Nationalism, Occupation, and the Future of Israel-Palestine

Four professors share insights on a panel hosted by J Street U.

Every seat was filled, and a hum of curiosity and excitement echoed throughout the room. On Wednesday in the Cornerstone Screening Room, four professors gathered for a panel on the topic of the Israeli—Palestinian conflict. The panel consisted of Colorado College professors Bob Lee, Emily Schneider, Michael Sawyer, and University of Colorado Colorado Springs professor Raphael Sassower. Student group J Street U brought the talk to the school.

J Street U is a national organization that works toward a two-state solution for Palestine and Israel. Their goal is to bring conversations, activism, and education surrounding this heated topic to college campuses. They are Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, and Pro-Peace. Each professor chosen to speak at the Wednesday night panel had personal connections to the Palestine-Israel region, as well as a deep scholarly understanding of the conflict.

Rachel Powers ’20, a co-chair of CC’s J Street U chapter and the moderator of the panel, was encouraged by the turnout. “I was so excited to see the incredible turn out of students … by far the highest attendances we’ve had at a J Street U event at CC,” said Powers. “I hope this panel helped spark our peers’ interest in this complex conflict. We as college students, specifically, hold a strong voice and a lot of power relative to most sociopolitical and human-rights conflicts across the world.” 

The panel began with personal anecdotes of each professor’s connection to Israel—Palestine. Lee and Schneider both lived in the area for some time, and Schneider earned her doctorate on the topic of the social effects of tourism in the region. Sawyer also had close connections in the region, and UCCS professor Sassower served time as an Israeli soldier, but has since denounced his Israeli citizenship in protest of the occupation. These perspectives allowed the panel to take on a very humanistic approach, as this conflict represented much more than just politics to these scholars.

One of the first issues addressed was the new bill in the region. This past July, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, approved a long-debated and controversial law which officially defines Israel as the Jewish nation-state. This was ratified as one of Israel’s “Basic Laws,” which is expected to guide Israel’s law system and act like a constitution.

When asked about this bill, Sassower explained how there’s “an elephant in the room, and it’s a dead elephant.” By this, he was referring to the Holocaust, and the difficulty this has caused in the region in changing the status quo. This, in part, explains Israel’s tendency to codify Israel—Palestine as only a Jewish nation, disregarding existing non-Jewish Palestinians living in Israel. The consensus from many of the professors is that this bill reflects a continuously entrenching conflict, which may have to get worse before it gets better.

Another major topic brought up was that of Zionism. As Sassower explained, “There are different strains of Zionism just as there are different strains of racism.” The semantics of the word Zionism take the various meanings and nuances and condenses them into a single definition. In order for controversial topics such as the Israel—Palestine conflict to be fully understood, the language used to discuss the conflict must be taken with a grain of salt.

To conclude the panel, the floor was opened to students with questions. The range of attendees extended through all four years, as well as across disciplines, and included various faculty. When asked about her experience attending the panel, Isabella McShea ’20 commented that, “It was refreshing to see such a variety of professors being open and honest about a conflict that is often seen as too difficult to discuss.” For students who are interested in learning more about the Israel—Palestinian conflict, they can reach out to one of the co-chairs of J Street U, Powers or Elam Boockvarklein ’20 (r_powers@coloradocollege.edu or e_boockvarklein@coloradocollege.edu).

Josie Kritter

Josie Kritter

Josie, class of 2019, is a political science major from Culpeper, Va. She writes for the news and opinion sections of The Catalyst. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and scuba diving (which is unfortunately almost impossible in Colorado).

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