Opinion Letter: A response to 'Decolonize Palestine at UBC' and a call for compassion and nuance at UBC

Drs. Jessica Hanser and Richard Menkis are associate professors of history in the Department of History.

Editor’s Note: This opinion letter is a response to "Decolonize Palestine at UBC,” an opinion published on November 1 written by Dr. Hicham Safieddine.

The suffering from the Israel-Hamas war is heartbreaking. As academics — and as fair-minded individuals — we must explain these events without taking broad swings at a perceived ‘enemy.’ Using inflammatory language and distorting events not only does an injustice to the complexity of the issue but can harm and intimidate the members of our community.

We have been disappointed to see this kind of discourse echoed on the UBC campus, including a November 1 Ubyssey op-ed written by our colleague Dr. Hicham Safieddine. In their mission to restore a voice to the Palestinian people, we urge our colleagues to approach these events in an even-handed manner and confront antisemitism in the rhetoric and fundamental mission of Hamas and its supporters.

We agree, without reservation, that opponents of Israel’s policies should not be intimidated or silenced. We also recognize that extreme representations of Israel, as well as the refusal to confront the violence of October 7, have silenced members of our UBC community. We must ensure the Palestinian people’s voices are heard. We must also prevent discussions and protests from stoking and spreading antisemitism, with dangerous reverberations on campus and beyond. 

When we decry the suffering of the Palestinian people from Israeli bombing, we cannot refer to the massacre of Israeli women, children and men merely as the “Hamas operation on October 7.” When we point to “fascist governments in Europe” voting against a recent ceasefire at the United Nations, we must not ignore the brutality of some of the regimes (including Russia and Iran) who voted in its favour. This rhetoric, found in the November 1 op-ed we reply to, does not reach across the aisle, nor does it foster inclusive discussion of a complex matter. 

We must also acknowledge and challenge the dangerous rhetoric employed by extremist leadership of both Israelis and Palestinians. For example, when the original article highlights the “vile and hateful speech by Israeli government officials and their Canadian allies,” it is imperative to also point out that the very origins of Hamas are entangled in the most dangerous forms of antisemitism. The Hamas Covenant of 1988 drew justification for its acts from the worst antisemitic conspiracy theories, including the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In 2017, Hamas dropped the most extreme conspiratorial language, while still blaming Jews (this time Zionists) for antisemitism. It is only an antisemitic outlook that readily explains the mindset of someone who, on October 7, can call his family in Gaza, with frenzied pride about killing ten Jews.

Again, let us be clear. We are not speaking about the Palestinian people or the people of Gaza. We are talking about Hamas in its ideology and behaviour.

Finally, we must not ignore the fact that when Hamas called for worldwide support, some answered that call by celebrating the violence of October 7 and behaving according to the organization’s hateful example. In the past weeks, in Canada, we have seen synagogues and Jewish schools under attack, not with words but with bullets and firebombs. For the first time in their lives, Jewish students on campus are afraid to wear their kippahs. External cultural symbols — whether a hijab, keffiyeh, kippah or Star of David — should not make people targets under any circumstances. But in the present situation, it is also worth asserting, as does the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism,  that it is an act of antisemitism to hold "Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s conduct, or treating Jews, simply because they are Jews, as agents of Israel.”

Neither antisemitism nor Islamophobia has a place at UBC or in Canada. We may not be able to control bigots on the street who lash out at Jews and Muslims because of their cultural identity. On campus, however, we have the capacity and obligation to create space for critical, informed and compassionate conversation. Inviting organizations to our campus such as Standing Together — a grassroots movement mobilizing Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel in pursuit of peace, equality, and social and climate justice — is just one of the ways we might begin to encourage meaningful and respectful dialogue.

Ultimately, the onus falls upon us all, as individuals and as members of the UBC community, to approach this issue and each other with nuance, sensitivity and compassion. 

This is an opinion letter. It does not reflect the opinions of The Ubyssey as a whole. You can submit an opinion at ubyssey.ca/pages/submit-an-opinion.