Is there a single issue more polarizing – especially on the UCLA campus – than the Israel-Palestine conflict? At first glance, it’s a strange wedge issue. Every year, without fail, separate camps dutifully scrounge up last year’s visual aids, take potshots across No Man’s Land, and share Facebook memes that reaffirm the rightness of their opinions. During certain years, especially fortunate bystanders can watch live as haranguing over this obscure land dispute 7,500 miles away spreads into the machinations of student government. How fortunate are all involved to know that the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council is on the case!
In all seriousness, I can already see my Facebook friends quietly disappearing as both the StandWithUs and Electronic Intifada demographics cut their losses. For the life of me, I struggle to understand why a localized Middle Eastern land dispute on the other side of the planet is the anvil on which students’ group identities are formed.
I’ve come to have great respect for those few individuals I know in both the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine circles who have well-researched and deeply-held positions. Last year, having never really held a position on the conflict, I plunged headfirst into the on-campus Jewish community as a writer for Ha’Am. Above all, I was enchanted by the passion with which Israel advocates like Professor Judea Pearl and Palestine-supporting students argued their cases, and I took a hard turn into the pro-Israel camp, which is, after all, the majority opinion among Jewish Bruins.
Last quarter, I had my share of fun observing the drama over the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference, which some in the Jewish community suggested would present a clear and present danger for Jewish Bruins but which ended up being a complete non-issue.
But, starting this quarter, I have become frustrated that this conversation, which grabs headlines, heightens tensions, and accomplishes nothing, never seems to end.
Many may not realize it, but USAC actually passed a divestment resolution in 2014. In a not-so-shocking turn of events, nothing at all changed, and the Regents declined to divest. Yet, out of some sense of obligation, the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine camps pull out the flags, informational signboards, and matching t-shirts to re-enact the same battle each year. Last year, I was excited by the dueling Palestine Awareness and Choose Love Weeks and the assorted activities organized by Students for Justice in Palestine and Bruins for Israel. This year, seeing the expanded field of Palestine Awareness Week, Choose Love Week, and Hebrew Liberation, my first thought was that it was all simply too much.
Imagine how much could be accomplished if the people whose political activity revolves wholly around an intractable conflict on the other side of the world redirected their energies towards tangible goals. Going forward, I would encourage my most fervent Zionist friends to zero-in on the issues faced by Jews in the here-and-now and the concerning uptick of anti-Semitic events within the United States itself. Along the same line, I would suggest that my SJP-affiliated peers realize that, having already won a hollow divestment victory in 2014, they accept that there is little to be gained from rehashing the same fight every year in student politics.
It’s unmistakably a good thing that UCLA students care deeply about the communities in which they’re involved and want to contribute in some way to justice abroad. But please, for the love of God, can we stop talking about Israel and Palestine?