BDS discourse should be more accessible for students

On Mar. 6, the VSA will vote on the Vas­sar Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Resolution, one part of a larger movement set forth by the Palestinian BDS National Com­mittee. Though the past semester marked a noticeable increase in discourses surround­ing both BDS and the larger Israel-Palestine Conflict as the VSA nears its vote, the Vassar community has been locked in this debate for years.

Students who have clung to neutrality might soon find the debate at their doorstep (and in their inboxes) as a referendum. With recent calls for anonymity to protect VSA represen­tatives, we at The Miscellany News recognize the polarizing and often toxic climate sur­rounding these issues and call for active to­wards a more inclusive and open conversation about BDS.

If the VSA votes in support of the resolu­tion, the result would affect the entire stu­dent body by determining the use of VSA funds. Many students with a personal stake in the Israel-Palestine conflict have person­ally felt the effects of an increasingly divid­ed campus climate. Two weeks ago, anti-se­mitic messages on Yik Yak prompted a Bias Alert Report and joined a slew of anti-semit­ic allegations against Vassar. Discriminatory language, in any form, threatens students’ ability to safely engage in the BDS debate.

As Vassar’s administration addresses an­ti-semitism, the community must not forget about the rampant Islamophobia that con­tinues to affect discourse surrounding the Middle East. Middle-Eastern voices are of­ten silenced by racial and cultural discrimi­nation that is increasingly tied to a warped, post-9/11 sense of patriotism. Vassar’s cam­pus is not exempt, as evidenced by the an­ti-Muslim, anti-Arab social media posts de­scribed in another recent Bias Incident Alert Report. At the same time, discriminatory slurs attributed to anti-Zionism falsely con­flate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, a misconception often used to invalidate Pal­estinian beliefs.

When we use rhetoric that disrespects the identities of members of our community, we derail productive conversation and endanger students. The hateful speech thrown around anonymous social media demonstrates Vas­sar’s need for neutral, safe spaces in which students can exchange ideas without expe­riencing bias, spreading misinformation or fearing an attack.

The desire among many VSA representa­tives to vote anonymously indicates a perva­sive pressure around these issues. This pres­sure comes out of the polarized dialogue surrounding BDS issues, which creates a bi­nary that elicits conflict and argument rath­er than education and discussion. It seems that students who do not fully understand the goals or implications of the BDS move­ment or the complex and nuanced issues surrounding it have nowhere to turn to re­ceive this information.

Several on-campus political organiza­tions—including J Street U, Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Pal­estine (SJP)—organize weekly meetings and campus-wide programming to provide education on the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, these spaces naturally come with bias based on that organization’s goals and viewpoints. This does not mean that these organizations are problematic, but rather that without neutral discourse, they create a charged environment that makes it challeng­ing to enter the conversation.

Perhaps some of the hesitancy of students to offer their opinion is a lack of knowledge on the topics at hand. Students that feel un­informed are much less likely to step into a debate.

In addition to the absence of unbiased information, the debate-based atmosphere surrounding the issues seems to lend itself to a more combative culture. Students that are already reluctant to share their opinions due to being uninformed are even less likely to do so if they feel that they will be attacked or debated as a result. This creates a culture where only the loudest and most passionate opinions are heard, and newcomers are only able to join in if they take up this style as well.

We believe that these issues are extreme­ly important for all students to learn about and discuss, not only because the BDS ref­erendum vote will have effects on daily stu­dent life, but also because these initiatives are pertinent to the world beyond Vassar. Therefore, something must be changed about the campus climate regarding the BDS resolution.

There should be opportunities to learn about these concerns in a neutral atmo­sphere that focuses more on education and less on conflict. This by no means belittles the conflicting opinions among those who have a firm grasp on the history and social issues of BDS, but merely requests addition­al means of accessible discourse.

The reality is that the Israel-Palestine conflict and BDS movement cannot be fully grasped from any button or pamphlet. These complex issues deserve time and attention before a student can come to terms with an opinion or stance on the issue. Though it is great that our campus has groups of people who already have these stances, the only way we can get more of them is through ed­ucation. This education should be offered by non-affiliated groups, for whom there is no underlying agenda or slant.

Obviously, not every student can enroll in a history course on Israel and Palestine; however there are ways to promote learning and education about these issues.

House teams can sponsor study breaks that could serve as a space to discuss these topics from a campus climate perspective, since this can be an extremely challenging topic to talk about. Houses are also neutral spaces that aren’t already affiliated with par­tial parties.

As for the actual education portion, work­shops led by qualified professors could pro­vide a good platform to investigate the nu­ances and complexities of the BDS solution. We know that professors have their own feelings about the resolution but professors are resources for students and as such, they are obligated to present us with uninflu­enced insight.

Additionally, the VSA could hold a panel or send a comprehensive letter explaining the bureaucratic process of the resolution and the implications it has on student life. We at The Miscellany News believe that Vassar has the resources to promote a less polarized dialogue surrounding BDS and should foster a community where everyone can learn about and contribute to challeng­ing global issues.

—The Staff Editorial represents the opin­ions of at least 2/3 of our Editorial Board.

21 Comments

  1. It is heartening to see the editorial board call out the rampant Islamophobia at Vassar and in the world at large, and to recognize that it is poisoning the debate over BDS. Now we may add Islamophobia to the litany of evils on campus fostered by a supine faculty and administration: racism, sexism, classism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and discrimination against the transgendered.

    As a Syrian-American, I can fully appreciate the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim climate tied to a “warped, post 9-11 sense of patriotism.” Travelling by air in this country is now an exercise in degradation and humiliation for Arab-Americans. It is welcome sign that the Miscellany News is now documenting the horrific backlash against Muslims and Arabs in this county for a futile act of misguided defiance by a few so-called “terrorists” – an act that was merely the continuation of a cycle of violence perpetrated by Israel with its occupation of Palestine and rapacious Cantor Fitzgerald bond traders from the top of the World Trade Center. In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, the Vassar community stood up in outrage over the jingoistic display of American flags, and as playwright Tony Kushner and the college president at the time so eloquently spoke about during graduation, the underlying causes of “terrorism”. It is sad to see that Vassar has so lost its bearings in the intervening years.

    Finally, while the Islamophobia is indeed disturbing, there are pressing concerns that Vassar can actual do something about right now. It is beyond outrageous that Sabra hummus is served in the campus dining halls, despite good faith efforts to boycott it. The BDS movement is right to call for a boycott of products made by Israel, but hummus is a particularly egregious case. Hummus is a Syrian peasant and nomadic food. That this cultural product of the Arabs should be co-opted and mass-marketed by Israeli corporations, which in turn funnel their obscene profits back to the Israeli government and military, who then bomb women and children in hospitals in Gaza, is a process of barbarity beyond anything in recent human affairs. More importantly, Sabra hummus tastes like paste. This heinous act of cultural appropriation could be immediately dealt with if Vassar’s food services simply made the hummus from scratch, with organic ingredients sourced by fair trade growers in Arab countries. It is one of the simplest of foods, and simple foods always benefit from simple, fresh ingredients, freshly prepared.

  2. The actions of Vassar SJP and JVP, in cahoots with radical faculty like Professor Schreier, have hijacked Vassar’s public image. Students should realize how this will affect them for years following their graduation Let student government representatives take a stand for their beliefs and their school as I did when I served on the VSA executive board in 1988. Students who volunteered to run for office should not be allowed to hide behind an anonymous vote on such an important issue.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/majoring-in-anti-semitism-at-vassar-1455751940

    • The Wall Street Journal was among the foremost apologists for apartheid in South Africa. And by golly its a shocker that they are the foremost apologists when it comes to Palestinian dispossession under the hands of Israel. And guess what , i even post a link.
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      “During the first stage, in the 1960s, conservatives depicted blacks as racially inferior to whites and praised the homelands policy of South Africa. In the second stage, in the 1970s, conservatives painted apartheid as a necessary evil; the Soviet threat required the United States to support South Africa. In the final stage, in the 1980s, the right decried the move toward divestment and sanctions, argued that capitalism would save the country, and portrayed Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress as pawns of the Kremlin. ”
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      http://prospect.org/article/apologists-without-remorse

  3. The “occupied territory of the West Bank” is not occupied. Judea and Samaria are part of the sovereign State of Israel according international agreement signed by the government of Turkey and recorded in the Treaty of Lausanne which legalized the San Remo Accords. The government of Turkey as signatory to this binding treaty gave up all claim to its former territories and the Mandate for Palestine came into legal force. And thus ‘Jewish Palestine’ was established by the League of Nations on September 16th 1922 as Eretz-Israel. Once and for all Israel was legitimized as the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This subsequent partition plan of 1947 was merely a proposal and totally rejected by the Arabs. It has no legal standing whatsoever. The San Remo agreement and the Treaty of Lausanne are Israel’s Magna Carta and are in full force to this day. No country may try to change the legitimate borders of another country by intimidation, coercion or force. BDS is absolutely illegal according to International law.

  4. “work­shops led by qualified professors…[who] are obligated to present us with uninflu­enced insight.” LOL–there are no experts on Israel/Palestine at VC. That’s a big part of the reason they and their students can’t smell the BS.

  5. When will you understand that Israel represents the eternal homeland of the Jewish people, a distinct group with common religion, values and history that is documented to go back 4000 plus years? There is Biblical, historical, archeological and ephemeral evidence of Jewish life in the Middle East throughout that period of time.
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    On the other hand, there are no distinct “Palestinian” people, or a Palestinian culture, or a Palestinian language, or a Palestinian history. There has never been any Palestinian state, any Palestinian archaeological find nor coinage. The present-day “Palestinians” are an Arab people, with Arab culture, Arabic language and Arab history. They have their own Arab states from where they came a century ago into the area now known as Israel to find jobs and a better life. They are not distinct from Egyptians or Syrians or other Arabs in the Middle East. There is no evidence of a non-Jewish “Palestinian” culture prior to that time. Zuheir Mohsen, a Palestinian leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) between 1971 and 1979, openly admitted that Palestinian people were a fake people, created only for propaganda and the excuse to war against Israel and the Jewish people. In a March 1977 interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw, Mohsen said: “Between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese there are no differences. We are all part of ONE people, the Arab nation. Just for political reasons we carefully underwrite our Palestinian identity. Because it is of national interest for the Arabs to advocate the existence of Palestinians to balance Zionism. Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity exists only for tactical reasons. The establishment of a Palestinian state is a new tool to continue the fight against Israel and for Arab unity.” In addition, Hamas Minister of the Interior and of National Security Fathi Hammad on Egypt TV on March 23, 2012, admitted that Palestinians were actually from neighboring Arab countries, saying “Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis”. On June 4, 1967, after the Six-day War, Jordanians in the area became “Palestinians” overnight. They removed the star from the Jordanian flag and invented a new peoplehood, a peoplehood they did not know the day before.
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    In 1922, after the First World War, the League of Nations dismantled the Ottoman Empire and gave land in the Middle East as a future National Homeland for the Jewish People. In 1922, the Arabs received 75% of that land from the British and invented yet another Arab State, another new culture, another peoplehood, Jordan. The Arabs of the region eagerly accepted this division but, since then, all partition agreements or proposals have been soundly rejected by the Arabs, either militarily, politically or through terrorism. Recently at Camp David in 2000 and again in 2008, the Arabs were given essentially everything they asked for except for the disappearance of the Jewish State.
    ____
    There will be a “Palestinian” state only when the Arab desire to create yet another new Arab nation becomes more than their eternal desire to destroy Israel.

  6. Paul Mansour 87 is a poster boy for BDS and SJP. He characterizes the 9/11 attacks as an “act of misguided defiance” and questions whether it’s perpetrators were indeed terrorists. He blames the attacks on its victims the “rapacious bond traders at Cantor Fitzgerald”. My brother in law worked for Cantor in the North Tower.

    Mansour then cements his dissociation from reality by insisting that we boycott Sabra Hummus!! Please Vassar be rational!

  7. Boy there is a horrible editorial about Vassar today in the Wall Street Journal. I mean, it really makes it look bad. This will have an effect on anyone who is considering this college and will turn off many parents. Vassar administration is weak and inept and doesn’t know how to control things. .. Vassar has gone downhill

    • The same Wall Street Journal that mocked coloreds in America during the 1960’s for their aspirations of a life free from the degradations they faced ?
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      “”Racial conditions in the U.S.,” huffed the Wall Street Journal in a September 29, 1967, editorial, “have about as much to do with apartheid as they do with the craters of the moon.” The other, and more frequent, position was to depict blacks as innately inferior to whites and to laud South Africa’s efforts on behalf of the black population.”
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      http://prospect.org/article/apologists-without-remorse

  8. “Criticism of the United Nations — or attacks against me — comes with the territory. But when heartfelt concerns about shortsighted or morally damaging policies emanate from so many sources, including Israel’s closest friends, it cannot be sustainable to keep lashing out at every well-intentioned critic.”
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    The above quote is by Ban Ki Moon, the UN chairman calling out Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for smearing anyone and everyone who dares question Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Sound familiar folks. This is a deliberate policy followed by hard core Israeli apologists who raise the mantle of “anti-semitism” to deflect from Israeli apartheid. So what you see here at Vassar, especially by those privileged “wealthy” alumni is just a repeat of what you see on the world state. Deny, smear, deny, smear…..
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    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/01/opinion/dont-shoot-the-messenger-israel.html?_r=0

  9. Peter Beinart Talks of Israel’s “Demonization”
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    “Israel’s problem is that its almost half-century-long control over millions of West Bank Palestinians who lack citizenship and the right to vote in the country that controls their lives, and live under a different legal system than their Jewish neighbors, makes it harder to legitimize Israel as a democracy. ”
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    “When these Palestinians activists, who are themselves Americans of color, speak to other Americans of color about what they describe as a racist, colonialist regime that denies basic rights to the indigenous, non-white population, African American, Latino and Asian heads nod.”
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    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.703644
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    Peter Beinart is a leading Jewish author, and this was published in an Israeli newspaper. The Horror !!!!!
    Those who form organizations like Fairness to Israel need to get a grip on reality. Them smearing colored students who speak up for equality and against apartheid in Israel ain’t gonna fly. That dog won’t hunt anymore. They can threaten all they want, but social media has enable colored students to highlight what used to be shoved under the rug by powerful pro Israeli entities.

  10. Raj,

    I knew we could count on your renewing your entirely predictable submissions to the Misc. What’s funny is that you don’t realize how much you betray in your own words. Supporters of BDS go to such great lengths to try to convince us that no, they do not hate Jews, they only hate Israel and that gives them immunity from being good old fashioned anti-Semites. Yet the quote marks you put around the term “wealthy” alumni are so transparently a reference to Jewish donors, not Israelis.

    It is also revealing that three years into the turmoil caused by SJP’s disruptive tactics, you are still too much of a coward to identify yourself. Looking back on your past comments, you repeatedly referred to yourself as a lowly “pee on.” If you are still intent on hiding behind a pseudonym, “Pee on” seems a much more appropriate moniker.

    Megan Tallmer, a/k/a Megan Tallmer
    Class of 1973

    • Megan Tallmer,

      I call them “wealthy” because they attempt to use their privilege and access to squelch discussion of Israeli apartheid. BDS has allies in JVP and gosh the JVP is made up of Jews !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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      As pointed out for the n’th time, why focus on me rather than what i post. Aren’t you engaging in what i bring up “smearing the messenger”. Why don’t you challenge what the UN Secerartry General wrote while calling out Netanyahu on his constant smears. Why don’t you challenge what Peter Beinart wrote regarding the degradation of Palestinians and their aspirations. Am i the coward, or are you.
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      I’ve asked other of the “wealthy” alumni to quote specific statements when they accuse Profs of antisemitism. And guess what nothing, nada. That shows what such people engage in is a pure smear campaign.
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      If you were a judge and the complainants just engaged in endless smears and not one valid argument, i’m sure you’ld throw them out of court. Just like the prior lawyer in the alumni group from Harvard, whom i’ve asked repeated to back up her assertions and cannot do so even once. And just imagine she was a Harvard lawyer !!!!!!!!!!!
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      I’m comfortable in my “pee on” status in exposing the smear campaign, that faculty, administration and the colored students have to deal with. Vassar is not a joke, but rather the “wealthy” alumni have made a joke of themselves with their smear campgain.
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      The Vassar Hillel became the Open Hillel. Were they smoking crack ?
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      The world has moved beyond the silence regarding Palestinian suppression. Wake up Ms Tallmer, that era has passed.
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      Raj the Pee On.

  11. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but Israel is starting to look like South Africa — not in its racist policies, but in its overconfidence. The white South African government looked pretty secure in the early 1980s. No one could imagine that it would soon be dismantled, in part due to outside pressure.
    I am telling you, as someone who sincerely cares about Israel and lived there for three years, that the same thing will happen to Israel. You must fix the situation with the Palestinians, or sooner or later the world will fix it for you.
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    No one is calling for an immediate withdrawal from the West Bank. We all understand that the region is too unstable, the leadership too uncertain and the example of Gaza too tragic.”
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    Guess where i found this. An open statement about Apartheid in Israel. As a repurposed link to a by a poster on Fairness to Israel Website (TUESDAY, MARCH 10, 2015 — http://fairnesstoisrael.blogspot.com/).
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    The “wealthy” alumni can’t convince their own membership of the smoke screen they wish to create regarding Israel. Their own website has posters questioning Israeli apartheid !!!!!!!!! The world has truly collapsed around their charade.

  12. Today the NY Daily News has condemned both the Puar lecture and the Vassar administration. You now have both the “left” (NYDN) and the “right” (WSJ) condemning the College. The faculty, students and administration have succeeded in making Vassar synonymous with anti-Semitism and racism.

    Vassar students need to decide what legacy they will carry with them when they leave the school. A vote for BDS is wrong and, on top of all of the other negative press the College has already received, will impact the value of their very expensive educations. Older alumni like me will merely face a bit of embarrassment over this. Tenured faculty could not care less as they gain status in academia through the advancement of radical political views. Current students, however, will see a significant erosion of the value of their degree. Of course if they are looking for a job with Hezbollah or Hamas there may be some upside for them.

    • Lets parse the shrill statements of Michael Weiner.
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      ” ” You now have both the “left” (NYDN) and the “right” (WSJ) condemning the College. The faculty, students and administration have succeeded in making Vassar synonymous with anti-Semitism and racism..””
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      The Wall Street Journal – As pointed out in prior links, the WSJ’s opinion pages never recognized apartheid in South Africa let alone in Israel.
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      New York Daily News – Oh my god a rag from NY supports Israel. Shocker !!!!! The rag is owned by uber-mega-pro-Israeli billionaire donor Mort Zuckerman. He was identified as a member of the Israeli lobby as quoted here in Wikipedia.
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      ” John Mearsheimer, political science professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, academic dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, named Zuckerman a member of the media wing of the “Israeli lobby” ”
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      “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortimer_Zuckerman”
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      Of course Michael Weiner, who gasp was a former editor of this rag, is shocked shocked shocked that a pro Israeli billionaires newspaper criticizes SJP/BDS. And of course goes on with the usual Hamas smears.
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      Get the picture folks. Deny, smear, deny,smear……….

        • Nice job “parsing” my statement. You don’t like my sources?

          You don’t like the WSJ because it’s owned by a billionaire Catholic. By the way Yudoff and Waltzer are both well known liberals, although they may not be quite radical enough to be accepted as such by the sheep at Vassar today.

          You don’t like the NY Daily News because it is owned by a billionaire Jew. However, you don’t address the fact that the editorial board of that paper is the most liberal of any major paper in New York. (see comment above).

          Perhaps I could find a source in a blog run by a penniless Bolshevik in Beirut that you would accept as the gospel?

          Why don’t you use your real name “Raj”? I hope you are not a Vassar student or alum because your “argument” is not worthy of a $250,000 education..

  13. I see a lot of the same talking points that have been rehashed for generations filling this page, which is tiring. The simple, irrefutable truth is that the Jews and Palestinians are two peoples with long, complex and entirely just claims to the same piece of land, and have been embroiled in conflict over its sovereignty and security of their peoples. The Palestinians want their own state, and the end of the occupation of the West Bank and border restrictions on Gaza; the Israelis want to live in safety, without fear of terrorism and to be recognized as a legitimate country by the Palestinians and the world community. Some Palestinian groups refuse to recognize Israelis’ right to exist, the West Bank and Gaza are discontiguous, some Israelis fundamentally don’t trust Hamas and/or PLO. There isn’t a quick, simple answer.

    What is truly disturbing to me as an alum is the SJP’s antagonism and refutation of any the legitimacy of any real debate. Anyone who claims that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is simply a matter of realizing which side is completely to blame has clearly sacrificed any responsibility for research or critical thinking, the very skills Vassar students should be honing. Instead of character assassination, moral judgments and personal attacks, Vassar students have an opportunity to learn about the conflict and try to be a force for understanding and good. All they seem to want to do now is take sides, win, and see those who disagree with them be demonized and lose. I expect this from prejudiced and ignorant people, but it’s sad to see it coming from Vassar students.

    • Very nice and reasonable as long as you assume there is no deliberate policy by an organized state to dispossess a people. And the manifestation of that policy are Israeli settlements.
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      SJP doesn’t want a debate ? Sure. Would you debate a bunch of right wing pro Israel people who won’t utter the word settlements. That’s a deliberate policy by AIPAC and its right wing supporters. You don’t have to agree with me, You can read Peter Beinart on this.
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      Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel. OK. So what does that have to do with settlements and expropriation of land. And of course the response is , “It’s complicated”. No its a land grab pure and simple. folks.

  14. Raj,

    Pretty much everyone in the Zionist camp in the US believes that the occupation is wrong and untenable. The difference is that this group is not willing to cede control to a contiguous region to a group of people sworn to Israel’s destruction. If the Palestinians can get their house in order and get control over radical Islamist groups like Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah which are sworn to the destruction of “the Zionist Entity”, Israelis and diaspora Zionist will almost universally support a Palestinian State. I don’t anticipate many Israeli Arabs running to go live under PA rule when that happens though.

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