Editor’s Note: After the brouhaha caused by anti-Israel demonstrations at the Haifa Symphony Orchestra concert, much attention has been paid to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict here on campus. I decided to interview Tyler Albertario, the President of Students for Justice in Palestine, the group behind the protests. The interview was conducted through the Internet. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length, but not for content.
Daniel Milyavsky: There are many countries in the world with human rights records that make Israel saintly by comparison. Some of these countries include North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Sudan. Why not focus your attention on these countries, who have far more blood on their hands?
Tyler Albertario: Of those four nations you mentioned, which are currently engaged in an occupation of another nation’s territory viewed to be unlawful by the vast majority of the international community? The answer is that none of them are. Israel has proudly and continually flouted long-established international norms relating to its treatment of the Palestinian people in a manner in which no other nation in the world is currently doing.
DM: Why is killing your own citizens a lesser crime than killing foreign citizens? An op-ed by your fellow anti-Zionists published in Pipe Dream states that “in 2013 alone, more than 25 Palestinians were killed.” This pales in comparison not only to the number of Egyptians killed by that country’s military government, but even to the number of Arabs killed by American drone strikes. Once again, why the focus on Israel? How can you assure people that the Jewish nature of Israel is not the reason that it gets singled out this way?
TA: Comparing civil unrest in Egypt to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories is a textbook case of Apples and Oranges. The situation in Egypt is exemplified by one basic truth: All participants will have the opportunity to vote on their country’s future in the coming weeks in presidential and parliamentary elections. All Egyptians, whether they be soldiers, civilians, what have you, will have the opportunity in the coming weeks to vote for their new leaders, and thus will have a say concerning the conditions they live under. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have no such right. They do not have the opportunity to vote for their own Member of the Knesset to speak in Tel Aviv on their behalf. They do not have any legal say with regard to whether or not the unlawful Israeli occupation will continue and how they will in turn be treated under Israeli administration of their territory. THAT is the central difference between Egypt and the Palestinian Territories: At the end of the day, the true issue is who ultimately wields the power of decision-making, and in Palestine, it is most certainly NOT the Palestinian people.
DM: You mentioned the Gaza Strip, which is currently ruled by Hamas. Here are some quotations from Hamas’s charter. How would you respond to these quotations? “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” “The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [Holy Possession] consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. No one can renounce it or any part, or abandon it or any part of it.”
TA: Four words: We are not Hamas.
DM: But you argue that Israel cannot take measures to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas militants who seek its total destruction?
TA: Israeli violations of the agreed-upon ceasefire notwithstanding, the answer remains that we are not Hamas. We are SJP, which advocates for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against the State of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.
DM: If you had your way, how should Israel deal with militants who wish to attack its citizens? You are against current policies, so I’m hoping that you have some alternatives in mind.
TA: As far as I am aware, most of the rocket attacks that have been launched from Gaza against the Apartheid State of Israel since the November 2012 ceasefire have been launched by the radical Islamic Jihad group or by rogue elements within Hamas’ militant wing that lie outside the direct control of Hamas’ central command. Israel appears intent upon expanding its so-called “iron dome” program to cities and towns in southern Israel, which should be more than sufficient to repel such crude projectiles. If Israel were truly sincere about eliminating the threat of armed resistance on the part of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, then they would take immediate steps towards bringing a merciful end to the demoralizing, soul-crushing land and naval blockade of the Gaza Strip which has deprived Palestinian citizens living in the area of basic necessities of life such as food and water since its implementation in 2006.
DM: How can Israel seek peace with those who explicitly, in their founding charter, seek its destruction?
TA: Just as the National Party of South Africa eventually came to negotiate with the African National Congress, whose devotion to the doctrine of armed resistance was viewed by most of White South Africa as a harbinger of the extermination of the Afrikaner people.
DM: Are you in favor of a two state solution?
TA: I personally support the formation of a binational state based on the doctrine of “one person, one vote.” SJP has a relatively equal distribution of advocates of a binational state such as myself as well as proponents of a two-state solution. What we all agree upon, however, is that the current state of affairs whereby the State of Israel is perpetuating an unlawful system of occupation and oppression upon the Palestinian people is totally unacceptable and must end as soon as possible.
DM: How would a binational state work, given the rampant and explicit anti-Semitism of so many Palestinians, including in textbooks used for school children?
TA: I think you grossly underestimate the shrewdness of Israeli politicians to adjust to given circumstances in order to appeal to a wider demographic. Before I proceed further, I just wish to make it clear that I am speaking exclusively for myself here, and not SJP as a wider group. Is that clear?
DM: Yes. What is your stance on terrorist attacks, like the 1972 Munich massacre of innocent Israeli athletes? Are they a legitimate tactic?
TA: No. What does that have to do with the formation of a binational state?
DM: It was a change of topic. Have you been in conversation with Zionist groups on campus?
TA: There has been interpersonal contact with members of each group, but SJP exercises a stated policy of refusing collaboration with BUZO, Bearcats for Israel, and Hillel in any official capacity. Individual members, however, are perfectly at liberty to speak with whomever they wish. The President of Hillel Belle Yoeli and I have a perfectly cordial relationship, but she understands SJP’s stance on official collaboration.
DM: Explain the rationale behind this position.
TA: First of all, with regards to Hillel, their national parent organization, Hillel International, prohibits official collaboration or even the lending of group resources to provide a forum to proponents of BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions). As BDS is one of Student for Justice in Palestine’s central tenets, this would appear to be a no-brainer. As for BUZO and Bearcats for Israel, there can be no negotiation or collaboration with any group that does not view Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal under every single interpretation of international law.
DM: Have you had any communication with authorities or University officials?
TA: Outside of our interactions with the Chief of UPD during one of our demonstrations a couple of weeks ago, I am not aware of any such communication before or since then.
DM: Describe the interaction. Was this at the Haifa Symphony Orchestra protest?
TA: Yes. And the Chief of UPD was merely there to inform us as to which demonstration tactics were legally sound and which were not. He was very helpful in that regard.
DM: I see. This isn’t a particularly climactic note to end on, but there’s not much else I’d like to ask. Would you like to make any final remarks?
TA: We didn’t go into detail about the makeup of a binational state. Do you want to do that?
TA: Again, speaking exclusively for myself here, what did you wish to know?
DM: Israel would be stripped of any sort of Jewish character. The flag would change, and the country as we know it would cease to exist. In fact, even the name of the country would probably change. Is that a fair characterization?
TA: The thing I am most concerned about in the eventuality of a binational state is the protection of the rights of the Jewish people. Wouldn’t you agree that that is more important than preservation of names and symbols?
DM: Yes. I think the refusal of many, including myself, to support a binational state, or the Right of Return, is precisely to protect the safety and security of the Jews living in Israel, not to protect the symbols.
TA: The answer you’re looking for, my friend, lies in firstly, the adoption of a negotiated and *written* constitution designed to safeguard the rights and liberties of all peoples of a binational state. Secondly, the protection of the rights of all peoples will necessitate the confessional-style allocation of a set number of seats to both Jews and Arabs, let’s say, one-third of all seats in the legislature guaranteed to both Jews and Arabs. You also have to take into account other factors such as the very likely possibility that Islamic extremists hailing from Gaza and the West Bank would, in all likelihood, boycott any elections in a binational state.
DM: Do you support any of the non-Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset?
TA: The Knesset operates with impunity due to the fact that Israel remains one of only two developed nations in the world without a written constitution. It is, therefore a body which could exercise near despotic control over the legal situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories without any fear of consequence, as it could merely repeal or replace any of Israel’s Basic Laws, which comprise its current unwritten constitution. Since I do not accept the legitimacy of a body (the Knesset) which operates outside the purview of any kind of written constitution, how can I then support any of the parties represented within it?
DM: The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution. I am not sure if this was the second country you were referring to, but it seems to do just fine for itself, politically speaking.
TA: Political scientists have consistently noted that the reason an unwritten constitution has served the United Kingdom relatively well over the decades and centuries is due to the fact there exists a culture of restraint exemplified by the phrase, “It simply is not done,” referring to the notion of altering the foundational laws on which the British system of governance is based.
DM: The United Kingdom is dominated by England, which was founded by a band of Anglo-Saxon invaders. Luckily enough for England, this took place over 1,000 years ago, before “international law” could be used in a hypocritical way to undermine the legitimacy of the nation state. Israel, being a young country founded fewer than 70 years ago, does not, of course, have this luxury. At this point, however, I feel like we’ve had a conducive discussion of the issues at hand. I’ll let you have the last word.
TA: We are Students for Justice in Palestine. We are here. We are not going away. We fully intend to promote a boycott of corporate goods and services produced by companies which operate in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. We fully intend to see to it that this university and all institutions and organizations associated with it divest their holdings from companies which profit off Israel’s oppressive occupation of the Palestinian Territories. And we intend to join with National Students for Justice in Palestine and our many other sibling organizations in agitating nationwide and globally for the United States, its allies, its adversaries, and the entire international community to impose economic and military sanction upon the Apartheid State of Israel, the likes of which played a major role in bringing an end to racial Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa. We are the ones on the right side of history.