The college predicament of adhering to the ‘oppressor vs. oppressed’ narrative – opinion

The fact that the protesters see all underdogs beyond reproach demonstrates how colleges aren’t doing an adequate job of educating their students.

By IDO AHARONI ARONOFF, published on JpostJUNE 13, 2024 00:30.

 

PROTESTERS STAND inside the Palestinian Liberation Encampment at University College Dublin, where students called on UCD to boycott and divest from Israel, last week. (photo credit: CLODAGH KILCOYNE/REUTERS)

PROTESTERS STAND inside the Palestinian Liberation Encampment at University College Dublin, where students called on UCD to boycott and divest from Israel, last week.

On its face, and from a purely emotional standpoint, the concept of might vs right seems noble. Humans connect with underdogs for the same reason they develop an attachment to babies, toddlers, and puppies: they are viewed as helpless creatures, and it feels good to care for the weak and the needy, especially when they are at the mercy of a powerful foe, fully capable of bringing the underdog to its knees.

Some, and here I refer to the vast majority of the students (and external organizers) on and off campus who are still protesting Israel’s right to defend its citizens against terrorism and rescue the 120 hostages who remain prisoners of Hamas, seem to believe that might vs right serves as an automatic justification for any action taken by the perceived oppressed.

In fact, the emotional mechanism that ties us to the underdog is so powerful that for many, it’s almost impossible to believe that the underdog can be wrong, let alone brutal, vicious, or deadly. The “purity of the underdog” has even led to bizarre pairings, such as “Queers for Palestine” and feminists who view rape of Israeli women as a legitimate form of resistance. No Israeli is innocent, in their view.

The truth, of course, is far more complicated, and the fact that the protesters see all underdogs beyond reproach demonstrates how colleges aren’t doing an adequate job of educating their students; the mere existence of groups like Queers for Palestine – it would be laughable if it weren’t so serious – illustrates just how dire the problem is. Ideological indoctrination overrides a nuanced, balanced, and pluralistic learning process.

For instance, pro-Palestinian advocates often discuss Israel’s supposed disproportionate military response to the October 7 massacres without considering that it was Hamas who instigated this war or that, in comparison to other Western armies, the IDF is actually doing better.

Combat in an urban environment is always challenging, but there would be far fewer uninvolved casualties if Hamas disavowed the cowardly practice of using civilians as human shields and fully embedding themselves in local civilian life and institutions, including hospitals and schools that they use as military bases. Even so, Israel warns locals in advance of an attack, painfully aware that doing so could compromise the military operation itself.

Students also think Israel is the only nation to have committed a crime. Otherwise, why haven’t we seen protests about the massive killing of Syrians in the hands of their own government, or the mass executions of Iranians by their own government, or the camps in which China has reportedly detained 1.8 million Uighurs and Kazakhs, or the treatment of women and gay people in all Arab countries, or the ongoing persecution of Christians in far too many Arab countries? You get the point.

The campus protesters appear to be merely displaying long-established learned behavior.

“THE JEWS are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews,” American philosopher Eric Hoffer, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, wrote in 1968 for the Los Angeles Times. “Other nations drive out thousands, even millions, of people, and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it. Poland and Czechoslovakia did it. Turkey threw out a million Greeks, and Algeria a million Frenchmen. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese – and no one says a word about refugees. But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees.”

The idea of sympathizing with the underdog, facts be damned, is understandable on a psychological level, but as the scorn of the protesters and activists is reserved for Israel alone, it suggests sinister motives. These suspicions are all but confirmed when they skip over the reasonable debate over Israel’s policies and jump to denying the legitimacy of the Jewish state and calling for its destruction.

Consider that after 1945, there weren’t any significant opinions within the world of academia suggesting that Germany had lost its right to exist as a consequence of causing two world wars, resulting in the deaths of tens of millions and the systematic executions of six million Jews. However, in Israel’s case, Palestinian propagandists, disguised as academics, make such arguments with impunity.

And make no mistake: Advocating for Israel’s destruction is nothing less than outright antisemitism.

Whitewashing the atrocities

So is the tendency to whitewash the atrocities of October 7 with whataboutism, justifying the intentional and indiscriminate slaughter of more than 1,200 civilians and taking more than 200 hostages – as if any justification were even possible – with complaints about long waits at checkpoints to ensure terrorists can’t slip into Israel; an Israeli (and Egyptian) embargo to prevent Iran and its proxies from smuggling weapons that Palestinians will use to attack Israel into Gaza; and asserting that the security wall that separates Gaza and Israel created substandard living conditions in an “open-air prison” although the border fence was necessary to protect nearby Jewish communities from attacks of the very kind perpetrated by Hamas on October 7.

But it matters not whether it comes from misplaced sympathy for the underdog or overt racism. Either way, some serious education is in order. Students must begin to delve beyond their knee-jerk emotional reactions (which they often view as “hard evidence” that “true harm” had been committed, as Jon Haidt and Greg Lukianoff demonstrate). Colleges must educate with facts, history, and research.

The oppressor vs oppressed narrative, which places terrorists in the category of puppies or infants, must be replaced with serious discussion on what is truly happening in Gaza and what happens the world over during wartime.

Disabusing students of the underdog narrative will not be a simple endeavor, but education is what colleges are for. It’s time to find out if university leaders can rise to the task.

The writer is a global distinguished professor of business at Touro University and senior faculty at Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management. He was Israel’s longest serving consul-general in New York (2010-2016).

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