Massachusetts Daily Collegian

University Union’s first debate tackles Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By Danny Cordova

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

A new registered student organization drew a large crowd Tuesday evening to consider the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

University Union, a group inspired by the Oxford Union of University of Oxford, held its first debate on Tuesday. The debate, titled “Opposing Views on Israel and Palestine,” featured speakers who represented both sides’ points of view.

University of Massachusetts professor Joseph Levine and UMass alumnus and executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation Yousef Munayyer represented the Palestinian perspective. UMass professor Jay Berkovitz and Smith College professor Justin Cammy also joined the debate, speaking from the Israeli perspective.

Daniel Gordon, faculty adviser of University Union, introduced the debaters to the audience. He addressed the controversial nature of the Israel and Palestine subject, as well as the need to have discussions.

Owen Wiggins, president of University Union, served as moderator of the debate. Both sides began with an opening statement and spent some time responding to the other side’s argument. There was also an opportunity for the speakers to answer questions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Levine, representing the Palestinian perspective, was first to give an opening statement. Levine recalled a question a student had asked him: “What gives Israel the right to rule over Palestine?”

Levine had heard religious justification that entitled the Jewish people to Israel. He had also heard secular justification in favor of the Jewish people that the Balfour Declaration guarantees the establishment of a national state for the Jewish people in Palestine.

Levine argued that by asking what gave the Israel state the right to reside on land that was inhibited by the indigenous people of Palestine. He also argued that sovereignty over a land belongs to the people on that land, referring to the Palestinian people.

“The Zionist enterprise is a reincarnation of European imperialism. And it is similar to the treatment of Native Americans by the American colonists,” Levine said.

Berkovitz referenced historical evidence of the ancient Romans expelling Jewish people. He also argued that the Jewish people are simply returning to their homeland, which the League of Nations had recognized.

Munayyer, representing the Palestinian perspective, claimed that indigenous Palestinians occupied the region of Palestine before the Zionists arrived. He also compared the Zionist movement to a colonist movement.

The treatment of Palestinians by Israel is comparable to the apartheid era in South Africa, he argued.

“Jewish people have a connection to Palestine, but that does not justify occupation and oppression,” Munayyer said.

Cammy argued that the Jewish people have the right of self-determination.

“Levine leaves out history. The right of the Jewish (to have a homeland) is not a right given by others for pity, but a natural right,” Cammy said.

“A Jew in Israel is speaking the same language and living in the same place as his great ancestors did,” Berkovitz said.

“If the Jewish people came to Palestine with no people in it, then there would be no debate about it,” Levine responded.

The debate concluded with one audience-submitted question that was posed to both sides. The question asked both sides what they believe the younger generation should do to handle the conflict.

Levine said Americans play a crucial role in influencing the conflict.

Munayyer followed up by encouraging people to work actively on changing political policies and minds.

Cammy addressed the question by advocating discussion in both sides of the debate. He referenced the fact that the debate’s sponsors – Student for Justice in Palestine and the Student Alliance for Israel – had joined together to present the discussion.

In his introduction, Gordon noted that the debate was the first event that both organizations co-sponsored together.

“These are two student organizations with completely different perspectives, I assume, putting their differences aside to have this debate,” Cammy said.

University Union hopes to hosted several more debates during the year.

 

Danny Cordova can be reached at [email protected]

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