Don’t stand with the oppressor
Letter to the Editor | Friday, April 15, 2016
On April 8, Notre Dame’s Center for Civil and Human Rights (CCHR) hosted George Deek, a representative of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Deek’s narrative denied Israel’s relentless attempts to rebut the rights of the Palestinians, and it discredited the Palestinian struggle for justice and equality. During his talk, he presented Israel as a bastion of diversity in the Middle East and the world. The idyllic picture Deek painted ignores the systematic discrimination and oppression both inside Israel (which is 20 percent Palestinian) and under Israel’s Occupation of the Palestinian Territories (of approximately 3.5 million Palestinians).
While Deek’s picture is, at best, whitewashing human rights abuses and, at worst, justifying them, the University is a place of divergent views and dialogue, and may invite a variety of voices. However, we are very concerned that the event was co-sponsored by the CCHR, which claims in its mission statement that “in all of its efforts, the Center stands in solidarity with the oppressed, the afflicted, and the vulnerable and seeks to secure their human rights and the conditions for their flourishing.”
On Friday, the CCHR did not stand in solidarity with the oppressed, the afflicted and the vulnerable. It did not stand with the Bedouins of the Negev, Israeli citizens whose own government forcefully evicted them from their lands; or with the Palestinian families living in east Jerusalem, whose homes the Israeli government demolished; or with the farmers in the Cremisan valley, whose 2,000 year old olive groves Israel tore up and replaced with a ‘security barrier.’ It did not stand with the Palestinian children who are tortured in Israeli military detention. In short, the CCHR failed to fulfill its mission.
George Deek exploits his minority “Arab-Israeli” identity and claims the way forward is for Arabs to be both grateful for their Israeli identity and proud of their Arab heritage. He blames Palestinians for not assimilating, while denying Israel’s methodical suppression of Palestinian Arab identity — making them second-class citizens. During the 1948 War, Israel censored Palestinian narratives by confiscating approximately 60,000 Palestinian books, and, between 1967 and 1993, it was illegal to fly the Palestinian flag. The term Arab-Israeli, which Deek uses, is yet another construct of Israel to further erase Palestinian identity.
In his presentation, Deek did not represent the Palestinian people; he represented the State of Israel, justifying its apartheid-style policies against Palestinians. Deek promotes a discourse of political propaganda that denies Israel’s involvement in violations of human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been exposed by several United Nations inquiry missions and by the International Court of Justice.
Over the past few weeks, a group of over 50 Notre Dame activists hailing from CCHR’s program in International Human Rights Law, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the Law School, faculty and various PhD, master’s and undergraduate students have unified around their shared investment in human rights. This Pro-Justice ND group wrote a letter to the acting director of the CCHR and held a meeting with her and her colleague raising their concerns — which were dismissed. On April 8, the group stood in the freezing rain to hand out flyers, meet student passersby with factual information and display a wooden replica of the Separation Wall on which they painted smaller versions of real graffiti art from Palestine.
The CCHR has failed in its mandate to “equip human rights lawyers and other students to become champions of human rights.” By sponsoring an Israeli diplomat who completely ignores Israel’s illegal occupation and its devastating effects on Palestinians, the CCHR failed to educate the campus community, and instead served as a propaganda tool to further Israel’s political agenda. This talk gave volume to only one side of an already asymmetrical conflict and silenced the voices of the oppressed, afflicted and vulnerable. We worry this sets a dangerous precedent for future events.
For more information on Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinian people, check out IfAmericansKnew.org and JewishVoiceForPeace.org. If you would like to get involved to ensure Notre Dame upholds its mission statement to cultivate “a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many … to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice,” please email firstname.lastname@example.org
In the words of Paulo Freire (which were displayed on the Pro-Justice ND separation wall), “If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, we side with the powerful – we don’t remain neutral.”
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.