On last Thursday, my past in Lebanon and my present at Vassar converged when Former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) officer and Pro-Israeli activist Hen Mazzig came to campus. His visit was met with head-on resistance from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group who, to their credit, staged a very well-organized protest from the outside of room 300 of Rockefeller Hall demanding that Mazzig and his ideals leave our community alone.
When the situation blew up online, a shitstorm of Vassar alums, regardless of religious affiliation, and other supporters of Mazzig, upset that students could even protest at all, punctuated their anger by pledging on social media that they would no longer donate to the institution that they once called home (Twitter, “#shameonvassar,” 11.18.2019).
Keep your money, take your privilege, gift-wrap your nonsensical ideal that money could do anything to sway these passionate students and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine.
Now, let me be clear. My biases—I was born and raised in a Lebanon in constant conflict with Israel—are inherently tied to my roots, but those roots have no attachment to the Vassar chapter of SJP. In fact, I’ve consistently questioned the credibility of a group whose membership is composed of few to no Arabs (to my knowledge). While their intent may be righteous, they have no way of understanding what the conflict is like. There are no real-world consequences when SJP leaders protest. They can put down their signs and go home, not implicated by the volume of their voice nor the aggression of their actions. Palestinian children continue to starve (The Guardian, “One million face hunger in Gaza after US cut to Palestine aid,” 05.15.2019).
Here’s the thing, though: SJP’s protests have no consequences for Palestinian children either. Unfortunately, when Vassar Organizing Israel Conversations Effectively (VOICE) brings in a former IDF officer and Zionist, those implications change, and the consequences become real. By giving Hen Mazzig a voice, we—as a campus—provide a platform for Zionism and the advancement of Israel as a state, joining a bloody history of Palestinian opression.
Mazzig, regardless of his incredible coming out story within the IDF, is complicit in the murder of thousands of Palestinian people (Vox, “This chart shows every person killed in the Israel-Palestine conflict since 2000,” 07.14.2014). While it is true that all but a few Israelis will at some point spend some time in the IDF, few have used that time to build their ethos in the way that Mazzig has. Describing his talk as covering “[H]ow both Palestinian & Israeli life is valuable,” Mazzig seems ignorant to the inequity of these two groups in much the same way the #AllLivesMatter movement induces a racist slumber to the systemic destruction of African Americans (Twitter, @[HenMazzig], 11.14.2019).
When Mazzig speaks, what shadows him is not the typical, Westchester upper-middle class Vassar background, but instead a history rooted in displacement and violence. It’s the ignorance towards a group clearly marginalized and barely hanging on to life. When Mazzig is heard, those voices are silenced. When Mazzig speaks, our ears perk up to his eloquent expression of Israeli life and fall deaf to the sound of gunpowder and metal splattering the floor.
Please don’t forget that this man stood silent among the debris of people’s homes.
VOICE is an integral part of Vassar’s campus, one that represents the Jewish community at Vassar and opens conversations on Palestine and Israel in a way that is both educational and valuable to both groups. It’s a tamer alternative to the often explosive reactions that exist on both sides of the conversation calling for the destruction of a state and the displacement of millions—a situation the Palestinian community already knows far too well.
Mazzig does not represent this healthy discourse, however. Mazzig propagandizes the thought that life in Israel is the same as survival in Palestine. A regular critic of “terrorist” group Hamas, Mazzig seems keen to turn a blind eye to the displacement, starvation and destruction that so regularly accompanies the occupation of Palestine. Hamas’ place in Palestine, as both a protector and defender, seems to be so conveniently ignored by Mazzig. So regardless of VOICE’s orientation towards education, it is pivotal to understand that by engaging with Zionism and its perpetrators, we are quite literally not “[A]llowing all voices to be heard,” as President Bradley seems so determined to maintain on our campus (The Miscellany News, “Letter to the Editor: President Bradley’s response to VOICE event and SJP protest,” 11.15.2019).
President Bradley expressed a selfish, right-wing claim toward neutrality in a situation where neutrality is not possible. As human-rights activist Desmond Tutu made clear, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” (Desmond and Mpho Tutu, “The Book of Forgiving,” 2014).
I will leave this article with one final thought. Mazzig said in his talk that the chant echoing through the building, “[F]rom the river to the sea” is one that calls for the “genocide” of his people and the “[M]urder of [him] and [his] family.”
“From the river to the sea” is not a call for murder. The chant calls for the land that once belonged to the Palestinian people. It’s not a call for “The murder of my family” as Mazzig put it.
Crouched behind the walls of Rocky 300, Mazzig made cowardly claims attaching young, American college students to heinous crimes that he is far too familiar with. It’s not a demand for genocide in the same way that “We Shall Overcome” did not call for white destruction in the 1960s. When Mazzig relays this thought, he associates those young men and women chanting for the liberation of Palestine with cold-blooded murderers. Recalling the inconsequential nature of these protests and implying that they are indeed inciting murder is not only incredibly dangerous—it’s cowardly.
Ultimately that’s what Mazzig is: a coward. Hidden behind a brick wall of Twitter characters and murderous implications, Mazzig does little to acknowledge his own history with murder and continues to imply equality where equality is not present.
VOICE has the potential to be an essential group in advancing Palestinian freedom while maintaining Jewish life.
That, however, can never happen with clowns like Hen Mazzig at the forefront.