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Why Shutting Down NYU Tel Aviv Is Not the Answer

Exposure and education are essential components to ensure that people have a stake in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and will advocate for justice in the international community using any and all platforms.

Sep 30, 2018

My privilege is not lost on me. I am white and carry a U.S. American passport. These characteristics have allowed me to travel freely, with little relative difficulty throughout Israel and Palestine. I understand that many Palestinians cannot return to or visit their homeland and that my passport should not merit that right over them. I also cannot speak on behalf of any Palestinian or Arab that has direct personal experience with this conflict and history. Having studied at NYU Tel Aviv, I recognize that I have a responsibility to educate the people who are misinformed about the conflict and reveal the abundance of complexities that exist.
When I began contemplating whether I should study away in Tel Aviv in spring 2018, the only opinion that mattered to me was that of my roommate, a Palestinian, whose family was forced to flee the country during the 1948 and 1967 wars. Looking back at this time, my reasoning seemed simplistic to her. I am neither Jewish nor do I have any connection to the State of Israel. I simply wanted to continue my study of Arabic and gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Despite my ardent grievances and condemnation of the Netanyahu Administration, the continued occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights, the blockade imposed on Gazans, and the countless other offenses that have been inflicted on the Palestinian people by the State of Israel, I do not regret studying away in Tel Aviv.
The manner in which wars are taught in Israel present a contrasting reality to the Palestinian narrative and that of the international community. For Israel, 1948 was the year of Israeli independence, instead of the anniversary of the Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes; 1967 was the Six Day War where Israel was able to fend off their neighbors, instead of the year when Israel began its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. This miseducation creates a single narrative that should be challenged both in Israel and the U.S..
If I had never met a Palestinian or if I had attended a university in the U.S., this would have likely also been my perspective. By shutting down students who have studied abroad in Israel, we are failing to recognize the opportunity to have a productive and constructive conversation about the Palestinian cause and how it can be embraced by the whole of the international community.
A history class at the Tel Aviv campus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, for instance, co-taught by an Israeli and a Palestinian, gave me incredible insights into Israeli politics. You cannot challenge a perspective without understanding where it is coming from and why it has led to its conclusion, and that is why such a course is valuable.
Many people at NYU Abu Dhabi fervently disagree with the presence of an NYU site in Tel Aviv and the decision that students make to study there. I recognize that this issue is deeply personal for many students and has affected their families directly and immensely. I implore you to voice these disagreements with students who actually studied at the campus, instead of resorting to anonymous fora and Facebook arguments.
While shutting down the NYU Tel Aviv site would send a message to other higher education institutions with campuses in Israel, I do not think this action would have a significant impact in solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Closing the already established site would prevent students from gaining the necessary understanding to challenge the problematic Israeli narrative. Furthermore, expressing disagreement through anger is only going to alienate people, instead of accepting them into the fold of advocates of the Palestinian cause.
NYU has deep ties to Israel and pro-Israel donors in the United States. Shutting down this site would be unrealistic because NYU has prioritized its relationship with its donors. Additionally, Israel is one of the largest recipients of foreign aid from the United States. Removing the Tel Aviv campus will not send a message to the U.S. Government, it will only rid the school of a platform for open discussion and debate. It is important to have students from NYUAD at that campus to illuminate a perspective that many New York students may have never heard or have dismissed.
For me, the Palestinian cause is not just political. Having had the opportunity to travel throughout the West Bank to Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and Jerusalem, I had much more to share about Palestine than just their struggle for freedom under an oppressive occupation. When visiting, I was hesitant to say I was studying in Tel Aviv, but to my surprise I was not met with judgement or disgust, I was welcomed with curiosity and acceptance. The daily realities in the West Bank for Palestinians are heartbreaking. The flash of a U.S. American passport at a checkpoint is a privilege I am unable to shake. Palestinians are subjected to the unpredictability of checkpoints, the absurdity of maneuvering administrative zones and the constant invasion of the presence of the Israeli Defense Forces. Despite these realities, hope is not lost. The resistance persists with surprising amounts of realism, but happiness and joy can still be found.
The cause needs to extend beyond political resistance. Palestinian people should not be reduced to victimhood. Their culture and complexity should be acknowledged alongside their ability to have agency over their lives. This is also the Palestinian cause and it is critical to express this to the international community. Exposure and education are essential components to ensure people have a stake in this conflict and will advocate for justice in the international community using any and all platforms.
Tessa Thornton is a contributing writer. Email her at
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