Columns / Discourse / February 26, 2014

Pining for an international dialogue mirroring Knox’s tolerance

               Going to college isn’t easy. You have to deal with making your parents and yourself happy while envisioning outrageous goals and balancing finances. But at least you are here. Somehow, through your travels, living in airports or even struggling to apply for student visas you got here. But imagine if you were not allotted an education, but instead the government made it virtually impossible for you to attend college, let alone pay for it.

        Similar to apartheid in Africa, critics have argued that Israel has been acting with prejudice toward its Arab citizens and Palestinians in regards to access to a college education. With these claims, the American Studies Association have supported a boycott which urges American universities to end their support or partnership with Israeli universities in order to stand in protest and solidarity against discriminatory actions that Israel has place on Palestinians. This movement has attracted large number of participants in ASA’s history and is part of Boycott, Divest and Sanction, which is a general movement against Israel’s seemingly discriminatory policies.  The ASA passed the boycott with a vote of affirmation by 66 percent of the ASA’s 5,000 member body, which are dispersed around college campuses around the country.

        While this boycott and movement began over a year ago, universities and state governments around the country have only just begun to respond critically. Midwestern universities such as Northwestern and Washington University have already rejected the ASA boycott of protesting the lack of Palestinian academic freedoms. In response to the ASA resolution, New York Senate had recently passed a bill that prohibits New York higher-level institutions from funding organizations such as the ASA. Democratic Senator Jeff Klein justifies the New York state law against the ASA by stating, “This legislation sends a very simple message, which is that we should never ask taxpayers to support religious, ethnic or racial discrimination”

        However the new law does not “prevent the use of state money to boycott any countries that are “state sponsors of terrorism, or are engaged in an ongoing labor dispute or are engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice as determined by New York state law.” But instead, would prevent New York colleges and universities from using state aid to pay ASA membership fees or travel reimbursements. Many critics have argued that this New York State law is a first amendment violation.

        According to the New York Times, 80 percent of universities have condemned the actions of ASA and have removed their association with the organization, proving that the method chosen by ASA to boldly protest Israeli crimes against Palestinian individuals has been significantly shrugged off.

        With claims that the group has adopted anti-Semitic behavior, the boycott by ASA has been relatively unsuccessful. Not only do larger universities want to stay out of the political spotlight, but they view their overseas investments in Israel as being threatened and inhibited.

        The ASA boycott and the responses that have been gathered throughout the country beg the question, what would Knox College do? Representing a unique liberal arts institution where students are more willing to exchange dialogue and participate in friendly debates, I believe that our perspective and reaction on the ASA boycott may differ from that of other colleges and universities throughout America. In fact, (and this is a judgment based on discussions in my international relations classes) it seems as though our students would be more inclined to support the ASA boycott as they have in the past by encouraging dialogue and understanding throughout campus, as was seen with the Keystone Pipeline issue.

        As students here we are incredibly lucky. To begin with, our small, Midwestern college does not have to deal with maintaining overseas partnerships. Secondly, our school was based on the principles of active discussion, understanding, diversity and dialogue. This keeps us together as a community, ensuring that the opinions of each and every single individual will be heard if they choose to speak out. Lastly, we are all friends. It is evident at these larger universities; opposing religious groups have created intense animosity and levels of unease between each other and have thus begun to take hard (and quite frankly, dramatic) political stances against one another.

       Why can’t everyone just get along like we do at Knox? The presence of attacks on religious faiths and political stances that seems inherent on larger university campuses is based on a lack of dialogue or understanding between the different groups on these campuses. This makes me grateful that I attend Knox College. While, in my humble opinion, it is evident that Israel has limited many Palestinian freedoms including the right to live and the right to an education, I am able to voice my opinion and hear differing viewpoints in a safe environment. Rather than a prolonged session of “the blame game” so many universities around the country are playing, our integrated environment here at Knox allows us to engage in more appropriate conversations about controversial topics.

Hiba Ahmed

Tags:  American Studies Association boycott Israel Jeff Klein labor dispute New York Senate Northwestern Palestine terrorism Washington University

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