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March 30, 2009

Ithaca’s Alumni Magazine Steps into Big Muddy Courtesy of CPT

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Thomas R. Rochon, President of Ithaca College

The alumni magazine of Ithaca College – ICView – has found itself at the center of a controversy because of a self-serving and one-sided article about the Arab-Israeli conflict written by a recent Ithaca graduate, Emily McNeill, who recently visited the West Bank under the aegis of Christian Peacemaker Teams. The article was so distorted and one-sided that the publication’s editor, Maura Stephens, later apologized, apparently under pressure from Ithaca college president Tom Rochon, who also apologized and promised to impose stricter editorial oversight on the magazine. (Apparently, Stephens published the article without showing it to anyone else before the issue went to print.)

Rochon’s response generated debate about the role ICView should play at Ithaca College. Some believe that ICView is a marketing publication intent on promoting the connection between the school and its alumni. This group (which, judging from the comments in response to President Rochon’s apology, is in the minority), believes that he made the right decision by apologizing.

Others believe that ICView should contribute to the intellectual life of the university and its graduates and that Stephens made the right decision to publish the article. This group has expressed support for Stephens’ decision to publish McNeill’s piece.

The problem for those who defend the Stephens’ decision to publish the article on the grounds that alumni magazines should provoke discussion is that the piece in question offers a fundamentally one-sided and unfair portrait of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In other words, it was exactly the type of article readers should expect from activists who have done their time in the West Bank with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Like most CPT propaganda, McNeill’s article provides great detail about the suffering endured by Palestinians in the West Bank, but denies readers of details needed to understand the wider context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. McNeill writes about attacks on Palestinians perpetrated by the inhabitants of “extremist Israeli settlements” which are labeled “pockets of unchecked violence.” McNeill describes the settler communities as motivated by a belief that “their existence in the West Bank” is part of the “battle for ‘Eretz Yisrael,’ a Jewish state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.” To provide the patina of fairness, McNeill writes that these settlers feel threatened by Palestinian attacks” and by “official Israeli support for a Palestinian state.” McNeill writes “Their vision for Israel is under attack, and they are waging war for it.”

With its use of Israeli religious settlers in the West Bank as a lens through which readers are expected to view the entire Arab-Israeli conflict, McNeill’s piece is a tour de force of CPT propaganda. McNeill draws attention to the religious beliefs of settlers in the West Bank, but fails to report that many of the inhabitants of these settlements moved there for economic and not religious reasons.

Moreover, McNeill predictably omits a few important facts. First, she makes no mention of the Palestinian failure to negotiate in good faith at Camp David in 2000 where Israeli leader Ehud Barak offered to withdraw from all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank to allow for the creation of a Palestinian State. Arafat refused and failed to make a counter offer. Nor does she mention Arafat’s refusal of the Clinton Parameters which were put forth after the collapse of negotiations at Camp David. The Clinton Parameters would have allowed for the creation of a Palestinian state on even better terms than what was offered at Camp David, and yet, Arafat again said no. If Arafat had negotiated in good faith there is a good chance many of the settlements that McNeill laments would not exist.

The Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the subsequent increase in violence is also left unmentioned in McNeill’s piece. Israel has been attacked from nearly every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn from since the 1990s and yet, McNeill portrays Israeli settlements as the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict by writing “unchecked settler extremism is fostering a culture of violence that shapes the perspectives and experiences of everyone there. Its legacy will touch West Bank communities – no matter what ethnic composition – for generations to come.”

And while McNeill addresses the religious beliefs of settlers in the West Bank, she fails to even mention the religious beliefs of groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, groups that routinely call for Israel’s destruction and which have murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians over the past two decades – in bomb attacks the author does not mention. These groups are motivated by religious teachings that deny Jews the right to a sovereign state of their own on land previously governed by Muslim rulers and by polemics that portray Jews as the descendents of “monkeys and pigs.”

To borrow a phrase from McNeill’s lexicon, the vision of Muslim extremists for the Middle East is under attack “and they are waging war for it.” This vision includes the Middle East as Judenrein and for those few Jews remaining in region to live as a beleaguered minority.

McNeill’s one-sided commentary should not come as a surprise. Stories of Israeli Jews behaving badly in the West Bank are the stock-and-trade of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

CPT activists routinely confront Israeli settlers and soldiers in the West Bank, but rarely confront, at least in any meaningful way, violence perpetrated by Palestinians. For example, Kathleen Kern author of In Harm’s Way: A History of Christian Peacemaker Teams (Cascade Books, 2009) describes numerous confrontations between CPTers and Israeli settlers and soldiers, but provides little evidence of these activists confronting Palestinian terrorism. Yes, CPTers did ride in an Israeli bus in 1996 to show solidarity with Israeli victims of a Hamas bomb attack, but even Kern acknowledges this was not all that impressive. She writes that during the summer of 1995, “CPTers [in Hebron] did make a few futile attempts to stand between stone throwers and [Israeli] soldiers, but found these attempts ineffective for a small group of people.”

After portraying these stone-throwing incidents as a response to “the signing of agreements detrimental to the residents of Hebron or the circulation of a poster depicting Mohammed as a pig writing the Quran,” Kern writes:

Still more painful [than stone throwing] was the lethal violence Palestinian militants committed—especially against Israeli civilians. After the team rode the No. 18 bus in 1996, no more incidents of “predictable” terrorism occurred. The best the team could do was to publicly condemn the violence, but such condemnations seemed paltry. Sometimes the best answer team members could give for how they prevented violence against Israelis was that by diminishing the systemic brutal violence against Palestinians, they were diminishing the rage that led suicidal young men to turn themselves into human explosives.

CPTer condemnations about Palestinian terror attacks “seem paltry” because they are. During its time in the West Bank, the CPT has issued scores of press releases that drawing attention to the misdeeds of Israeli soldiers and settlers but very few that address the violence perpetrated by Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

CPTers justify this one-sided and partisan activism by asserting that there is an imbalance of power between the Israelis and Palestinians, with Israelis equipped with tanks and airplanes and with the Palestinians limited to stones, rocket launchers and suicide bombers. But if CPT activists were serious about confronting power imbalances, they would take note that Israeli Jews comprise a very small percentage of the overall population in the Middle East, and that the overall military spending by Arab and Muslim countries in the region dwarfs that of Israel. Yes, to be sure, Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel, but non-state actors have maintained the fight against Israel in spite of these treaties.

And as powerful as Israel appears to be when compared to the Palestinians, it still lacks the power necessary to change Palestinian behavior, which resides in the hands of Palestinian leaders. CPTers purport to have the moral authority to confront violence of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but sadly, the only people they confront, or “get in the way” of in any meaningful way is Israelis.

Given this bias, which is manifested in numerous books and articles – most of them written by CPT activists themselves – it is unreasonable to expect McNeill to write anything other than what she did – a one-sided, biased and self-serving commentary that demonizes Israel and downplays the motive and impact of Arab and Muslim hostility toward Jews in the Middle East.

If such an essay qualifies as a contribution to the intellectual life of Ithaca college, the school has a problem that goes much deeper than its alumni magazine.

Posted by dvz at March 30, 2009 02:46 PM

Comments

The argument about the settlers' vision, of all the land of Israel belonging to the Jews, is nothing but a phony way to demonize Israel. Muslims believe that the entire world belongs to Allah and they must wage war until all the world submits to Islam. The role religion plays in the conflict, especially in motivating violence, is largely on the side of the Palestinian Muslims.

Furthermore, Muslims believe that the Koran and Hadiths prove that the Jews' place is one of humiliation and misery. So if the Jews are so bad for claiming that God gave them one tiny piece of land, wouldn't it be more of an offense to CPT that Muslims claim the whole world?

Most Jews who are against Israel turning the West Bank over to Palestinians--whether settlers, residents of pre-1967 Israel or the diaspora, are motivated in large part due to security concerns as well as the belief that Israel's claim to the West Bank is legally (League of Nations mandate, land purchases, state land of disbanded Ottoman Empire never belonged to Arabs, UN resolutions, Jordan illegally annexed West Bank), morally (West Bank won in defensive war. essential to the future security of state, Jews have only one state; Arabs have 22) and historically (this one should be self-evident) strong, regardless of religious interpretation.

Posted by: 4infidels at March 30, 2009 11:19 PM

The piece is one of the most one-sided depictions of the Palestinian-Israel conflict I have read. Without addressing facts supporting the veracity of its subjective conclusions, we read what is essentially an editorial opion.

I am referring to the "critique" of Emily McNeill's article posted by dvz above. It fails to recognize that freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy. If dvz does not agree with Ms. McNeill's analysis, he has the right to to express an opinion as extreme as Avigidor Lieberman or the Ayatollah-like rabbi's who rule the far right orthodox parties in Israel.

Similarly, Ithaca college president Tom Rochon has no right to act as the official censurer of opinions. Democratically vibrant and ethical universities typically encourage divergent viewpoints. What is "one-sided" to one person can be perfectly reasonable and objective to another person. True academia allows them to debate.

Posted by: Joshua at March 30, 2009 11:42 PM

It is with the utmost respect for Ithaca college that I would like to argue that discussion of the situation in Palestine does not in any way portray
deep problems in its academic traditions.
To disparage Ms McNeil's column as somehow self serving seems to be simply another effort to cut off any discussion of the serious consequences to world peace that the conflict in Palestine brings to us.
Having traveled to Israel and the West Bank many times, the most recently this month, I can say that from my observations, Ms McNeil's account
is similar to my own, that many settlers behave like gangsters and that increasingly it appears that the state of Israel is, through acquiescense,
allowing this kind of gangland expansionism.
As a supporter of Israel, but not the Israel imagined by the settlers, many of them American,
I have yet to be able to comprehend what a two state solution would look like. Perhaps some reader could enlighten me. I am curious about things such as borders and the status of non-Jews
currently living legally in Israel.

Mitchell Hazouri
Raleigh NC

Posted by: mitchell hazouri at March 31, 2009 03:10 AM

It is quite sad how we continue to deny the suffering of the Palestinian people. We cover it up with such phrases as "one-sided" "lacking balance", on and on and on...what would our Jewish-Christian-Muslim prophets have said about the situation of the Palestinians? ENOUGH!!! God's justice is one sided; God's justice is not balanced, especially when a people have suffered over 60 years of ethnic cleansing over and over again. That's the larger context of the conflict.
Blessings,
Tarek Abuata

Posted by: Tarek Abuata at March 31, 2009 12:42 PM

Tarek:

You ask "What would our Jewish-Christian-Muslim prophets said about the situation of the Palestinians?" Well, according to Muslim tradition, the Muslim prophet called for Jews to be killed or subjugated. And sadly enough, there are enough people who believe this in the Middle East to cause real problems. Do you REALLY want to ask that question? Maybe you have another question to ask.

And Tarek, no one is "denying" the suffering of the Palestinian people. It is the Palestinians who deny responsibility for their actions. The Palestinians have asserted a national identity without accepting responsibility for the things done by their people, most especially their leaders.

If you look closely at the story in the Hebrew Scritures, you will see increasing levels of accountability for the Israelites as they progressed into The Land of Canaan. This is a universal truth, Tarek. With increasing levels of freedom comes greater accountability. And sadly, the Palestinians have done everything they can to avoid or deny responsibility for the mistakes they've made.

Posted by: a reader at March 31, 2009 02:42 PM

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