Oberlin Blogs

The Middle East in the Middle of Ohio

July 23, 2008

After my last post and its subsequent comments, a concerned prospie asked, "Is everyone at Oberlin a Zionist?" Hardly. We do have a group called Oberlin Zionists, but they are not as vocal (or, I suspect, as large) as Students for a Free Palestine. The biggest speaker that Students for a Free Palestine brought to campus last semester was Ali Abunimah, an advocate of the one-state solution, something that goes against the very essence of the State of Israel. Even my friends who feel a deep connection to Israel tend to be of the socialist Zionist variety. As a rule, you are far more likely to hear a traditional left-wing view of the issue.

I don't make this point in a disparaging way. For the most part in the United States, discussion about questions relating to Israel-Palestine is dominated by conservative elements--the beliefs of the average Zionist in suburban New Jersey are right-wing enough to make many Israelis cringe. It is the role of the college campus to be an incubator for voices that have a hard time finding outlets elsewhere. On this issue, and many others as well, Oberlin serves as an ideal incubator.

The Israel-Palestine issue is very close to my heart for a number of reasons: I have a lot of Palestinian friends, I am a Jew, I have seen a lot of the problems first hand. Most of all, I believe that leaving it unsolved is a major impediment to a peaceful Middle East and a peaceful world. (As Barack Obama said recently, the unsolved conflict is a constant sore.) I think that ongoing discussion and thoughtful education are prerequisites for any solution to the conflict. In this respect, the highly critical discourse at Oberlin is productive.

I am a student who supports a free Palestine, but I am not a member of the group. I don't agree with every point that they make. I strongly disagree with Ali Abunimah's one-state solution, for example, and his appearance was a project into which the student organization put a lot of energy and resources. But the fact that SFP exists and has such a presence on campus is an important step towards productive solutions.

I am using the example of Israel-Palestine here because it is an important one to me and because it was brought up after my last post, but I think that this idea holds across a variety of issues, whether they relate to the Middle East or identity politics or environmental issues. I regard myself as a mainstream liberal; a lot of the loudest voices at Oberlin fall outside of the mainstream. But that's okay because these voices contribute to a larger debate and help introduce ideas that are usually written off as fringe. In a world where there seems to be little progress following the status quo, "fringe" voices contribute new ideas that just might be what we need to find solutions.

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