Drawing the line in dissent debate

Don’t stereotype messenger—challenge the message

Chico State student Amro Jayousi is the president of the Political Science Honors Society, the Palestine Solidarity Committee, and a member of the Speech and Debate team.

Editor’s note:Mr. Jayousi was the subject of a news story in the CN&R’s Dec. 18 issue. For some readers’ responses, please see Letters.

In the past few semesters here in Chico, there has been significant discourse accomplished about the Middle East and the United States’ intervention in that region. However, sometimes it gets carried to obscene levels.

This often has been the case when a community member expresses a viewpoint that is critical of policies undertaken by the state of Israel. Such a viewpoint is misinterpreted from being simply an act of freedom of speech to the extreme of anti-Semitism, or hatred for the Jewish people.

A line ought to be drawn.

Such tactics are constructed as a way to delegitimize any criticism of that state’s policies, simply by attacking the speaker’s identity. The missing fact is that criticism of Israel’s policies merely for the injustice that they entail has absolutely nothing to do with extreme hatred for Jews.

Tragically, Israel’s apologists have successfully associated criticism of a state’s policy with hatred of that state’s people. This success comes despite the existence of many Jewish and Israeli scholars and organizations openly denouncing Israel’s occupation and aggression.

Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun urges those who disagree with criticism of Israel to debate the issues rather than change the subject to “the legitimacy of the messenger.” This is of particular relevance in the United States, and Chico for that matter.

Also consider the mission statement of the organization Jewish Voices for Peace: “U.S. military aid to Israel must be suspended until the occupation ends,” because “military aid allows Israel to avoid making serious efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” which also “contributes to the devastation of Palestinian society.”

One might wonder why the connection to anti-Semitism is still being made.

The extremely useful purpose of these accusations is that it offers Israel’s apologists a scapegoat alternative to answering any merit of the arguments. Instead, they simply attack the messenger’s identity with the charge of anti-Semitism.

MIT professor Noam Chomsky observes that “criticism of Israeli government policy … has evoked hysterical accusations and outright lies,” which makes any criticism of Israel’s policies seem malicious.

It is unfortunate that such a distinction is yet to be made in Chico, when it has long ago been made in Israel and around the world.

The Jewish people have been the most victimized throughout history. The truth of this fact is an imperative for all to prevent this suffering from continuing. But, the truth of this fact is not an imperative to be silenced before “a crime against humanity,” a term used by United Nations special investigator Richard Falk, a Jewish professor, referring to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza.