Depending on who you ask, last week was either Justice in Palestine Week* or Israel Solidarity Week at UCSD. The former was organized by Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association, the latter by Tritons for Israel. Both groups set up large booths at opposite ends of Library Walk, and held events throughout the week. I was invited separately to both by people from different parts of my social circle.
I’m an American Jew with deep ties to Israel — I have Israeli family and friends, and I briefly lived in Jerusalem. I’m also embedded in the social justice community here, and I believe in universal rights of self-determination and human dignity. I am often highly critical of decisions made by the Israeli government, but I consider the existence of the state vital. Thus, I frequently find myself in an awkward position — I rarely find people with whom my opinions fully align, and it can be a fraught subject. I approached the week trepidatiously.
I worried about how the Israel question might play out on our campus, where political tensions are running so high. It hasn’t been long since pro-Trump, anti-immigrant chalkings appeared all over campus, bringing another controversial issue slamming brutally to the surface. When talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a highly complicated political situation under the best of circumstances, I worried about how viciously the groups might treat each other, and how they might represent the conflict.
Instead, by the end of the week, I found myself buoyed with a renewed sense of optimism.
One day, I went up to the SJP booth. It was draped in Palestinian flags, blasting pop music, and situated across from large boards, one of which proclaimed “Israel Apartheid Wall.” The girls at the table greeted me pleasantly, and willingly answered my questions.
“Our goal is to educate the campus, and express our point of view,” one girl said. “We don’t hate the Israelis — we just want our side of the story to be heard. We don’t expect to solve a conflict on the other side of the world.” I mentioned at some point that I’m Jewish. “People think it’s Jews against Muslims,” she said, “but it’s not about that.” While we didn’t agree on everything, conversation was friendly and respectful. When I left, she thanked me for talking to her and I wished her the best.
On the other end of Library Lalk was the pro-Israel booth. It was draped with Israeli flags instead, and had a large board upon which were hopes for peace in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Almost no one was there the day I passed — instead, they were arguing vociferously with a Christian preacher standing in front of the bookstore holding a sign reading which read “Muhammad is a liar, false prophet, child raping pervert!” Watching boys in kippot leave their supposedly polarized side in order to argue with bigots that actually, Muslims are perfectly good people, was incredibly encouraging. Like the girl at the Palestinian table, they may not have agreed on political points, but they weren’t about to demonize Muslims, and they didn’t want to see anyone else doing so either.
What I saw, contrary to my expectations and fears, was a campus of caring thoughtful people earnestly trying to stand up for what they believe in and improve the world. I saw people acknowledging the humanity of others who they profoundly disagreed with, and opening up meaningful dialogue. I saw people motivated to stand against senseless hatred. I saw good people.
So I’ve been thinking of this week juxtaposed with the anti-immigrant chalkings. Those were done anonymously, with no opportunity for dialogue, no respect for undocumented students whose presence here was being implicitly condemned, and no attempt to stand against bigotry. They were the antithesis of the activism on Library Walk.
Hatefulness is easier to notice. It’s easier to see nasty words scrawled than the patient labor of those who washed them away to keep our campus welcoming. It’s easier to see the distance between the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine tables, to see girls in headscarves at one end and boys in kippot at the other, and assume that distance is a chasm. But it doesn’t have to be that way. My opinions on Israel are different from most people in social justice spaces, and different from many Jews, but those are my communities, and in both, I continue to strive to make the world a better place.
This last week was a reminder that people with different opinions and perspectives can still work together, even if they must sometimes respectfully disagree. It’s easy to be cynical, but these days, I’m appreciating the quiet majority of non-hateful people. I hope you decide to get louder and more visible. We need you.
Jaz Twersky is a contributing opinion writer for The Triton. She can be reached at
*Correction [5/17/2016, 4:45pm]: Israel Apartheid Week was corrected to Justice in Palestine Week.