Online veil shields unfair anti-Israel claims from scrutiny

By Matthew Wolf

On Nov. 14, 2012, Israel decided to begin retaliation against the hundreds of rockets that Hamas had been firing into cities in Southern Israel, mainly Sderot, and frequent attacks on Israeli soldiers patrolling the Israeli border. The retaliation began with the assassination of the head of Hamas’ military wing, Ahmed Jabari, in Gaza City as part of a campaign against Hamas terrorists. Starting with this isolated attack, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intelligence proved its ability to enable the air force to conduct pinpointed surgical strikes targeting key terrorists, missile sites, and weapon caches. This method allowed for the minimizing of collateral damage done to civilians.

Like many headline news topics, this “war” prompted the beginning of a discussion on Student-Talk, the student e-mail forum at Pitzer, where we can openly post whatever we would like. While Student-Talk is mostly flooded with club meetings and other events on campus, every few weeks a new heated discussion begins. There was much discussion between students on the facts surrounding what happened this past November, and I would like to shed some light on it.

Isi Liebler, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, brought into perspective the ratio for this “war” in his article entitled “The Gaza Outcome: Victory, Stalemate, or Defeat.”

“The ratio of NATO civilian to combat deaths in Yugoslavia was 10:1, in Afghanistan 3:1, in Iraq 4:1, and in U.S. drone attacks against the Taliban 10:1. Yet the IDF ratio in Gaza now was less than one civilian to two combatants – an unprecedented achievement particularly so as Hamas had cynically located missile launching pads and weapons amongst civilians whom they exploited as human shields.”

This ratio makes the truth about Israel’s retaliating strikes clear; the publicized deaths were merely numbers that did not separate between the Palestinian victims and aggressors. Many people have also made claims that Israel’s far lower casualty numbers mean that Israel is the aggressor in this conflict, while in reality the low number of Israeli deaths is greatly due to the revolutionary Iron Dome. Iron Dome was able to intercept 421 rockets, which is almost a 90 percent success rate. The missile-intercepting system was placed in major Israeli cities and used extremely advanced technology to judge where the missiles would land, in order to decide which to shoot down before they could harm any civilians.

As stated earlier, the Student-Talk forum provides an outlet for Pitzer students to discuss issues. Since the discussion became “heated” in regards to the conflict last semester, an in-person discussion was organized on Nov. 18 to allow anybody interested in the topic to come meet the names behind the Student-Talk debates.  Athough many people felt comfortable participating in the online forum to express their opinions on the subject, only nine people ended up showing up to the meeting, and only one not identifying with a pro-Israel perspective.

Similarly, only a few weeks before this “war” broke out, a group of students came to a Claremont Students for Israel meeting and voiced concerns about some of our events. They based their concerns on no substantive information, but solely on the titles of the events. Although they also brought up accusations against Israel without any supportive evidence, we still invited them back the next week to lead a discussion and bring articles for evidence of their claims. The next week, without any notice, none of them showed up, and instead later wrote a message talking about their negative feelings towards our events, without having any experience of actually coming to our events or meetings.

It is this kind of occurrence that shows what type of discourse spaces like Student-Talk encourage; instead of bringing students together to talk openly and civilly, people hide behind the online world and disseminate their inaccurate, preconceived notions while refusing to open their minds and hear another viewpoint.

Matthew Wolf is the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) Campus Fellow for the Claremont Colleges during the 2012-2013 school year.

8 thoughts

  1. It is easy to take issue with the titles of your events when they have problematic titles such as “More Hummus, Less Hamas.” You should be very careful with the content of the messages and slogans your groups uses to promote events about such a polarized issue. Spreading prejudiced messages without contextualizing them outside as well as inside of your events is likely to create an unsafe environment for students of campus, most of who will not speak up. I fully support the group of students who spoke to your club; their concern is legitimate.

  2. The group that came to the CSI meeting did so peacefully and without disrespect. The group chose to attend the meeting to voice opinions to CSI about what they perceived as racist slogans CSI chose for their events. The group wanted to make it apparent that even if the intension behind “More Hummus less Hamas” was good that is still could be perceived as threatening, triggering, upsetting, and racist to Palestinian students on campus.

    This is an example of poor journalism on the part of the author as he is a highly biased reporter (a member of CSI) and claims that the visiting group was not open to other viewpoints while he himself did not interview any person from that group to get their spin on the story.

    This is yet another example of peaceful dialogue being co-opted by someone to make the small, yet meaningful resistance to Israeli domination and oppression in the US and on our campus and abroad seem like a group of villains attacking a harmless group.

    It is not a harmless act to support Israel. A group that supports Israel is like a group supporting white power in the deep south USA or a group supporting apartheid in south Africa. In addition it is no harmless act to use the words “they are running on colored people time” when referring to late group members, which one of the lead openly Zionist members of the group said.

    In addition after the meeting when confronted about saying such things the very same member made excuses. She said, “I’m offensive to all people equally” and that she had a black friend who said it was ok to use those words that are riddled with racism when employed by a white tongue. When challenged further she stated, verbatim, “black people are apes they are inferior.” These actions though behind closed doors and in a completely white space went unchallenged and liken CSI even more to an oppressive racist group. I am sure this particular member is wishing she had never said those words and hopes that there is no way to prove it.

    They wonder why the small group did not return to give them their “evidence” for Israeli genocide and occupation. Might be because no one felt safe to be there again. It also might be because the point of going, and this was made very clear to CSI, was to inform them that their words and actions were offensive and they should consider the consequences of their words and actions as a group.

    No oppressed person or group should be responsible for dealing with the oppression and educating the oppressor how to no be oppressive. It is up to CSI to realize the impact of their actions.

    We did encourage them to reconsider their goals as an organization and join J-Street of or Jewish Voices for Peace and we did give them plenty of evidence that they must have chosen not to look up on their own or hear because it did not preach their doctrine.

    1. I did not know that this interaction occurred and am looking into it now. I do not condone that the actions of the person who said that (I wholeheartedly do not know who it was). I was not aware that anything like that happened until this evening. I am sorry that this sort of thing occurred. If you would like to discuss this further please feel free to set up a time to meet with me in person. My e-mail address is mawolf@students.pitzer.edu.

      Again, I am sorry that people were spoken to in that way. I am extremely concerned that this happened and am trying to find out more information about the incident.

    2. “A group that supports Israel is like a group supporting white power in the deep south USA or a group supporting apartheid in south Africa. ”

      What do you mean by “supports Israel”?
      Do you mean supporting Israel’s right to exist as a state?
      Do you mean the right of an ethnic group to have autonomy?
      Do you mean Israeli government’s decisions and actions?
      Do you mean the occupation of Palestinian territories?

      I attended a CSI meeting once maybe twice. Most/all students at the meeting “support Israel”. That being said, “supporting Israel” is a complicated phrase as many people view it in different ways. I support Israel’s existence. I support a two- state solution. I support Palestinian justice. I support human rights. I do not condone the poor treatment of Palestinians in occupied territories and Israel proper. At the CSI meeting, I found that most of the students, like myself experience cognitive dissonance with the Palestinian Israeli Conflict. Students came in with articles from all different kinds of sources from Al Jazeera to the Jerusalem Post and many more to try to further their understanding of the situation.

      To equate supporting Israel with supporting apartheid in South Africa is a pretty hefty statement. (One that I do not agree with). One can support Israel without condoning the poor treatment of Palestinians. In fact many people (not all) at the Claremont Colleges who support Israel recognize the cruel things that Israel has done and talk about methods of change. Attacking all who “support Israel” , in the context of the 5 C’s, is attacking intellectual students who strive for human rights in Palestinian territories and in Israel.

      I encourage you to look more closely for those students who are engaging in meaningful dialogue. Sometimes people can surprise you.

  3. What an insidious opinion piece.

    Why not save a lot of time and just write, “Israel good, Palestinians and their supporters bad. Duhhhhrr!!”

    You make no mention of the causes of Palestinian rockets in the first place, as if they arise out of the mere savage animal nature or something of Palestinians. Your blithe indifference, and failure to mention, the incredibly harsh and often murderous conditions imposed on Palestinians by Israeli state policy is quite telling.

    Israel has the 4th largest army in the world (thanks in large part to its being a welfare state that sucks off the teat of U.S. largess). Palestine has no army. Israel oppresses Palestinians with highly armed soldiers, jets, rockets, unlimited amounts of tear gas, tanks and other advanced vehicles, jails and prisons, illegally bulldozed houses and olive farms, and more. It continues to steal Palestinian land so it can be squatted on by illegal, segregationist Jewish “settlers.”

    And you want to talk about Palestinian rockets as if they come out of nowhere, from no context.

    Your ideological blinders are most effective. You should take them off some time and truly see. Your heart will grow larger, and as a bonus, people will like you more.

    1. I would like to speak with you or anybody else about my views in person. They have been evolving since this was published and I don’t think I can voice them in the best way by typing them out here. Please e-mail me at mawolf@students.pitzer.edu to find a time to talk.

      As to the photo on the article, that was not my doing, but rather the staff of the Orange Peel. I did not have any part in putting that up, and did not even know that that was accompanying it until today.

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