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April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Robert F. Kennedy’

When Empowered Undergrads Ignore a ‘Victims’ Malevolence

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

The young woman who wrote the article, “The Problem with Band-Aids,” is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her article appeared in Penn’s highly regarded newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, on September 8.  The subtitle of O’Conor’s article is: “From Palestine to Penn/ When Talking About Dialogue, Empowerment and Reform Does the Rhetorical Work of Oppression and Injustice.”  At Penn, Clarissa O’Conor focuses on Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies and Modern Middle East Studies.

But O’Conor, who presents herself as an advocate for those who are disempowered, is fed up with what she claims is the oppressive force behind the term “empowerment.” This fall O’Conor is studying at al Quds University, in a place she calls, without quotation marks, “Palestine.”

In this article, O’Conor explains why Penn, which apparently gives her college credit for studying at al Quds, and Bard College, which  created at al Quds “a small honors college at which Palestinian students can earn a dual-degree with American accreditation,” earn her contempt.

Why?

“Especially at Penn, we like to ‘empower’ people.  We have all sorts of organizations and initiatives to do this.  We really like to ‘empower’ communities and women,” she writes, but O’Conor is above all that.  She disdains the Western efforts to empower her comrades in “Palestine.”

Bard’s program is going about things in a contemptible way, O’Conor contends.  You see “the discourse of empowerment makes us feel good about putting a Band-Aid on something while avoiding actually questioning our role in systematic racism, oppression and injustice.”

You’ve probably guessed it by now: O’Conor thinks that Western efforts to “swoop in and empower” the Arab Palestinians, ignores that what oppresses them is the “worldwide systems of white supremacism and colonialism in which we are complicit.”  That’s you and me.  Also her.

O’Conor crams in all the invective she can into a college newspaper op-ed.  She describes the “26-foot-high Apartheid Wall” built by Israel which is a “settler-colonial apartheid state whose modus operandi is and always was policies of ethnic cleansing, displacement and systematic racism.”  And O’Conor thinks places like Penn and Bard and, indeed, all universities and the U.S. government itself should cut all ties to Israel.

So, rather than yawn about an undergraduate thinking and writing like an undergraduate, here’s the part that should…empower you readers.

It is not a surprise that an undergraduate from the middle of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania knows little to nothing about the history of the Middle East.  But why is a school like Penn giving credit to a student to be spoon fed hatred?

Here is a more interesting question: why is it that someone who holds herself out as a defender of the oppressed has no problem aligning herself with the brutal, murderous history and affiliations of the university she so proudly attends?  And again, why would Penn and schools like it countenance such an association?

Al Quds University is a place where terrorists are honored not only by the students, but officially, by the university administration, as heroes.

Let’s pick a few discrete moments through al Quds history, and see whether it is an institution worthy of Ms. O’Conor’s protection, and whether the many installments of her pleas on its behalf – her blog “From Palestine to Penn” appears every other Tuesday in the Daily Pennsylvanian – are trustworthy sources of information for the collegiate, as well as the wider, community. (No less an actively and acidly anti-Israel media source than Mondoweiss eagerly laps up her content.)

So we’ll start at the top.  The current president of the school, Sari Nusseibeh, is generally considered to be a moderate, but there is certainly evidence to the contrary.  This evidence includes his praise of homicide bombers; calling Israel a “racist, Zionist entity”; and helping Iraq direct scud missiles at Israel during the first Gulf War.

For those disinclined to count Nusseibeh as a promoter of violence, there’s much better evidence about where al Quds stands on the issue of the sanctity of human life.

For example, there’s the case of Sami Salim Hammad, an al Quds dropout who carried out a homicide bombing in Tel Aviv during Passover, on April 17, 2006. In this bombing, 11 innocent people were killed, including a 16 year old American, Daniel Wultz.  While it is true that Hammad dropped out of al Quds, that didn’t stop the students there from claiming him as their own.  Immediately after the bombing, once Hammad’s “martyr’s video” was released, they hung a huge poster of Hammad in one of the al Quds University buildings.  They were so proud of their “shahid.”

Failing in Order to Succeed

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rabbis teach that we can only truly understand Torah when we allow ourselves to fail at it (Gittin 43a). Unless we push ourselves to reach for deeper understanding, where we inevitably get it wrong before we can get it right, we will not grasp the very essence of the Jewish enterprise. Rashi here seems to think that it’s the public shame of getting it wrong (and the concomitant rebuke) that strengthens one’s intellectual rigor. It is not hard to think about giving constructive feedback (“rebuke”) when it comes to moral matters, but do we care enough about ideas that we (respectfully) challenge others when ideas are misinterpreted or misapplied? How much do we really value the marketplace of ideas and the assurance that we as individuals and as a society get it right?

History is full of examples of leaders who acknowledged that persistence in the face of failure was more important than individual failures. President Abraham Lincoln, whose army suffered many crushing defeats in the early years of the Civil War, said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” A century later, Robert F. Kennedy echoed the optimistic spirit of youth when he said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Besides for being tragically assassinated, what these presidents have in common in that their causes lasted, their legacies carried on, and they are remembered as being among the greatest and most successful men to occupy the Oval Office.

Very often, one can be lured by the traps of conformism (just follow others’ ideas or practices) or isolationism (just follow one’s own marginal ideas and practices). Our job as Jews is to break free from these ploys for mediocrity. We must challenge ourselves and the status quo to reach higher by engaging with societal ideas but without blindly accepting them.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) and founder and intellectual-spiritual leader in his own right, was anything but a conformist. He not only told his followers to be happy, but he also encouraged them to do silly things, highly unusual for a religious leader. Rebbe Nachman stated that each person had to fall in order to rise, and stressed the universality of this concept:

[E]ach person who fell … thinks that these words weren’t spoken for him, for he imagines that these ideas are only for great people who are always climbing from one level to the next. But truthfully, you should know and believe, that all these words were also said concerning the smallest of the small and the worst of the worst, for Hashem is forever good to all.

However, Rebbe Nachman went further, stating that it is “a great thing for a person to still have an evil inclination.” Even the tendency to evil could serve G-d, as people worked through these passions and eventually overcame them. To Rebbe Nachman, it seems, spiritual stasis is the only unacceptable path.

We must be willing to learn and debate with others. Ideas matter. Inevitably that will lead to some level of shame when we get it wrong, but the promise land afterwards is much greater. It offers a culture of more honest, informed, connected individuals who are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of truth and who are willing to be wrong in order to get it right. Our great rabbinic and presidential leaders wouldn’t have it any other way.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/failing-in-order-to-succeed/2013/08/19/

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