Tuesday, May 21

Why is ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ trying to silence Arab voices?

Last week in Auckland, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) put out an open letter claiming a young female spokesperson at one of their public stands was the victim of harassment and intimidation (see below). 

The letter was sparked after visiting Israeli activist Yosef Haddad, an Arab-Israeli, approached the young woman at her table on the UoA campus, and respectfully asked that she qualify her group’s claim that Israel is an apartheid state (see video below). 

When the young woman couldn’t offer any response, Haddad shared his own personal experiences as an Arab-Israeli, refuting the group’s claim and urged that she visit Israel to see for herself. The couple shook hands at the end. My understanding is SJP has filed a complaint with UoA. 

I find myself smirking as I write this. The petulance expressed by the brats of SJP is cartoonish in scale. But I’m sobered by the closely followed thought that the group seeks to spread antisemitic conspiracy theories and will try to use the system to punish anyone who attempts to counter them, even when they must know the individual is 100% correct. 

An even more troubling thought follows that: the UoA will no doubt take their complaint seriously. 

When people speak of the “university problem” today, they are mostly referring to radicalising courses and content, not the financial and governance model. But on the contemporary campus, it is no longer clear who is marking who. 

For a short time, I taught at a drama school affiliated with a polytechnic. One day I was summoned to a meeting by a student’s mother who demanded that I pass her son. I told her that he had already failed, and that was that, to which she replied, “Do you realise what this course costs?”

I would’ve thought that it on a student to remember what their education was costing them, not a tutor. But the woman considered the degree bought and paid for. I dug in so she went to my superiors. 

When the little monsters on American campuses demand censorship, you will often hear them refer to their university as a “home”. You can opt for a warm and fuzzy surface reading of this, but a darker take is that they don’t consider themselves simply renters, or enjoying a fleeting hotel stay. They own the place and have the receipts. 

Westworld is a 1973 science fiction film and was the directorial debut of novelist Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park). It is set in a futuristic theme park where guests can imagine they are gunslingers in an artificial Wild West populated by robots. After paying the exorbitant entry fee, two holidaymakers (played by James Brolin and Richard Benjamin) hit the saloons and duel androids in the street. But when one of these machines (played to chilling effect by Yul Brynner) malfunctions and kills one of the friends, what was meant to be a safe and scripted world, takes on a grim reality. 

Like Westworld’s holidaymakers, students involved in SJP didn’t pay tens of thousands of dollars for someone to march up to them and prove them wrong, respectfully, or otherwise. They thought they were buying a ticket to Westworld where you win every gunfight. A robot has malfunctioned, and now it is on management to repair it. 

And it needn’t matter that there was no harassment or intimidation. After all, there was never any gunslinger. He was a prop designed to readily acquiesce. Universities are now a theme park in the heads of too many young students, with an exorbitant fee that demands a fully customized experience. This isn’t education, but a decadent, late-stage consumerism. 

If you spread racist conspiracy theories, you should expect an outraged citizen to approach your table. And this isn’t a robot malfunctioning. We’re not automatons in your paid-for fantasy. 

It is a pity the adults in charge are humoring such complaints and aren’t preparing students for this real possibility. Instead, they’re happily ripping their tickets and directing them towards the saloon.

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