Wouldn't you find it ridiculous if the department of performing arts publicly criticized John Edwards' plan to end poverty? Or if the department of audio technology held a talk on campus about how eating McDonalds is bad for your health? Or if the department of economics were to hold an event criticizing India for claiming Kashmir as Indian territory and not part of Pakistan? I know I would find it, at the very least, a bit strange.
On Thursday, November 3rd, the Department of Woman's and Gender Studies held an event entitled "Women's Activism Against Militarism and War Culture." Now maybe on the surface this sounds reasonable. I mean, it's an academic department for women's studies, and the talk is about women's activism. So what's the big problem? The problem is not the talk itself. The problem is that an academic department on campus blatantly chose one political side over another; it chose to publicly criticize the Government of Israel when this kind of political positioning clearly is, and ought to remain, outside the realm of this academic department.
What business does the Woman's and Gender Studies Program have in taking political sides in international conflicts? If anything, there are a few kinds of programs that I could theoretically legitimize coming out of this department pertaining to women's rights in the Middle East, if maybe the chair of this department felt so deep in her soul that she needed her department to weigh into the complexities of the Middle East conflicts.
If the department wanted a legitimate program to cosponsor with the Arab Studies department and the Society for Peace and Conflict Resolution, I could envision maybe bringing Rana Raslan to campus. She's an Arab from Haifa who was named Miss Israel in 1999. "I am totally Israeli," she once stated, "and I do not think about whether I am an Arab or a Jew." Now that sounds like a program that would merit the aforementioned departmental cosponsorships. Or what about, if the Women's Studies Department really wanted to talk about the Israeli Government, how about running a program about Golda Mier? I mean, talk about a strong feminist! How many nations around the world can claim a female Prime Minister? She was the world's third, after only Sirimavo Bandaranaike (Sri Lanka) and Indira Gandhi (India).
Or, even better, since the Woman's and Gender Studies Program is an academic department, why not run a program highlighting how about 22% of women in Israel have 13-15 years of formal education, as opposed to only 20% of men? Or how the female ratio of students in institutions of higher learning in Israel is about 60%? But no, instead the department chose to bring in a woman with a doctorate in architecture to talk about the problems with Israel's policies of militarization. So instead of valuing the contributions of women in the Middle East, the department chooses to bring in a woman (I mean, I give them that much) to talk about the flaws in Israeli policy concerning militarization. I just don't get it.
Now don't get me wrong! I know what you may be thinking. "Oh, this guy is just upset because he either doesn't like women, or he is one of those people who just can't stomach listening to any free speech that has to do with how Israel isn't the best country in the entire world." Ah-ha! I knew you were starting to think something along those lines. Well, let me first state that I definitely like women. I know this is hard to believe for a guy on AU's campus, but even when I was in Tel Aviv where everyone is beautiful and everyone's openly "out", I was still scoping out the girls. So that moves us into the second possibility. Maybe I just can't take anything less than "Israel is perfect," or even the more common scenario on our campus, something along the lines of, "Well, Israel is a million times more progressive than all of the country's Arab neighbors, so that should be enough." Then allow me to clearly state that this, too, is certainly not the case.
As with anyone or anything that you truly love, you are probably apt to be more demanding and hold the person or thing to a higher standard than something or someone who you felt perhaps more apathetic toward. This, to me, is how I feel about Israel. I was President of my high school's chapter of Amnesty International. I'm on the Community Action and Social Justice email listserve. And I have lots of friends who are active in Students for Justice in Palestine, and I respect them even more for their conviction and desire to push for social justice. I think it's a good thing to have open dialogue on a college campus -no, rather, it's a necessity. Having Students for Israel to be able to work with Students for Justice in Palestine in cosponsoring not one but two events so far this semester (both of which were very well attended) is a great accomplishment in my eyes.
When SJP planned "Palestine Awareness Week" last semester, I was there, in the tent on the quad, smoking hookah, reading the material, and talking with people whom I now call friends. It's not that I have a problem with criticizing Israel when criticism is due (or even valuing free speech over censorship). My problem is that it makes me uncomfortable to witness an academic department that has nothing to do with international politics and conflict organizing an event that publicly chooses one side over the other in a very complicated, and in the Women's and Gender Studies case, unrelated issue. Not only does this irresponsible and childish act set a dangerous precedent as to what academic departments ought to politicize (even if some students in the department are to feel uncomfortable), but it highlights the lack of academic integrity and class that any department at American University ought to be held to.