Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Diagnosing the 'David Project'

03/12/08

Published in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A few years ago I sat in the UMass Hillel house and heard a representative from the David Project say that their goal was "making it appear as if Israel is the David in the conflict and not the Goliath."

Shortly after his introduction, a film called "Columbia Unbecoming" was screened. The film, part of a propaganda campaign, smeared professors at Columbia University and alleged they had silenced students who were "pro-Israel."

Since then, several of the classes which supposedly hosted these incidents put forth signed statements saying the allegations were false. Most students in the class were appalled by the false accusations. Their voices, however, went largely unheard and the David Project's smear campaign became well known.

The David Project is not done. Yesterday, (Mar. 11) the Student Alliance for Israel screened another film by the David Project. This one, "The Forgotten Refugees," is about the exodus of Arab Jews from their native lands in the second half of the 20th century. One may ask how this topic portrays Israel as the biblical David.

The answer lies at the crux of a bloody conflict. It is a history that the David Project will never directly address because any serious account of that history, the history of the depopulation of Palestine, will shatter all illusions of Israel's innocent victim identity.

This argument is not new. Vehement supporters of Israel often respond to charges of ethnic cleansing by saying that the Arabs "kicked out" Jews from their states. The latter may be true. While there is definitely debate within the academic historian community about the extent of Arab state involvement in this, there is little doubt in my mind that there is some truth to it.

However, this in no way justifies the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. It does not answer the charge and does not excuse the state of Israel from abiding by its commitments to uphold the universal declaration of human rights and the charter of the United Nations, as a member state, and allow the refugees to return. Likewise, all Arab states, who once housed the Arab Jews, should abide by the same commitments and allow these Arab Jews and their descendents the right to return to the places they were forced out from.

There are two main problems with arguing that the exodus of Arab Jews from Arab states in anyway justifies Israel's actions in depopulating Palestine from 1947-49.
First, it makes Palestinians, a distinct people tied to a territorial concept, liable for the actions of other Arab states. It would be an obvious farce if Brazil held Spanish speakers within its borders responsible for the actions of Mexico or Spain.

The second problem with the argument is that it supports the process of homogenization during state creation. It justifies the idea of ethnic cleansing.

The David Project is engaged in quite a task. Creating the illusion that Israel is the underdog, while every observable fact points otherwise, is a difficult endeavor. The reality is that Israel could never be painted as the "David." Even Israeli historians have pointed out that in 1948, on the eve of the creation of the state of Israel, Israeli forces outnumbered the combined forces of five poorly-trained and uncoordinated Arab armies.

Today, Israel has peace with Egypt, its greatest threat in modern history. It has peace with Jordan. It also has the world's largest per capita nuclear deterrent and the best equipped and best trained army in the Middle East. In the past eight years, less than 15 Israelis have been killed by homemade Qassam rocket fire. However, in response to Qassam fire, Israel dropped American made bombs on Gaza, killing over 120 people in two days.

SAFI should publicly distance itself from the David Project. The David Project has shown that it is in line with the most right-wing elements in Israel who do not want peace. Recent polls in Israel have shown that over 60 percent of the Israeli public is in favor of talking to groups like Hamas if it can bring peace.

It is unclear why SAFI would choose to put forward this hawkish perspective by promoting the propaganda of these extremists. It is unclear why SAFI, an American student group, puts forward a more right-wing agenda than the Israeli public.

SAFI must acknowledge that trying to "score points" by twisting reality will never lead to a peaceful resolution to this conflict. The only way to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians is by reconciling differences in the historical narratives and understanding the root causes.

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