voice for democracy

What happened when Oberlin announced trip to Israel for progressive students to see democracy (at $4500 a pop) – Mondoweiss

Oberlin College in Ohio has a noble progressive history, and this fall it has become a battleground for an important political question: Is Palestinian solidarity undermining the Democratic Party coalition?
Oberlin instructors who are concerned that the issue is dividing progressives organized a student trip to Israel this coming January, titled “Bridging the Gap: Israel,” that cast Israel as a robust democracy progressives can love, and cast Palestinian solidarity as a harbor for antisemitism.
“We’re really concerned that the left and the progressive movement don’t know how to talk about and don’t take antisemitism seriously,” one of the instructors, Megan Black told Walter Thomas-Patterson of the Oberlin Review.
A second instructor, Simon Greer, who has a long resume in Jewish activism, has also worked to keep support for Israel a progressive cause.
A student leader of the trip, Havi Carillo-Klein, wrote an article in the Oberlin Review days after the last Israeli onslaught on Gaza last May, lamenting the supposed antisemitism in leftwing discussion of Palestinian rights:
My questions are: how does pro-Palestinian activism regularly blend with anti-Jewish activism? What is going on within our community’s pro-Palestinian protests and activism circles that allows this pattern to continue?
The winter trip was published in an Oberlin catalog in October, and its description raised eyebrows because it never mentioned Palestine, stated the cost at $4500 for eight days, plus airfare, and repeatedly described Israel as a democracy. It said the trip would address “the complexity of issues facing Israeli democratic society that are too often deeply simplified in U.S. analysis, including the Occupation.”
This project encourages participants to take on the challenge of engaging the deep divides that plague American democracy by thinking deeply about Israel, a nation that is both important and divisive in U.S. political and campus discourse.
Soon after the trip was announced, Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine (SFP) began a campaign against it. They said the trip made Oberlin complicit in “oppression” and “apartheid,” and it must be condemned.
A reported 600 people have signed the SFP petition (on a campus of 2600 students), but so far it appears that the course has the support of the administration. A former dean of students was one of the trip’s initial organizers.
The Students for a Free Palestine petition offered a “brief history of Palestine” because the course description had nothing to say about Palestine.
Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Israeli government and Israel Defense Forces have forcefully removed Palestinian inhabitants from their historical homes and inflicted violence on Palestinian people. Militarization, brutality, murder, bombings, demolition, and family separation have traumatized Palestinians for over seventy years. Palestinians have been forced to resist occupation and apartheid that has left most of Palestine’s historical population seeking refuge; the land which once belonged to Palestinians has been plagued by illegal Occupation and continues to shrink, potentially into oblivion.
The organizers of the trip then revised the description of their trip. They renamed it, “‘Bridging the Gap: Israel, Palestine, and the Politics of Division Here at Home,’” and said it would include “extensive exposure to Palestinian experiences and perspectives.”
The price dropped to $2500, and the new course description made it clear that the organizers want to prevent Israel from dividing the Democratic Party rank and file. They blame “actors external to our movement” for politicizing differences between Democrats over Israel and Palestine (Trumpers/antisemites, presumably).
Our project has its roots in the political turmoil of the last five years, when it became clear to many organizers in progressive and racial justice movement spaces (including us) that internal differences over Israel/Palestine and associated charges of racism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia were being effectively weaponized by actors external to our movement to divide and destabilize progressive coalitions. These efforts weakened pro-democracy forces at a critical time for protecting voting rights, expanding political participation, and countering the surge of far-right anti-democratic organizing. The Bridging the Gap project and the Coalition of the Future course that we are currently teaching are both efforts to equip Oberlin students and future leaders to effectively navigate wedge attacks and the weaponization of racialized oppression through bridge-building, deep relationships, and complex strategic thinking.
That description is very much in line with J Street and other liberal Zionist lobby groups that want to keep pro-Israel a bipartisan issue. They want to end the battle between the pro-Israel establishment and the pro-BDS left– because they fear that advocating for Palestine will lower the Jewish commitment to the Democratic Party. J Street combines criticism of settlement expansion with support for full military aid to Israel, because it believes those positions are broadly supported by American Jews.
Oberlin instructor Simon Greer has boasted that American Jews like himself have answered the challenge from Israel to “protect, defend and support Israel.”
Oberlin’s Students for a Free Palestine group are not content with lip service to Palestinian human rights. They are angry that fees from the trip are sure to help support the Israeli army, and that the students will enjoy freedom to travel around the country that millions of Palestinians don’t have. A member of SFP told me that’s a privilege that’s offensive– on a campus that famously was once a stop on the Underground Railroad.
That student suggested that the trip organizers dropped the price of the trip because they’re having a hard time recruiting students. The trip was supposed to be for 15 students. Who knows how many will show up for a pro-Israel propaganda tour that a petition drive aims to stop?
But by all appearances, the student said, the college administration is committed to the trip, and is determined that it will not be canceled. I emailed two of the instructors to ask about the trip. Neither responded.
Mondoweiss is a nonprofit news website dedicated to covering the full picture of the struggle for justice in Palestine. Funded almost entirely by our readers, our truth-telling journalism is an essential counterweight to the propaganda that passes for news in mainstream and legacy media.
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We need some new academic perspectives – I propose that Oberlin institute a course on human rights in Israel only studying the words of high ranking Israelis. For example, here are the words of Shlomo Gazit (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shlomo_Gazit ), a Major General in the IDF, President of Ben-Gurion University and Director General of the Jewish Agency. Here are some of his comments, emphasis mine –
In 2005, 14 years ago, Israel carried out the disengagement and evacuated itself, civilians and military, from the Gaza Strip. Israel did disengage, but it left behind 2 million people closed off in the largest prison camp in human history.
Western powers, led by the United States and the European Union, insist that the boycott can only be lifted when Hamas meets three conditions: recognizing Israel, swearing off violence and accepting previously signed Israeli-Palestinian agreements….Retired Major General Shlomo Gazit, a former chief of military intelligence, called the three conditions laid down by Israel and its Western allies “ridiculous, or an excuse not to negotiate.”
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-06.
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