LectureHop: Israel Holds Itself Accountable
Written by Bwog Staff
Last night, Pro-Israel Progressives, a relatively new Jewish student group on campus, decided to sit down with Uri Zaki, Director of the USA Office of the Human Rights organization B’Tselem, to discuss Israel’s human rights violations. Bwog sent over our Wonder Watchwoman Briana Last to report on the discussion, “Human Rights in the Occupied Territories,” which took place in Room 504 of the Diana at 7:30 pm.
Last night, a smaller voice joined the much larger discussion—or rather, lack thereof—being held this week on Low Steps to commemorate Apartheid Week. Uri Zaki, Director of B’Tselem USA, responded to questions by moderator Eric Lawerence (GS/JTS ’13) about his work with the human rights organization that in his own words, “holds a mirror” to Israel’s actions in the West Bank.
Lawrence, a representative of the group Pro-Israel Progressives that sponsored the event, asked Zaki hard-hitting questions about what the organization’s work means in light of the conflict. Zaki explained that B’Tselem’s work to keep the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is by no means partisan, despite his opponents’ attempt to discredit him: “B’Tselem does not have a political stance. The standard we look at international law.”
The Q&A that followed Zaki’s talk was just one indication that the polarizing nature of this issue stirs up even those of the same ideological spectrum. Many audience members attacked B’Tselem for showcasing photos and videos of IDF soldiers out of context, for representing Israel as solely the oppressor, and for ignoring the violence that comes from the Palestinian side—especially, as they pointed out, when these same videos have been used as fodder for anti-Zionists and in its worst form, Jew-hating. Zaki argued that he has no control of how his videos are being used. Moreover, whatever manipulation that occurs after the fact is no deterrent for the important work his organization is doing.
But, the talk last night was not just about B’Tselem. Zaki, former Young Meretz party leader, admitted that though B’Tselem’s work strays from politics, he himself is quite involved: “I’m a very political person and I have my own beliefs.” He went on to describe his own views on how the conflict can ever end in at the very least, resolution: “I think that the only way to maintain Israel as a Jewish homeland and as a democracy is through a two-state solution. If you come to a situation where you have to choose between a Jewish homeland a democracy, you’ve lost the Zionist vision.”
While Zaki was on the topic of his own opinions, Lawrence took the opportunity to ask him about his opinions on Appartheid week. “The A-word,” Zaki responded, “You want to know about my feelings on the A-word.” He continued, “There’s a very human tendency, a very understandable tendency but also a very problematic one, to try to apply historic definitions into existing situations. I don’t think what Israel has is remotely close to being an apartheid regime in South Africa, as much as I don’t think today’s Hitler is the Iranian leader, Ahmadinejad.”
Uri Zaki and B’Tselem seem to fill a niche that has, until now, remained vacant. But the bigger looming questions about where the conflict is going surely cannot be answered by one organization’s work. What Zaki hopes to do is bring to light new ideas about what it means to be supportive of a country without worshipping it:”There is kind of a definiton of what it means to be pro-Israel. As an Israeli, I don’t think it’s pro-me at all. I think dooming us to a zero-sum game approach in which we are either the winners or the losers, which is not the case in the Israel-Palestinian conflict at all, and dooming us to keep controlling Palestinians until the Israel that I know and love will cease to be is wrong.”
Photo by Briana Last