Two years ago on Holocaust Remembrance Day, pro-
Palestinian demonstrators interrupted 30 Jewish SFSU
students from their Mourner’s Kaddish (Jewish prayer for
the dead). The mourners were physically assaulted and
barraged with bullhorns blaring out epithets such as “Too
bad Hitler didn’t finish the job!” and “Get out or we’ll kill
you!” The San Francisco police had to intervene and escort
the embattled students to safety. The day is remembered
as a tragic metaphor for the conflict between Israelis and
These protests represent the combative frame of mind
that continues to prevent Israelis and Palestinians from
finding a peaceful solution to their conflict. This and other
demonstrations from San Francisco State University’s pro-
Palestinian groups (like those who accused Jews of eating
Palestinian children) are counterproductive and show how
criticizing Israel can easily snowball into hate speech and
eventually violent confrontation.
At UCSB, we are fortunate that dialogue concerning the
Middle East conflict has not yet devolved to the dismally
low point it reached at San Francisco State. Yet, that event
reminds us that we can never abdicate our responsibility to
a fair and balanced dialogue and an academic environment
that fosters creative solutions over hate speech. At UCSB,
I have watched demonstrators accuse Israel of apartheid
and heard professors compare Israelis to Nazis on several
occasions. Not only are these accusations patently false and
intentionally offensive, they rob us of the balanced dialogue
that is our only chance for a peaceful and permanent solution.
Having just returned from studying at Israel’s Hebrew
University and living in Palestinian East Jerusalem, I have
experienced both the intensity and the immense complexity
of this unique conflict. Political concerns, economics,
deep-rooted history, religious divisions, media portrayal
and many other factors have frustrated the achievement
of a viable peace for 63 years. Jerusalem and its holy sites
alone mean billions of Muslims, Jews and Christians from
around the world have a stake in the outcome.
The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 showed the conflict’s
ability to impinge on energy trade and the overall health
of the global economy. Many have joked that the more you
learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the more hopeless
a solution seems. Despite the stagnation and hardship,
I reject the idea that we should throw up our hands in
defeat, forget trying to achieve peace and content ourselves
with this cycle of violence and hatred. We must work to
break this cycle and our most powerful tool in achieving
that is education.
I was talking with a very religious Israeli once and
asked him whether or not he believed peace was possible.
He answered in typical Israeli fashion, direct yet earnest,
“Right now, probably not. But I am always praying that
it will be different for my children.” For his prayer to be
answered, the Israelis and Palestinians have to make dramatic
changes in their education systems in order to equip
the next generation with the tools for peace. We must do
the same with our higher education system. We must do
more to maintain a balanced dialogue and understand each
other’s perspectives. This means we must demand facts and
reject revisionist rhetoric (Israelis are Nazis, Palestinians
are terrorists) when we encounter it.
The Palestinians linger in refugee camps across the
Middle East while Israelis plod along, increasingly isolated
in a world that remains hostile to their very existence. All
of this suffering and uncertainty and the best we can do
is insult each other? If the problems in the Middle East
bother you, as they do me, then work toward their solution
by keeping an open and active mind. Ask the tough questions
and insist on candid answers. You will see the great
power education has to diffuse dangerous misunderstandings.
Peace is a lofty goal, and it will only come about as a
consequence of all participants uniting for justice.
Zachary Nusbaum is a fourth-year Middle East studies