Unless you're looking for an incredibly frustrating verbal altercation, don't talk about politics, religion or Palestine.
It's a sad day for our university when educated people hurl insults at each other instead of having a calm and polite discourse about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Unchecked emotions, pride and egotism have derailed the public discussion. The conditions in Palestine and the U.S. military and economic support of Israel were overshadowed by name-calling and personal attacks.
The seemingly never-ending debate about Palestine flared up on our campus when visiting Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein gave a speech denouncing Israel's recent invasion of the Gaza. People said some nasty stuff in reaction to the guest speaker. In an April 29 letter to the editor, Sophomore Lisa Kerman called Finkelstein a "self-proclaimed Jew" and alleged he is anti-Semitic. That's a pretty audacious claim to make considering the guy's family line was killed off during the Holocaust.
Finkelstein didn't help the situation when he punked two Chico State professors who challenged the content of his speech. Finkelstein told one teacher he was making a fool of himself and the other that his question was a "Nazi question." He is only giving his critics more emotional ammunition with which to discredit him.
I agree with most of Finkelstein's criticisms of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Saying that the Palestinians are being oppressed is not based on emotion or prejudices; it is based on well-documented fact. I would encourage doubters to look at human rights organizations' reports of the conflict or travel to Palestine and touch the scars of war for themselves.
These truths are often overlooked because the emotions of the conflict distract from the reality of the situation. The reality is that Israel is far and away the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. We hand over billions of dollars to Israel every year on the condition that Israel spends a certain portion of that money purchasing American weapons and military vehicles.
Whether you think Israel is a good government, that's just a really bad foreign policy on our part. I certainly don't want my tax dollar subsidizing the Israeli army and the American military industrial complex.
I would rather have my hard earned cash go toward developing much poorer and desperate parts of the world where poverty often leads to extremism, drug cartels and piracy on the high seas.
I understand that Israel isn't the only party at fault. Palestinians who shoot rockets into Israel aren't furthering the peace process. But, America doesn't supply Palestinian fighters with rockets. U.S. citizens can't do anything about that. What we can do is promote changes in the American policies that further the cycle of violence.
Kerman's letter is the extreme example of why it is damn near impossible to talk about making these changes. Dropping the anti-Semitism accusations, that's a low blow. Criticizing Israel is much different than hating Jewish people. The actions of a nation and the individuals who comprise it are two radically different things.
Denouncing Iran for imprisoning an American journalist by no means implies that I hate Persians.
While we sit here and call each other names for having different opinions, innocent people on both sides of the conflict are suffering.
The Palestinians especially are unequally yoked to the consequences of the fight. I understand that it is an emotional issue, but the right emotion is compassion. The only way to achieve the peace is to move the conversation away from anger towards empathy.
I want to thank the people involved in this issue who have prioritized compassion and reason over personal vendetta. I hope that your example helps bring about positive change in America's Middle East policies. Because, if we can't figure out a way to get along here on our quiet campus, how the hell can peace be achieved in the blood stained streets of Gaza?
Kevin Hagedorn can be reached at