It is sad day when the tone surrounding discussions of an issue at university campuses descends to such a point that individuals feel they have to form an organized group to promote such reasonable ideas as listening to the other side and recognizing that “none of the principal parties is absolutely right and none is absolutely wrong.”
But that does seem to be where we’re at when it come to Israel and Palestine. Students at McGill have formed a new group as “a response to too much inflammatory rhetoric on campus, as opposed to substantive discussion and dialogue,” one of the group’s vice presidents, Michah Stettin, told the McGill Daily. “We felt that there was a need to have a group on campus that was hospitable to numerous viewpoints.”
Omeq, the group’s name, comes “from the letters OMQ, which form the root of the word ‘depth’ or “profundity” in both Hebrew and Arabic.” Several of the group’s leaders are involved in the Jewish community and the group says the majority of founding members describe themselves as “critically pro Israel.”
The fact is that at universities across the country this debate has been hijacked by extremists. While the anti-Israel crowd is noisier and certainly gets more attention, there is a significant–and extreme–pro-Israel side on Canadian university campuses.
Groups like the Hasbara Fellowships take students to Israel for over two weeks of “pro-Israel education” and pays students on several campuses to advocate for Israel. Israeli army soldiers recently spoke at McGill, while Concordia Hillel has handed out pamphlets encouraging students to volunteer for the Israeli army.
When I was editor of the Concordian, I knew that almost any mention of Israel or Palestine would trigger a letter to the editor calling us biased towards one side or the other (if both sides called us biased towards the other then I knew we had done our job).
There is no other issue on Canadian campuses that is as polarizing and driven by hyperbole.
There is no event that gets students as much attention from the mainstream media as Israeli Apartheid Week and there is no other foreign conflict that gets as much ink in the student press.
Obviously, it is not just on campuses, the Israel-Palestine conflict gets a disproportionate amount of attention from Canadian media and politicians of all stripes.
Personally, I’m not sure why this conflict gets so much coverage and the other conflicts around the world, such as the conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara, get so little.
While I am certain that more students have strong opinions on these issues than most other foreign conflicts, I would argue that the far majority of students aren’t particularly interested.
And I think it’s time we stopped talking about it so much. Student newspapers shouldn’t be publishing the opinions of every armchair commentator with an opinion on this issue and the mainstream media shouldn’t be portraying the Israeli Aparthied Week bunch as any more than the small group that they are.
Perhaps part of my problem with this whole debate is that I really don’t know what either side hopes to accomplish on Canadian university campuses. I see nothing more than competing propaganda campaigns that will have no effect on the actual situation.
Certainly, there is room for discussion about all international conflicts, including this one, at Canadian universities. I think a group like Omeq is a good step towards moving toward constructive dialogue, rather than pointless protests.