Why Jews Should Experience the Palestinian Perspective
For 30 years, I have been an anti-bias educator, and for five years, I have been an anti-BDS activist. Yet only recently have I discovered that my expertise in the former intersects with my efforts in the latter. As an educator, I often discuss the theory of critical literacy, which encourages us to examine a multitude of perspectives to better understand both historical and contemporary events. At the same time, my colleagues in the anti-BDS camp often lament BDS’s complete omission of Israeli perspectives.
The American-Israeli HBO series Our Boys is commendable and important because it shows both sides of the conflict.
The show presents a familiar scene to most of us — a gathering of angry Palestinians chanting and throwing rocks in the streets of East Jerusalem. However, viewers are given an opportunity to watch these reenacted scenes from a different perspective. Understanding the causes behind the anger of the protesters, some pro-Israel viewers may find themselves able to empathize with their suffering.
And in addition to seeing violence directed at Israeli soldiers, some may be able to understand how those protests reflected a community coming together in a state of desperation.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that seeing the Palestinian perspective on Our Boys will — or should — mitigate how viewers will recoil at their violence. However, what seeing the Palestinian perspective might do for pro-Israel viewers is give them the opportunity to look through a window into an unfamiliar world and see a different aspect of that world, which has, perhaps, previously appeared as one-dimensional.
More importantly, understanding the Palestinian perspective might help us better understand the complexity of the events that sparked the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas (these events are the subject of the series).
Indeed, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians — which is wrought with complexity — requires a great deal of time and historical knowledge to comprehend, and has been the subject of hundreds of films, television shows, and books. Given this fact, the BDS campaign simplifies the issues, and insidiously targets schoolchildren and incoming college students, many of whom do not yet possess a lot of knowledge or facts about the conflict. Their aim is to indoctrinate these students to view Israel as all bad, and the Palestinians as all good; BDS strategically presents only one perspective on the conflict.
Needless to say, that perspective is a Palestinian one.
For example, when I heard Robin Kelley speak at Oberlin College, he lamented on behalf of the Palestinians who suffered during the “Nakba” with no mention of the Israelis who suffered when five Arab armies attacked Israel. When I examined the past syllabi of Oberlin’s Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo, I found blatantly anti-Israel (and poorly researched) work by Jasbir Puar, without any readings to present the Zionist perspective.
When I asked Issa Amro at the University of Maryland how he perceived Israelis, he stated, “There are two kinds of Israelis: fascists and those that don’t care.” Similarly, when I heard Marc Lamont Hill speak at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he portrayed Hamas terrorists as legitimate resistance fighters. And when I heard Phyllis Bennis speak at the Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, she portrayed Zionists during the time of the Russian pogroms as political cowards.
And the list goes on and on.
But we must be better than the BDS crowd. As we enter the 2019-2020 academic year, poised to defeat the BDS campaign, we must remain true to the ideas and ideals embedded in the theory of critical literacy. We must create the space for a variety of voices and perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be heard, so that our students have the opportunity to better understand the complexity of the conflict, to think critically, and to formulate their own views.
This is not only an effective way to enrich their understanding of what, why, and how events occurred, but it is the hallmark of educational rigor. Furthermore, by doing so, we will clearly distinguish ourselves from those who have chosen to abuse their academic credentials on behalf of a campaign that has done nothing to promote peace, nothing to help the Palestinian people, and nothing to educate the students they have the honor and privilege to teach.
Melissa Landa PhD has been addressing the pernicious tactics and goals of the BDS campaign for four years. Most recently, she founded and directs the new anti-BDS organization Alliance for Israel.