The discomfort and silence

Zara Sharif
Zara Sharif is senior lecturer in the Economics and Business Department of Erasmus University College. Image credit: Own photo

The discomfort surrounding Israel-Palestine is palpable, within EUR and beyond. The ‘civilised’ world is committing a genocide. An apartheid regime is branded a democracy. Activists calling for ceasefire are slammed for advocating violence. Jewish protestors are arrested and smeared for their solidarity with Palestinians. Privileged minds are offended by a Keffiyeh and a slogan and cry about their safety, but are not offended by the mass killing of children. Why wouldn’t such hypocrisy create discomfort?

It’s only natural. The liberal mind is struggling to defend the indefensible – a genocide – while holding on to its liberal values of tolerance and equality for all. How can one resolve the internal conflict?

Some resort to denial: the genocide livestreamed to us is not a genocide, they say. As if we do not hear the Israeli government and army officials repeat their intent every day. As if their actions are anything but consistent with their intent: starvation and destruction, of all life in Gaza.

Others internalise the time immemorial justification for genocide: the ‘human animals’,  ‘children of darkness’ and ‘ancient evil’ must be erased for survival. They buy-in to the criminal ‘human-shields’ excuse that further dehumanizes the Palestinians.

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Many find it all too complex, but it is not. The state of Israel, an occupier, a flourishing apartheid regime, has committed crimes against the Palestinians for 75 years, and is now committing the crime of genocide. Denial does not change this reality. The illusion of democracy is busted. The shift in public opinion is real, not because of anti-Semitism, but because of the actions of the state.

What makes it complex is the propaganda noise and loyalties to apartheid Israel, and that Palestinians are a people of colour and white-supremacist ideology never left the consciousness of this world. The delusion of liberal values is busted.

Silence will not salvage values. But silence brings comfort when the trade-off is between values and loyalties.

Our university’s neutrality

The silence of EUR reflects the internal conflict of the liberal mind. The hope is to maintain a sense of community without comment. Are we in denial? Or are we being asked to tolerate a genocide?

Violence’ is too kind a term for what Israel is doing. Call it crimes against humanity or collective punishment if you like. Let’s not call it indiscriminate killing – it is a highly calculated and organised strategy, a mass-assassination factory. They know what they are doing. Erasmians are intelligent people – they too know what crime is being committed here.

The trouble with denial and silence is that it feeds the dehumanisation necessary to justify and normalise a genocide. Our university must act on its responsibility towards its own community and send a message that we reject the dehumanisation narrative, affirm the rights of Palestinians, and that EUR values align neither with apartheid, nor with genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians which our Dutch government supports and funds with our taxes. This is a responsibility of our university particularly when the political system fails, and it has failed terribly. We must acknowledge that EUR’s silence only makes a genocide palatable for its community.

It is highly appreciated that EUR has provided space for discourse and remains committed to its value of academic freedom. EUR must also remain committed to its values of tolerance and equality for all.

Even if neutrality

al-azhar university of gaza source ahmed alnoug
The destruction of the Al-Azhar University in Gaza. Image credit: Ahmed Alnaouq

If EUR remains neutral, then it must do so in the full spirit of neutrality. Are we neutral?

We contract with Hewlett-Packard for employee laptops, while HP provides exclusive services to Israeli army that are likened to Polaroid’s passbook-identification services to apartheid South-Africa. We maintain ties with academic institutions in Israel, while they are complicit in the crimes – Tel Aviv university develops systems like the ‘Dahiya doctrine’ of disproportionate force and university labs conduct research using stolen skin and organs of dead Palestinians. We voice not a single word of support for Palestinian academics, while Palestinian higher education is under assault – twelve higher education institutes in Gaza and two in the West-Bank are partially or completely destroyed; at least five hundred staff and students have been killed, among them the prominent physicist professor Sufyan Tayeh and acclaimed poet professor Refaat Alareer.

This is not neutrality – this is business-as-usual and indifference.

Does EUR have courage to break the silence?

Israel claimed to do what it is doing to save the Jewish people. Jewish people came out in droves to object. ‘Not in my name’, they say courageously. On 5 December 2023, Israel’s President Herzog claimed: ’It’s a war that is intended, really, truly, to save Western civilisation, to save the values of Western civilisation.’ Does EUR have the courage to say: ‘Not in the name of my values’? If not, then EUR must clarify what values it stands for.

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