a negative development; rather, it
      is a necessary conflict in order to end racist practices. Racist
      beliefs should be called into question; defense of racist state
      practices should make people feel uncomfortable. There is no right
      to political belief without feeling discomfort, tension or
      insecurity in those beliefs; this is a tension that reflects a
      struggle between justice and injustice. Tense it might be, but
      more importantly, it is necessary, positive and has the possibility
      of creating lasting and meaningful change. It is the sort of tension
      and conflict we should seek to encourage-open debate and expression
      of political ideas-rather than to suppress on the ground that
      someone may be emotionally discomfited by its existence.

      "Tension on campus" is another way of saying "active movement for
      justice in Palestine on campus." This struggle is portrayed as
      somehow uniquely "complicated," somehow uniquely prone to guidelines
      of "appropriateness" in its conduct. Unlike seemingly all other
      struggles for justice, it must be subject to mediation and
      moderation under the guise of "dialogue." There is nothing uniquely
      complicated here; every national situation is complicated, intricate
      and bears a long history. Nevertheless, justice applies despite
      these complications; there is nothing specifically "complicated"
      about the Middle East that precludes the Palestinian people from
      their rights to justice and self-determination. This justice will
      not be obtained through any number of well-meaning dialogues
      about "tension on campus"; it, however, might very well be obtained
      by the economic pressure on the Israeli state generated by effective
      divestment campaigns on the university, community, corporate and
      government levels.

      The focus on neutrality, on setting up dialogues and discussion, on
      condemning partisanship and passion as somehow negative, obscures
      the very real situation in the Middle East, as well as our own
      campus organizing. In the face of injustice and oppression, we
      should not seek to be neutral in tone or action, but rather to
      struggle mightily to end that injustice and oppression. The specter
      of "dialogues" between white racists and civil rights advocates, or
      between misogynists and feminists, so that those advocating for
      change might express their opinions in an appropriately timid and
      subservient manner, is both absurd and disturbing. It is absurd
      on its face; very few, today, would advocate that Jim Crow racism
      and segregation could have been overcome by creating an environment
      that is comfortable for racists. It is disturbing because at the
      time those movements were on the ascendancy there were a number of
      people who cautioned against such dangerous militancy as boycotts,
      demonstrations and uncompromising demands. Those movements overcame
      such demands for their silence and rightly rejected them as such.
      Here, however, a new method of silence is at work-labeling
      opposition to racism as itself intolerance, hate, and anti-Semitism,
      and placing anti-racist activists on the defensive to prove their
      own anti-racism.

      We need not accept this defensive position. There is no basis for
      allegations of anti-Semitism and hatred stemming from political
      expression of disapproval of the actions, ideologies and laws of the
      state of Israel. We need not accept "tension on campus" as a
      negative description. We have no desire to create an environment
      where racists may feel comfortable and secure in their racism; we
      very much want to call fundamental assumptions into question, to
      create an environment where it is, indeed, uncomfortable to declare
      oneself an unequivocal supporter of an oppressive, racist state. It
      should be uncomfortable; it should not feel equally welcomed and
      valid to defend oppression as to fight for its end.

      There is nothing making Jewish students afraid to be Jewish on
      campus; nothing that is, except for those whose Jewish identity
      leads them to condemn the racist practices of the state of Israel.
      The Rutgers University Hillel leadership sent out an Open Letter to
      the Jewish Community, demanding that Jews keep their consciences and
      their concerns silent, except within the closed confines of
      their "own community." Students who criticize racism, who dare to
      show the links between the oppression of Palestine and war against
      Iraq, who stand up for their own dignity and the dignity of their
      fellow human beings, are told that their words cause tension and
      discomfort, blamed for their great sin of bringing political
      conflict to the forefront, told to be silent, demure and
      inoffensive. Declaring that Israel is an apartheid state is not
      offensive; declaring that it is unacceptable to dehumanize
      Palestinians is not anti-Semitism; demanding that our money not go
      to support the Israeli state's oppression and racism is not
      dangerous. These statements do cause tension-the tension between
      those fighting for justice, and those fighting to preserve an unjust
      status quo.

      Across the country, students are being called to silence. Their
      words are too political, their demands too principled, their
      activism too committed. A coordinated campaign is in place to
      silence activists, to declare their work and their words beyond the
      pale. Nevertheless, students are refusing to be silent, continuing
      to organize. New divestment campaigns are launched on a constant and
      regular basis. Organizers are refusing to be intimidated by the
      campaign of silence masquerading about concern about "tension on
      campus." There is an active campaign for justice in Palestine;
      that campaign might well make defenders of injustice uncomfortable
      and insecure. That is not a sign of intolerance and hatred; it is a
      call to rethink defense of injustice and racism and take a stand
      with those struggling for human rights. "Tension on campus" indeed
      is a euphemism for Palestine solidarity on campus. May the tension
      continue to escalate, and the movement continue to grow, until it is
      recognized not as tension but as an irresistible force for global
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