It seems that the Arab Students’ Association at Yale has a lot of soul-searching to do. In yesterday’s News, ASA Co-President Tammer Riad ’03 suggests that the Yale Friends of Israel reconsider our support for their recently-concluded conference on Arab development, unpersuasively claiming that all problems in the Middle East are a direct result of Israel’s existence and that the real point of their conference was to undermine Israel. If this is indeed the ASA’s position, then that would sadly render their entire conference another farcical and sorry impugnation of Arab deficiencies on unashamed democracies. Coupled with Riad’s justification of Islamist terrorism on civilians, yesterday’s piece constituted the worst possible epithet for an ostensibly progressive discourse on non-violent betterment of the region, and the record on Israel’s situation should stand corrected.
Before pointing out the obvious flaws in Riad’s worldview, I would like to mention the absurdity and offensiveness of his contention that “YFI reveled in the — [perceived] implied normalization with or acceptance of Israel’s role in our region –” and that “YFI would seek to co-opt — the conference.” While we clearly do not share Riad’s views on Israel, we are indeed deeply committed to the betterment of the Middle East (it is Israel’s region as well); to suggest that we applauded dialogue on the topic in order to backhandedly assert the infallibility of Israel overestimates our conspiratorial acumen. In fact, it is the ASA that has been less than forthcoming in conveying its true goals of seeking merely to blame Israel for Arab states’ failure to democratize, improve human rights, and promote peace. Such goals were not indicated in conversations with other members of the ASA’s leadership and in statements on its Web site. Had YFI known that Riad would revert to unsupported ex post facto scapegoating of the only true democracy in the Middle East (save Turkey) as an impediment to democracy in the region, clearly we would not have presumed that the conference would set “a new trend in Middle East debate” or have any “potential to make a — difference.” This same rhetoric has been spewed by Arab and fascist European dictators to support political goals for centuries, and frankly it is disappointing that a Yale student would continue this trend.
Riad’s main contention is that supporters of Israel are inherently opposed to a stable region. Any examination of the facts would make clear that Israel’s existence has been in the crosshairs of its neighbors since the United Nations created it in 1947 as a home for Jewish refugees; offensive wars in 1948, ’56, ’67, ’68-’70, ’73, ’82 and ’91 against her have made the state’s continued existence a miracle. And coupled with the forced expulsion of over 1 million Jews from Arab and Muslim lands this century, the diversion of water from tributaries necessary to Israel, the development of weapons of mass destruction by Israel’s avowed enemies, the payment of millions of dollars to homicide bombers who incinerate civilians, and the continued internal and external attacks by terror organizations Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad, and by Iran and Syria, (despite concession after concession by Israel) it is clear that citizens of Israel suffer most from the sea of virulent hostility surrounding it. The ASA should be aware that as the only true democracy in the Middle East, granting full citizenship rights to its entire population, which includes all gays, women and the 20 percent non-Jewish population, Israel’s desire to exist and make peace with its antagonistic neighbors has cost it dearly in terms of lives and territory lost. It is no surprise, then, that the Arab countries that are most democratic (some of which recently held elections), like Jordan, Morocco and many Gulf states, have been least hostile toward Israel. A study by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found 78 percent of Palestinians have a positive impression of Israeli democracy, with much lower ratings for American, French and their own superficial democracies.
Except for his vague conspiracy theories regarding Israeli control of Washington, Riad never gives any substantial backing to his thesis that “Israel remains a very large impediment to the democratization and modernization of the Arab world.” This is because this contention is plainly false, and that is why the Yale Friends of Israel had no problem supporting the conference. But if Riad would like to retroactively cast the conference in an anti-Israel light, YFI will continue to work together with the myriad other dialogue, coexistence and peace organizations on campus to foster positive solutions toward common goals of world peace and stability. Riad’s attitude toward constructive dialogue only serves to perpetuate the situation in the Middle East, and is a slap in the face to the efforts of many at Yale and abroad.
Nelson Moussazadeh is a junior in Morse College. He is Co-President of the Yale Friends of Israel.