It’s not Michael Oren’s fault

So this whole Michael Oren thing – the line is that Oren divides Brandeis. People don’t seem to understand how that is true. But Oren divides me! Please understand, I’m a patriotic Israeli citizen. I love my country. I’m also a proud “left-ish,” and people on the left tend to be pretty harsh on Israel. This contradiction has torn my heart for years already.

Michael Oren brings this anguished internal monologue to the fore. He’s my ambassador. Much of the criticism leveled at him focused on his stint in the Israeli military. I feel pride in the Israeli military; right now I have leave from being drafted (seeing as how I’ve lived in the United States for so long) but I intend to go back to Israel and serve.  Still, just as I could love America during the Bush years but still be staunchly opposed to torture, invading Iraq, and everything else, I can love Israel and still support rule of law, human rights, and democratic pluralism.

I disagree with the Israeli government – but I love my country. Do you understand how hard this is on me? People in the states seem to be divided into two camps – “Israel is awesome and any criticism of their policies is motivated by either ignorance or hatred” or “Israel is evil and they are an oppressor and gleefully cackle as they pursue war crimes”. Sure that’s a caricature but that’s the state of our discourse, more or less. Is there room for me?

Is there room for people who think: “Israel is a great country and my family is from there. I was born there and my family left Israel because Saddam Hussein kept sending missiles during the Gulf War. My mom was freaking out because I was playing around in biohazard tents because no one knew if those missiles had biological or chemical weapons or not. If my cousin had gone to a disco 10 minutes earlier this one time he would’ve been dead due to suicide bomber in line. So I get the Israeli mentality, I think. I get how they have a legitimate case that the deck is stacked against them, and how the UN unfairly focuses on them. But I also keep reading reports on how the Israeli government has a file of all this Arab land that was illegally stolen but doesn’t do anything about it and I totally believe in the idea that “occupation corrupts”.  It does. And no matter how we got to this shitty situation and no matter how unfair it is that Israel gets saddled with this horrible image and “refugees” that by all rights should be Jordanian or Egyptian citizens, the clear problem is that Israel can’t be both a  democracy and a Jewish state and have all the territory it has now. And like, human rights abuses are wrong but they don’t define a whole country. ”

Is there room for people who sometimes criticize, sometimes defend Israel? Is there room for people who come from a position of love and anguish?

Oren divides. You know how I know? Because we’ve seen in the last week or so some ugly comments coming from members of the Brandeis community addressed to other members of the Brandeis community:

Shame on you. Don’t you liberal lemmings always cry “FREEDOM OF SPEECH”? Aha, only when it serves your self-hating, anti-Jewish purpose.

This group is an embarrassment

Do yourselves a favor and don’t embarrass Brandeis anymore than you already are.

Shutup, and deal with it.

You believe yourselves to be open minded citizens, but you are merely bigoted. Get your facts straight before you make your biased remarks. You obviously have done zero research into the UN or what Michael Oren stands for..and probably know nothing about Israel’s position in general for that matter.

I just hope that none of my money went to providing you with an education.

Wow lets all listen to ms radical mariel, shes really got a point. or not. get over it, hes coming just stop being dramatic about every little aspect of life when its in regards to israeli politics.

stop whining about people who bring on their own problems and think of gilad shalit: a far more worthy subject of social justice than the half baked a…holes for whom you attempt to seek justice. when you grow up and stop your self loathing jews will be better off.

It’s not Ambassador Oren’s fault, but there are assholes on campus. I appreciate Brandeis because we seem to have a lot less than other places, but they do exist. It is sad that his visit has exposed them.

There are people on campus who are legitimately hurt by this selection. There are people on campus who are legitimately outraged. There are also people who don’t want to relive these interminable battles of Israel, who want to enjoy a commencement in peace, who don’t want to worry about Brandeis’ foreign policy. Then there are people who aren’t even Jewish. What about them?

What about the people who aren’t Jewish, but now have to hear over and over again that  Brandeis is a Jewish school, that their presence here for the last 4 years is now somehow less legitimate?

Bringing Oren was a bad decision – a divisive decision. Theoretically, the selection process works like this: students (and others) nominate honorary degree-holders, the Board of Trustees narrows these nominations down and decides who gets a degree each year, and Jehuda chooses which of these becomes commencement speaker.

In practice, the process works like this: only one student nominated anyone for an honorary degree this last year. Students don’t know how and don’t know when to submit nominations.

We need a better process. We need more aggressive publicity for our power to nominate, and we need a more open process of choosing honorary degree holders. More students should have a say on who gets honorary degrees; perhaps there could be a more open/democratic process even for choosing commencement speakers.

To a real extent, this whole Oren thing reflects two ongoing stories at Brandeis. One is of course our tensions regarding Middle East politics. The other : students feel disrespected by the administration, and the administration doesn’t have a culture yet of valuing student input. Over and over again we see instances where more democracy, more respect and openness to students would have led to better policy. If the administration had spent time talking to students about the Rose, about Oren, about Budget cuts, then student energy would be spent working with and defending the administration, not opposing it’s autocratic decisions. I bet if we had a real campus conversation over the Oren decision, if students felt respected and included in the decision, we wouldn’t see nearly as much anger and betrayal as we see today.

We’ve seen a lot of ugliness lately, and I don’t like that at all. The decision to bring Oren does intensify fault lines at Brandeis, instead of uniting us in celebration. You can’t argue with that.


11 thoughts on “It’s not Michael Oren’s fault”

  1. my previous post had a number of spelling and grammar mistakes. I hope my points can be considered seriously despite the fact that I wrote “we am not”.

  2. Sahar, I really appreciate the stance you’ve taken here and the tone you have set. I share your sentiments, I think, in regards to coming from a position of lave and anguish. I do support Oren’s attendance, award and speech, as you know. One contention I do have with your post is that the rude remarks you quoted were unilaterally pro-Oren. As one of the most vocal pro-Oren counter-protesters and a leader in this current campaign, I can assure I have heard as many “assholes” in the other camp. I have heard legitimate anti-Semitic remarks, and this upsets me not only because of the nature of the remarks, but because they supply fuel to the fire for the likes of those whom you quoted. Fire breeds fire; this is fact. I would hope that it is known that there is legitimate, respectful discourse on my side as well, just as there as many people hurt by the acidity of the opposition to Oren as by his presence. You, Sahar, have been respectful and, in my opinion, balanced. Others have not, and often the seekers of justice, in the heat of perceived wrong, take leave of their consideration and of their respect. We am not trying to attack anyone, and I would like the likes of Jon Sussman to acknowledge this. I have tried to remain calm, and respond only with facts and sources. It is very difficult to remain calm when I feel I am being attacked and that my legitimacy as a vocal student on campus is being threatened. The central aspect of the process of division is the polarization of camps. I feel as if I have been pushed away from the activist community, and I have seen the distortion of facts and the hyperbole of accusations. I will say now what I have said throughout: we can argue only with facts and evidence. Where the evidence leads is the truth.

  3. Very well said, Sahar. This middle-voice seems to get so easily overlooked sometimes. Thanks

  4. Reading this was my study break for the paper I’m writing right now, and wow Sahar… thanks so much for writing this. I too have been immensely frustrated by the ugliness and lack of LISTENING that has been plaguing the weeks following the announcement of Oren as a speaker. This is very well put.

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