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The Scarlet & Black

Letter: Response to Gibel Mevorach’s letter

In our letter to the S&B, Noah Tetenbaum and I expressed our disagreement with Maurice Roumani’s one-sided talk on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and called for more productive engagement in support of our view that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict merits rational, fair, and sufficient discussion on our campus.” It is ironic then that Rebecca Heller, Katya Gibel Mevorach, and Roumani himself (in an online comment) would see fit to accuse us of refusing to engage with those whose perspectives differ from our own. I suspect that in their haste to hurl unfounded criticisms at us, they failed to properly consider our point. The point of our initial letter (and I speak only for myself) was the distinction between productive engagement and obstacles to productive engagement.

I co-wrote that initial letter as a student who finds, like most do, that debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suffers from a lack of facts and a preponderance of emotion-laden accusations that makes the issue too hostile for most of us to publicly discuss. I take issue with Roumani not because of the side he supports, but because of his refusal to engage in discussion on fair terms. Someone who advances a perspective in good faith, sincerely believing that her position is the more persuasive/correct one, should welcome the input of those who disagree. Roumani chose instead to simply assert his perspective and to intimidate and ignore those with other, valid perspectives. He spent 20 minutes prefacing his talk with rambles about his childhood and studies, rambles meant to tell the listener, “I grew up in Libya! I am a Jew! I spent years studying the Middle East! I am a scholar! You are in no position to second-guess me!” The rest of his talk was spent
constructing a fairly simple, oft-repeated story of a nation born against all odds, a nation of oppressed peoples who want only to live in peace but unfortunately have had to continue fighting Arab states and terrorists (those sore losers) until the present day. Roumani did not present an argument; he simply said, this is how things stood then, and this is how things stand now. He refused to answer questions posed to him, but instead chose to express indignation that he should be challenged (!). At one point, against his own earlier claim to understand and respect Islam (I suppose nobody was fooled), he blamed the entire conflict on Islam’s inability to accept the Other. I should think if one were to make such claims, they had better give good arguments for them. He did not. I found his talk dishonest and insulting to our intelligence. And here I absolutely agree with Gibel Mevorach in our shared “disdain for the audacity of shoddy scholarship and partisan pedagogy which undermine efforts to nurture global citizens,” only I wonder how she fails to extend such disdain to Roumani himself. Furthermore, I found him to be incredibly racist (clearly, being non-white does not prevent or absolve him from racism). I thought about the Muslims in attendance and felt ashamed. Heller’s claiming injury at a simple question, which she leaves unanswered, when she demonstrated little empathy for those who were genuinely hurt by Chalutzim’s choice of speaker strikes me as rather much.
Gibel Mevorach’s column makes me wonder whether this was a case of “reading selectively and intentionally to armor oneself [that] may be useful for the self-righteous.” What about our letter suggests that we are dogmatic or lack intellectual integrity or “demonstrate deliberate, intentional bias”? Has our letter even given the reader any sense of exactly where we ourselves stand on the issue? Has it provided any grounds to accuse us of ignorance? It has not. Indeed, her criticisms, and Roumani’s, are directed at straw men; they utterly fail at addressing the substance of our letter but merely co-opt our points to use against us. We neither called for censoring Roumani’s voice nor did we pretend to be experts on the issue. And we certainly did not “shrewdly insinuate the spurious debate over whether Zionism [sic] is anti-Semitism and insidiously cite Jewish philosopher, Hannah Arendt, as a shield en route to the crescendo of an incendiary statement.” While on the point of silly comments, Roumani’s perspective is not valid just because it has not been heard in 14 years. If we are committed to such diversity of opinion, perhaps the College should invite Larry Summers to give a lecture on the subject of women in the sciences?

The conflict strikes me as particularly worthy of our time because of its effects on international normative discourse. The sheer bigotry that surrounds this one issue makes it so easy for some to completely rubbish the notion of universal human rights. Others use it to fan anti-Western, anti-Semitic sentiments that do nothing to help achieve cross-cultural understanding and transcend conflict. And some just lose hope that change can happen, that peace can be achieved, that justice and solidarity have any cache in modern politics. Productive engagement is our only hope, and so we must insist upon it.

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