I was able to attend the last fifteen minutes of the panel discussion “Why I am a Zionist” featuring faculty members Sam Peltzman (department of economics), Linda Waite (department of sociology), and Mark Lilla (committee on social thought), and from what I can tell, the discussion was well-balanced and thoughtful. After getting out of class, I hopped on my bicycle and rode so fast that I was literally breathing heavily by the time that I got to Harper. Unsurprisingly, the room was utterly packed and I was only able to nudge inside the door and take notes on my Palm (I also took a photo). Being used to garbage passing as debate at places like the University of Texas, I was prepared for the worst. (See here for an example of what I’m talking about–the Palestinian/Arab groups would show up to protest almost everything Texans For Israel did, no matter how innocent.) The only person who looked even vaguely moonbattish was a person on the other side of the room who wore a Fidel Castro military cap and shirt that said something about apartheid. Unfortunately, since I arrived late I was not able to hear any of the speakers say exactly why they were Zionists, but I managed to catch some of the later key questions.
The first thing I managed to hear was a statement by Linda Waite that a Jewish state is necessary because of the anti-Semitism in the world. This state, she maintained, is especially necessary now at a time when anti-Semitism appears to be rising. An interesting example she gave is that if one currently goes to Israel, the accent one hears overwhelmingly is that of French, revealing the extremes of anti-Semitism prevalent in French now–so extreme that it is forcing Jews to leave. This, I believe, is readily apparent to anyone who reads some of the columns (and even the articles) seen in the French daily Le Monde.
Another interesting comment was made by, I believe, Mark Lilla. I can’t confirm this, however, since a post was in the way and the guy next to me evidently didn’t care to talk to me. He stated that he believes that there is no reason why the Israelis should not withdraw from places like the Gaza Strip immediately, pointing out that he knows a friend there whose sole job is to walk around and make sure some students are not abducted or attacked while on their way to piano class. Not long after this, a student next to me asked the panel what they thought would happen to Judaism and Jewry in general if Israel were to become a secular state. No one spoke immediately, but eventually Peltzman said that he believes that the Jews would become what they were a few generations ago. Essentially, he said, the diaspora would again be the main story of the Jews, they would be forced to keep their activities even more low-profile than they do already, and so forth. I personally agree with this opinion. Linda Waite added to this by saying that contrary to popular belief, anti-Semitism has not left the world. In her words, it only takes a hard scratch on the scab and the pus would come out. One of the most interesting things that Sam Peltzman said, after being asked if he thought a truce would be possible, is that he believes that the great tragedy is the Palestinians. He said that he believes that a day will come when a generation of Palestinians will ask themselves if they want their children to put up with all the violence and the hate. And one day, he said, that generation will say, “No.” As much as I love the resonant hope in this beautiful passage, which drew a long moment of silence from all in the room, I feel that anyone familiar with Little Green Football’s focus on what webmaster Charles Johnson calls “Palestinian Child Abuse” must find little to hope for in this statement. Johnson’s collection of images demonstrate that the Palestinians have every wish of making their children carry on the conflict. Mark Lilla, in response to the same question, said that he would be happy with a state of “cold war,” in which both sides respect each other.
What most surprised me was the almost total absense of students trying to contradict the professors or taunt them, something that would have happened at almost any debate at the University of Texas. To be sure, there were a few scowls to be seen in the audience, but everyone seemed to think the answers of the panel members through and the questions asked by students were reasonable and pertinent to the discussion at hand. If the people who spread the “parody” posters were there, they certainly weren’t vocal and also thought about what was being said instead of trying to shout it down. This, I believe, demonstrates that there is still hope for academia; being a budding academic myself, I cannot adequately express how weary I am of seeing innumerable posts on weblogs talking about how worthless the universities are these days. Anyway, I must go now. I have a lot of work to do.