An Eye-Opening Week

Elias Shakkour

When I first heard about Israel Week, I was skeptical. Already, pro-Israeli views are disproportionately prevalent at Colgate, and a themed week about Israel could only serve to perpetuate that disparity. I wondered what I should do. Not one to go off on uninformed rants, I perused the advertisements of Israel Week. Some of the content reinforced my suspicions that the week’s events would be full of skewed, one-sided perspectives.

Israel was described as a democracy with protection of minorities. As an Arab citizen of Israel, I know that the reality of life in Israel can differ from the positive image that an impersonal, unspecific list evokes. While all citizens of Israel theoretically enjoy the same rights, Arab Israelis often receive second-rate treatment. Not all governmental offices are available to us, we are treated differently at the airport and Arabic as an official language is a technicality.

To the organizers’ credit, the speakers at some of the events were going to be Arab. However, there would be only one Arab at Monday’s panel discussion, and Thursday’s Arab speaker was the founder of Arabs for Israel. From silently boycotting the week by not attending any of the events to initiating a “Say No to Israel” campaign, I considered the ways in which I could respond to what I felt would be a biased, unrepresentative and propagandistic series of events.

In the end, logic prevailed. I could not intelligently assess Israel Week without attending at least some of the events. Neither should I be so hasty as to engage in an official protest without all the facts. With that in mind, I attended both Monday’s panel discussion on “The Prospects for Middle East Peace” and Thursday’s lecture titled “The Importance of Building Peace and Mutual Respect between the Arab World and Israel.” The smaller representation of Arabs at the former and the Arab origin of the speaker at the latter (affiliation with Arabs for Israel notwithstanding) led me to suspect that the panel discussion would be less balanced than the lecture.

Neither of the events met my expectations. The panel discussion was impressively balanced; all of the speakers presented their points respectfully, critically and calmly. They addressed some of the most fundamental and crucial aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Without blowing anything out of proportion, they did not dismiss any key variables.

Thursday’s talk was the precise opposite. The Arab woman was inflammatory, irrational and unreasonable. She claimed to advocate healthy self-criticism and mutual understanding, but her lecture was an unfair string of merciless accusations against the Arab and Muslim worlds. She overplayed the negative effects of Muslim culture, made unfounded claims and avoided answering questions that would have undermined her position.

I was pleasantly surprised with Israel Week. Far from promoting wanton bigotry, it hosted both level-headed non-Arabs and a fanatically iconoclastic Arab. Moral of the story? Don’t judge a book by its cover – even if it has a Star of David on it.