Letters to the editor

Let me open with a brief anecdote. A few professors have made their political opinions on Israel very well known in the past (namely in a letter to The Student on April 24, 2002). In my mind, it is a tragic misnomer to claim that Israel’s policies are tantamount to “military, political, economic and psychic terror against Palestinian civilians,” as they wrote.

Will I make a big deal out of such a letter by refusing to take their classes? Of course not. I would be harming my education if I did so. If I allow politics to corrupt my education, I truly miss out. Not only would I miss out, but by unconditionally abstaining from associating with those professors, I would be forfeiting a chance to influence their opinion.

A very similar scenario has presented itself in the College’s Jewish community. It is sad that fellow Jews here at Amherst are willing to sacrifice their entire Jewish experience because of one difference of opinion in one facet of Hillel’s programming, especially since Hillel has not expressed such political onesidedness.

Hillel has an obligation to “do Jewish,” and as the College’s only Jewish group, that task takes on many forms. Like it or not, Israel is a Jewish issue. Two Jews, three opinions: There’s a certain wisdom to that silly stereotype. Despite Hillel’s best efforts, it’s simply impossible to appease us all. Nonetheless, Hillel organizes programs that embrace multiple opinions and that allow dissent from the majority’s view. Such a stance is as “pro-Jewish” as it gets.

Coming from a conservative Jewish background, I prefer prayer services chiefly in Hebrew. Others prefer the opposite. While neither side is totally satisfied by Hillel’s weekly Shabbat prayer, many attend, understanding that every effort is made to find a proper balance. Jewish students who do not attend prayer services still show up en masse to dine at our delicious Shabbat dinners. After all, why would they allow their dissatisfaction with prayer services to disrupt the Jewish events they find most appealing?

A Jew who denies himself the opportunity to practice or otherwise identify as Jewish while on campus because he is dissatisfied with a single facet of Hillel’s programming makes a grave mistake. This whole discussion is a thinly veiled attempt to hold Hillel hostage until the College’s single Jewish group drops its Israeli programming. Refusing to engage is not the way to influence change. Hillel will continue to act according to the desires of its board, which is open to all students. We desire a diverse Jewish experience for all Jews and deliver admirably.

Justin Epner ’08

Rugby supports friendly rivalry

We, the officers of the Amherst College Rugby Football Club, would like to make a public apology on behalf of our members as a result of events that occurred during the course of our last match against Williams College in the spring of 2004. It came to our attention that members of the crowd directed racial slurs at members of the Williams rugby team during our match here last spring. We find such behavior to be entirely unacceptable, especially in light of the longstanding and gentlemanly rivalry that exists between our two rugby clubs. We would like to extend our most sincere apologies to all the members of the Williams RFC and express our intent to prevent such incidents from tainting our fixtures in the future.

As players, we wish all competition between our two teams to play out on the field, without damaging or offensive intervention from individuals not directly involved in the game. To this end, we waited a year before renewing our traditional rivalry with the Williams RFC, hoping to send a strong signal to our supporters that we cannot and will not allow such unacceptable behavior to mar our otherwise enjoyable and competitive matches.

In order to ensure that relations between our two rugby clubs remain healthy and open, we have also met with our counterparts on the Williams team in anticipation of our upcoming fixture on May 7. This meeting allowed both of our clubs to reaffirm our commitment to keeping our rivalry sporting, friendly and free of unnecessary off-field tension.

We sincerely hope that we can prevent such incidents from occurring in the future and that members of our two clubs will never feel victimized for their participation in what is a justifiably spirited and honored rivalry.

The Amherst College Rugby Football Club

David Babbott ’05, President

Alex McMullin ’08, Vice-President

Brandon Zangel ’07, Captain

Dale du Preez ’07, Captain

Dallal represented ‘biased rhetoric’

In the April 13 Student, Chris Pochon ’07 described the international media’s criticism of Israel’s military incursion into Jenin as “biased rhetoric.” His letter was in response to criticism of Captain Jacob Dallal, an Israeli Defense Force spokesman invited to Amherst specifically to defend the April 2002 incursion.

The phrase “biased rhetoric,” used apparently without irony, surprised me. A military spokesman whose job is to defend IDF policy to the international community should hardly be considered a source of worthwhile, objective information, and it is embarrassing that any campus group considered him so. Nonpartisan, nongovernmental international organizations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc.) have documented the atrocities of Jenin specifically and of the occupation generally, as have journalists from around the world. Dismissing them and those who cite them as bearers of “biased rhetoric” is both sloppy and offensive; presenting Dallal as a counter-example is stunningly so.

Pochon’s analysis of Jenin never pauses to consider the necessity of the incursion-a glaring omission that betrays his own bias. His insistence that “the Israeli army took steps unprecedented in the history of warfare to protect innocent Palestinian civilians” is absurd. All residents were under strict curfew, forbidden from leaving their homes, with diminished-or no-access to food, water, electricity, medical care or burial facilities. Missiles bombarded the camp. People saw their homes demolished in front of them. Even children who violated curfew were shot. From April 4 to 15, Israel defied international law by preventing medical workers, aid organizations and foreign journalists from entering Jenin while they laid waste to it. (Pochon admits that the media’s initial dearth of information about Jenin was the result of this policy; however, he uses this fact to exonerate Israel, without considering the amorality of such an exclusion.)

The IDF did, as Pochon claims, “go door-to-door to fight,” but this was hardly an example of humanitarianism. Amnesty International reports that “IDF units … used Palestinians as ‘human shields’ … [and] patrols blew open the doors of houses often without waiting to see whether those inside were going to open them. Houses were destroyed, sometimes without ensuring that the residents had left.” One middle-aged woman was killed instantly when her door exploded as she opened it; Israel has failed to investigate her death or any of the other documented, unlawful killings.

Perhaps the most disheartening part of Pochon’s letter is his comparison, intended to be favorable, of Israeli military action in Jenin to the U.S. incursion in Fallujah or the Russian in Grozny-both atrocities horrific in their own right. He may find it optimistic to imagine the worst atrocity possible, then compare this with the somewhat less sickening reality. I would like to preserve higher standards.

A productive dialogue, free of “biased rhetoric,” has no place for PR men like Dallal. We should turn instead to voices bearing witness from Jenin, to journalists and thinkers, to both everyday people and those who cultivate their ability to maintain critical distance. Such voices speak of the tragedy of occupation, the violence Israelis and Palestinians experience daily, the horrors of the incursions and the less dramatic but still brutal ways the Israeli military is a ubiquitous presence in day-to-day Palestinian life. Those who wish to gain real knowledge about the violence in Israeli-Palestinian relations and to work towards a just peace must be willing to be more critical, to work much harder, than Pochon.

Hilary Plum ’04E