With the passing of every year, Israel Peace Week becomes that much more of a grotesque irony. Two years ago, Students for Israel, the host of this inauspicious event, had to combat the continued international ill-will following Israel’s massacre in Gaza, in which Israeli fighter jets bombed the world’s largest open-air prison camp (thanks to Israel and their loyal ally, the now-deposed Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak) and killed 1,400 Gazians, many of them women and children. Shamelessly, Students for Israel glossed over this “crime against humanity,” as the international jurist Richard Goldstone (himself a self-proclaimed “Zionist”) suggested in his UN-sanctioned investigation of the Gaza War, and instead chose to hand out Chinese fortune cookies filled with “fun facts” about Israel.
This past month, in fact, two such things have been uncovered in the U.S. press. First, U.S. officials suggested that the Israelis were behind the targeted attacks on nuclear scientists (all of them engaged in civilian nuclear development work), contracting out the work to a U.S.-designated terrorist group and former Saddam ally, the MEK. Then, U.S. intelligence documents noted that the Israeli Mossad had acted as CIA operatives and recruited Jundallah (a radical Sunni group with affinities to al-Qaeda) to kill Iranian government officials. Even the Bush administration, the documents suggested, were furious with this.
If Students for Israel were at all interested in a “democratic, peace-seeking Israel” as their website suggests, then their advocacy would be obvious. For instance, instead of propping up the fictitious accounts of Israeli goodwill to its neighbors (such as the water-sharing plans with another favored Arab dictator, King Abdullah II of Jordan), the group would advocate for a nuclear-free Middle East – such as the one that 64 percent of Israeli Jews supported in a WPO Poll this past December. That position would make sense and serve a purpose, as it has been the U.S. and Israel who have been the staunchest opponents of a nuclear-free zone in the region. Interestingly, too, it was Iran, all the way back in 1974, who first championed the idea of such. Perhaps, then, Israel Peace Week would do well to play catch-up with Israeli Jews, who do have to live in a hostile environment engendered by their country’s militant posturing, and explicitly advocate for Israeli nuclear disarmament and Iranian nuclear transparency. Very quickly, I promise, Israel Peace Week would find the allies they so desperately seek on campus.
Perhaps, too, Students for Israel could advocate for the U.S. and Iran to renew diplomatic talks at the highest level, as such reconciliation will help Israel avoid prolonged conflict. This would align well with the sentiments of Israeli Jews as well (the ones Students for Israel are ostensibly representing), 57 percent of whom do not favor an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. That would, of course, mean breaking with the notion among some Jewish-Americans that they understand the “existential threats” facing Israel better than Israeli Jews themselves. If playing politics with other people’s lives (Iranian and Israeli in this case) is not standard fare for Students for Israel, however, then Israel Peace Week will focus on encouraging an environment conducive to U.S.-Iranian talks based on mutual respect.
Finally, Israel Peace Week could advocate for an end to Israel’s aggressive posture in the region. Despite all the talk of the “existential threats” Israel faces, it is without debate that Israel occupies the mantel of military supremacy in the Middle East (outside of the U.S.). That fact highlights the true threat from Iran to Israel: a nuclear-armed Iran would limit Israel’s freedom-of-action in the Middle East. But that “threat” need not be one – especially if Israel will be the peaceful nation Students of Israel proclaim it to be. Rather than seek freedom-of-action, which allows Israel to bomb Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, etc., with virtual impunity, Israel can accept the Beirut Declaration of the Arab League (for which Iran has also signaled approval) and rejoin the community of nations in the Middle East.
Words have meaning, and it looks like we will have to wait another year before this darkest of ironies – Israel Peace Week – loses its color and takes its namesake seriously.
- Tyler Cullis