Dear President Poskanzer,
We are extremely disappointed with your decision to attend Project Interchange, an educational trip to Israel sponsored by an organization that takes pride in support from Israel’s violent rightwing government and trumpets its record of political accomplishments against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
In the words of its website, “Project Interchange communicates [Israel’s] profoundly democratic character, complex security situation, and diverse and innovative society.”
If you are genuinely looking for education about Israel and Palestine, this is not the place to start. Calling Israel’s society “profoundly democratic” and “diverse” ignores Israeli laws which enact violent racial exclusion and institutionalized inequality against the Palestinian people.
Last year, Israel’s right-wing government enshrined a basic law that declared Israel a solely Jewish nation and said, “The State views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening.”
This law was condemned by human rights advocacy organizations around the world, but it only puts into writing an understanding long held by the Israeli government.
This government, which controls the lives of 13,556,000 people, is legitimized by an electorate of 8,642,000.
While this population is not only Jewish people, Arab citizens of Israel, who make up less than a quarter of Palestinians, face significant obstacles exercising the right to vote.
During last year’s election, polling booths were placed under surveillance illegally, their political parties were nearly stopped from contesting, and turnout among Arab citizens dropped 15%, according to Haaretz.
This is not a democracy. About a third of the population cannot vote at all, and Palestinians who can vote face voter suppression tactics reminiscent of the American South. Israel is an ethno-state whose often-defended “right to exist” is contingent on forced removal and systemic violence.
Israeli violence, however Project Interchange wants to obfuscate it through language like “complex security situation,” has permeated Palestinian life since Israel’s creation.
Last weekend in Northfield, a group commemorated the 71st anniversary of the Nakba, when Israel expelled more than 700,000 Palestinians, embarked on campaigns of mass rape and killing, and wiped more than 400 villages off the map.
Since then, families have languished in refugee camps for generations, denied the right to return. Here in Northfield, people read out the names of each destroyed village.
We wish you heard, President Poskanzer, because each one of those villages and each one of those lives ought to be reason enough not to attend Project Interchange.
Exactly the same violence continues to this day. Israel demolishes houses, schools, places of worship and villages in order to build segregated settlements.
Israeli settlers have segregated networks of roads, buses, schools, and even universities. Around 60% of the West Bank is completely controlled by the Israeli military, and more than 600,000 settlers live in vast portions of Palestinian land expropriated for their exclusive use.
Only a few weeks ago, the IDF destroyed a primary school. Children, along with thousands of adult Palestinians, are arbitrarily thrown into prison for years at a time, with over 99% of defendants ultimately convicted.
According to Human Rights Watch, “Palestinian children are treated in ways that would terrify and traumatize an adult… Screams, threats, and beatings are no way for the police to treat a child or to get accurate information from them.” The UN has repeatedly found that Israeli settlement-building violates the Geneva Conventions.
Though Project Interchange professes to be “nonpartisan” and “apolitical,” there is no apolitical way to “bring the… accomplishments of Israel to life.”
When a group of people is subjected to the political will of another to the extent that homes are destroyed and children are routinely killed and imprisoned, there is no “apolitical way” for Project Interchange to accomplish this goal. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Project Interchange doesn’t really try to be neutral, either: In the words of an alum mentioned on its website, he “learned about the pernicious anti-Semitic boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting the Jewish state.” This trip is tremendously political.
It greatly mischaracterizes the BDS campaign. BDS is a Palestinian-led campaign supported by people around the world, not a shadowy anti-Semitic conspiracy.
It is a peaceful tactic that has been adopted by organizations and people ranging from the Presbyterian Church to Roger Waters. Boycotting Israel is not boycotting Jewish people any more than boycotting apartheid South Africa was boycotting white people. Desmond Tutu put it eloquently in a recent interview: “In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime… The same issues of inequality and injustice today motivate the divestment movement trying to end Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory and the unfair and prejudicial treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them.”
Project Interchange exists to silence this side of the story. Any time its website refers to the BDS campaign, it throws in an extra adjective: “pernicious,” “insidious,” sinister.” Its sponsoring organization brags that it has “cut off BDS at every turn.”
Some of the most visible victims of the campaign against BDS have been professors like Steven Salaita, who lost a tenured job opportunity for speaking out about Israeli human rights abuses.
As President of our college, if you attend Project Interchange, you will send a chilling message to Carleton students and faculty about our academic freedom. You will help the right-wing government of Israel win a propaganda victory.
Many university/college presidents have already attended Project Interchange, and Carleton will be one more on the list. We reject Carleton’s name being coopted to support an apartheid state.
This is a difficult letter to write because it would be impossible to spell out in a few pages every reason to stay home: families driven from their homeland, 700 Palestinian children arrested, interrogated, and tortured each year, and more than 1,500 Palestinian children killed since 2000, according to UNICEF and UNOCHA reports.
A letter could not capture the cruelty of a wall slicing through ancestral land or the anxiety of over 700 roadblocks and checkpoints. No letter asking you not to attend Project Interchange could be adequate, and that is exactly why we urge you not to attend.
Carleton Democratic Socialists of America