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Friday, January 30, 2015

Silence on Israel breeds indifference and apathy

It was at the height of the civil rights movement, in 1963, that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his "Letter From Birmingham Jail". Within the confines of his prison cell, he wrote of the white moderate—a person who was not racist and who understood the injustice being done, but at the same time failed to speak up to the gross discrimination being perpetrated throughout the United States. What the civil rights movement needed, he said, was support from those white moderates.

Today at Brandeis, I see the same fear that captured the minds of the white moderate in 1963, except at Brandeis it has infiltrated all spheres of race, culture and religion. And civil rights is no longer the issue; instead, it has moved to the topic of Israel. Many students simply refuse to engage themselves in any type of dialogue, whether it be political or cultural, because they wish to avoid controversy. They may support Israel, but when it comes to revealing their view to a greater audience, many choose to keep quiet.

It is appalling that the mere mention of Israel creates a frozen expression on the faces of many individuals, followed with the statement, "I don't feel educated enough on the issue," or "I don't want to get into an argument." In light of Israel Peace Week, I urge all to drop this sentiment and involve yourselves in open and honest discussion amongst your peers.

As a member of two on-campus pro-Israel groups, Brandeis Zionist Alliance and Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee, I have seen with my own eyes the discomfort on the faces of student leaders when they are approached to discuss the Israel issue. They shy away from it without much thought, sometimes even rejecting an invitation to have a simple discussion over coffee.

Why has this word, this country, become so conducive to an environment in which we must fear that our words will reverberate across campus with consequences reserved for the bigoted? Most shocking of all is that here at Brandeis, where diversity and freedom of speech are touted, such a response is given credibility and is unabashedly nurtured. Inaction cannot be tolerated, for supporting the status quo of indifference and choosing to refrain from vocalizing one's support, has plagued and stagnated many other social issues in the past.

The day that we choose to be ashamed of supporting Israel is the day that her enemies rejoice for they know what silence entails—it is the same thing that prevented the world from acting in time in Darfur, and it is the same perverse inaction that has allowed atrocities to take place most recently in Syria. But the day we begin to shed our fears is the same day that the world will be rid of the shameful demonization undeservedly reserved to one country.

Cowardice cannot be and will never be the answer. Do not let arguments deter your decision to express what you believe is just. When these arguments arise, you will not stand alone in telling the Brandeis community, or whoever may be listening, the reasons you are proud to vocally support the Jewish Democracy. Your voice will be echoed in solidarity by thousands of other pro-Israel students from our University, from universities across the country, and from individuals across the globe.

It is not only the Jewish students at Brandeis who must rid themselves of the stigma that says they cannot actively engage when Israel is brought up. This responsibility falls just as much onto the non-Jewish community at Brandeis. It is understandable that those who are not Jewish may not be as educated on the subject, but to say that Israel has nothing to do with them could not be further from the truth.

For Martin Luther King, Jr., "injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere," and here at Brandeis we believe in "truth even unto its innermost parts." To those of who are not Jewish, I say to you that there is no reason for you to stay silent. You may find that you agree and disagree with issues surrounding Israel, but it is imperative that as citizens of the world that you take first step of attending an Israel-related event, reading an article or speaking with a friend to educate yourself. Let us heed the advice of Martin Luther King and Louis Brandeis because their ideas have been responsible for opening the world to change and progress.

It was eventually the support of the white moderate that was critical in helping end discrimination. And it requires action from the entire portion of the student body that supports Israel to end the taboo of discussing these controversial issues. There comes a time when the status quo of silence can no longer be tolerated, and people are no longer willing to hold themselves back. For Israel and for ourselves, that time is now.

Editor's note: Ryan Yuffe '15 is the campus engagement coordinator for Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee.

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