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The Scarlet & Black

Letter: Follow the Grinnell mission statement

According to Grinnell’s mission statement, “The College aims to graduate women and men who can think clearly . . . who can evaluate critically both their own and others’ ideas, and who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.” In short, we aim to educate critical citizens, who can discriminate between truth and lie, who do not tolerate bigotry and political soporifics, and who will use their critical thinking skills to ensure that political discourse progresses rationally and fairly. Such aims are not only noble, but absolutely vital, when dealing with issues as urgent and heavily contested as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This conflict is particularly difficult to discuss constructively because, all too often, dialogue is impeded by those who refuse to engage. They present one-sided points of view, emotional appeals, and accusing language—abuse of the term anti-Semitism comes to mind—precisely in order to halt debate.

A case in point is Grinnell’s recent visitor, Maurice Roumani of Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His opinions offer a slanted perspective marred by racial and religious generalizations and glaring double standards. By refusing to recognize well-established facts lying outside of his imagined narrative where Islam and Arab nationalism are entirely to blame for the conflict, he halted critical discussion of the issue. Students ought to be able to recognize his behavior for what it was: cynical refusal to help find a just and equitable peace to the conflict.

The philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote in “Between Past and Future,” “it is only by respecting its own borders that [the political] realm, where we are free to act and to change, can remain intact, preserving its integrity and keeping its promises.” Truth establishes these borders: “it is the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.” This truth is not limited to a single perspective. It does not support the easy, racist logic of the Maurice Roumanis of the world. In Arendt’s account, the academy is one of several institutions established precisely to preserve truth and thus sustain the space for public deliberation and action.

We take this charge seriously, and so we feel the need to address what we think is a distinct failure of the college to educate global citizens who can think clearly and critically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Specifically, our issue is with the lack of productive debate and academic courses as well as the silence of fair-minded Grinnell faculty on this topic.

Moreover, we wonder why Chalutzim would invite Roumani, a member of the overtly polemical Israel on Campus Coalition, and whether his views are synonymous with Chalutzim’s.
As an issue that affects this country’s foreign policy agenda and domestic political discourse and as an issue of justice, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict merits rational, fair, and sufficient discussion on our campus.

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