Both sides of the story
I wrote a column a few weeks ago in praise of the academic environment at the University — which allows students, faculty members and others to participate in free debate — and the value of honoring another person's point of view. It is this type of intellectual liberalism that allowed me, a pro-Israel individual, to discourage the protest of a lecture given by Edward Said, a gifted academic but avowed Palestinian supporter. While his speech was caustically anti-Israel as he angrily pointed out the Palestinian people's subjugation, I supported his ability to come and be heard.
But what happens when the environment is created for only one point of view to be heard? What if an academic institution or organization consistently brings in speakers who only espouse a certain side of the issue? What are we supposed to do when we know the other side is not given a voice?
Such is the case with the Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, which is affiliated with the Center of International Studies and the Wilson School. This is the organization that sponsored the Edward Said lecture. The Institute's website states that one of its goals is "to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and the dissemination of information about this region to the academic and wider community." The Institute seeks to provide "an exchange of ideas," so I think it is beneficial to look at the recent speakers they have brought to campus who have treated issues relating to Israel.
On February 27, Dr. Sara Roy spoke about "The Political Economy of Dispossession: Occupation and the Failure of the Oslo Process." The talk was co-sponsored by the pro-Palestinian Princeton Emergency Committee on Palestine. On March 29, Dr. Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent for the Independent, gave a talk entitled "Reporting the Middle East: How to tell a 'Fanatic' from a 'Terrorist.'" Dr. Fisk's columns and reporting have been negative regarding Israel. On April 5, Professor Edward Said spoke about "The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After." On April 6, Professor Elias Khouri, in a talk co-sponsored by the Princeton Emergency Committee on Palestine, spoke about "Palestinians, Lebanon and Israel after Oslo." On April 10, Professor Salim Tamari, in a lecture also co-sponsored by the Emergency Committee, gave a talk entitled "Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return." On April 17, Professor Ilan Pappe spoke about "Israel/Palestine: What would be a Fair Settlement?" Professor Pappe is a politically extreme member of Israel's group of "new historians" who have harshly criticized Israel and its treatment of Arabs. On April 26, Amira Hass, a correspondent for Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper, will speak about "The Israeli Policy of Closure: A Means of Domination and a Form of Neo-occupation."
If the titles of the lectures do not give a good idea of the speakers' points of view, then their backgrounds should. Given above are the seven most recent talks that the Transregional Institute has sponsored dealing with Palestinian and Israeli subjects. All seven were slanted toward the Palestinians and framed Israel as an oppressive and dispossessing monster. Am I arguing that one should not give a talk denouncing Israel and sympathizing with the Palestinians? Of course not. But I also have not read listings for speakers who talk about Israel's right to exist under international law, the United Nation's affirmation of the right for Jews to reconstitute their national home in that country or Israel's strategic and economic benefits. If I knew nothing about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and sought to learn more by attending the Transregional Institute's lectures, would I really understand the points of view of each party?
I do not know why the Institute is slanted toward one side or another, but I can only speculate: Its website states that the Transregional Institute was established in 1994 with the generous support of Prince Moulay Hicham Benabdallah of Morocco. Morocco is not on the friendliest of terms with Israel, so perhaps the benefactor desired one perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. There may be other reasons, but this appears to be the most glaring.
As I wrote both before in the Said talk and in this column, I value others' opinions and points of view. Unfortunately, I do not understand why an organization that seeks to "provide an exchange of ideas" is instead blatantly anti-Israel and constantly brings in speakers who espouse this perspective.
I challenge the Institute to bring in a speaker who can give me a second opinion. Seth Wikas '01 is a Near Eastern Studies major from Beachwood, OH. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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