Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress on Tuesday was nothing if not controversial. Both the timing of his arrival and the content of his address polarized groups on Georgetown’s campus and across the nation. It is important, however, to take the claims and justifications of both sides of this argument with a few grains of salt.
Departing from convention by inviting a foreign leader to speak in front of Congress rather than waiting for the president to extend an invitation, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) called the bipartisan unity of the American government into question. Critics of the speech noted its close proximity to the Israeli legislative elections, raising concerns over Netanyahu’s visit being more about his re-election than any substantive apprehensions about Iran.
Although it is certainly valid that the timing of the speech seems questionable, this does not make Netanyahu’s message any less significant: It is important to note that Iran, if allowed to continue its nuclear program with a relatively early breakout period and diminished sanctions, could become an incredibly dangerous force.
While Iran’s government maintains that it desires nuclear capabilities only for the purposes of producing power and advancing medical pursuits, its recent actions would seem to contradict its declarations of peace.
Less than two weeks ago, in the midst of negotiations focusing on the question of whether to lift sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program, a branch of the Iranian military destroyed a life-size model of a United States aircraft carrier during a training exercise off the coast of Larak Island in the Persian Gulf. The message this sort of demonstration sends is not one of peace, but one of defiance, or worse — one of intimidation.
All this controversy surrounding Netanyahu’s speech occurs in the midst of the Georgetown Students for Justice in Palestine’s Israel Apartheid Week, an annual event protesting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — yet another divisive issue. There are strong opinions and tensions on both sides as to whether the connotations associated with apartheid are being fairly applied by the pro-Palestine organization.
Moreover, the recent GUSA campaign season witnessed controversy over a petition created by the Georgetown Israel Alliance, in which a pre-emptive commitment to end Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions was included. After a dance of endorsements and retractions by several campaigns, the petition was reworded to best encourage free speech and dialogue on the contentious nature of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Clearly, the BDS movement and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generally are relevant points of discussion even on college campuses like ours. An education on the international context is essential to make dialogue at our university more fruitful.
As an internationally conscious student body, we should consider it our responsibility to educate ourselves on these topics, so that we may contribute to constructive dialogue, rather than spout someone else’s half-remembered opinions on the subject. We must also be mindful of the rhetoric that we use in fostering this dialogue, because too often is the true situation distorted by the misuse of language, whether on campus or in national leaders’ speeches. If we do so, we can usher in a new paradigm of understanding — and perhaps greater hope for peaceful resolution.