The faculty open letter supporting the ASA Israeli boycott resolution has been welcomed by some activists around campus. I want to reach out to the young idealists among these activists and inform them of the moral obligation their professors have to teach the Class of 2014 and every student before they leave Vassar: Do not betray your ideals.
By idealism, I don’t mean singing empty slogans or ignoring concrete realities. I mean the human capacity to feel a passionate dedication to achieving the good and to dedicating yourself to that vision. Can a boycott of Israel inspire this in you?
If you’re looking for answers, I want to support your quest for idealism that our society is losing with every brick of hypocrisy laid-upon another, no matter who the brick layer is. Unfortunately, growing up has given us much evidence of people betraying their alleged ideals. You have the right to regard me as guilty until proven innocent.
All this knowledge pooled in the back of your mind as a reproach when you realized that I was writing about idealism. Hypocrisy is one of the most hurtful traumas of young adulthood and college. If you’re an activist, all the hypocrisy you see around you is what drove you to climb the barricade in the first place and crusade for justice. If you’re not an activist, the disillusionment might be why you avoid barricades and instead curse crusades.
But I can’t speak to you if you’re closed-off behind shutters in your house, so I must assume that you’re on a barricade, or want to be on a side of one, if you’re still reading this. The stance of the College administration on the ASA resolution is not a defense of idealism broadly speaking, only academic freedom. At the same time, the stance of the faculty letter’s authors is not a defense of idealism either, because it is a desperate attempt of collective action at the expense of disillusioning so many would-be idealists on our campus, tragically including yourselves.
How could it be disillusioning? Isn’t it inspiring because we would finally be considering a stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Do divestment movements not always empower the white, liberal arts, Northeastern seaboard? Calls to action are empowering! That is what activists typically think today. Yet in our age of expediency and hopeless indifference to world problems, efforts of this kind only breed more resignation and hypocrisy. Why?
I am not sure when you became idealistic. Maybe it was in high school, possibly at Vassar. Personally, I became an idealist at the age of 16 through humanitarian activism for the Darfur genocide, the Cyprus conflict, Doctors Without Borders and Middle East conflicts like Israel & Palestine. I once built a giant UN tower with my father, a Turkish-Cypriot refugee, in our garage. If not, you might have never been idealistic. You might be an activist who advocates action, no matter whether it is motivated by idealism or cynicism. In that case, I’m not primarily writing to you. I want to reach the young idealist. That is the person that I truly care about and understand.
So, you want to change the world. You want to end injustice, poverty, violence and repression around the globe. Never give that up, however you identify. This is the best within you. It’s what makes you a beautiful person, and if you really mean it, if you really feel love for human life and for achieving your ideals, it makes you a Vassar heroine. I think this outlook is a much rarer quality than usually assumed. Most people don’t feel a sense of idealism, just taking action because their friends are involved, power is on the line or a line on their résumé If you really feel a fire within you, don’t let it go. If you feel it, you’ll understand me. You’ll understand how dry and hopeless life would be without it. I am your sister in battle against all those who do not have the music inside of them. I would fight to defend the music within you against any conservative punk or progressive bully who would dare say idealism is rotten. Please permit me to acknowledge that most of you vaguely dislike me—since I’m not the typical Vassar stereotype—but I really like this side of you, if you’ve got it.
It is in this mindset though that I have to object to the faculty and activists who support considering an academic boycott of Israel. There are a lot of terrible crises around the world. The conflict in Palestine and Israel is one of them. The faculty writers admit that we should focus on Israel, because there is a movement already for universities to target Israeli academic institutions. This crass opportunism betrays idealism as such.
Professors, ask yourself what it will do to the students on campus who feel a burning fire to change the world. Forget the next four years. Will it inspire them to dedicate their entire lives to fighting for justice? Will it encourage more fighters? As the best in each of you surely wants?
What about Russia, China, North Korea, Turkey, Pakistan, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Cyprus, Sudan, Iran and the twisted cornucopia of countries around the world that bequeaths inadequacy and deprivation instead of abundance and nourishment? You evoke colonialism and dispossession. Then, why do you banish your students like dispossessed minds and eyes from the full sight of this ill-harvest? Who will approach real world problems with the ruler of justice, if you teach your students to cut off eleven inches every time they measure? If you’re a student, how long could you do that before you gave up?
I don’t think hypocrisy can motivate anyone, least of all a Vassar idealist.
—Julian Hassan ’14 is a cognitive science major. He is President of the Conservative-Libertarian Union.