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Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

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Guest column: An open letter to the students of Fresno State about the faculty ‘Open Letter to President Jiménez-Sandoval’

University+Library+is+at+the+center+of+Fresno+State+campus.+University+President+Sa%C3%BAl+Jim%C3%A9nez-Sandovals+office+resides+on+the+top+floor+of+the+library.
Carlos Rene Castro/The Collegian
University Library is at the center of Fresno State campus. University President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval’s office resides on the top floor of the library.

I am writing this letter in response to the recent “Open Letter to President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval” about the Hamas/Israel conflict. I believe the letter was unfair to Jiménez-Sandoval, but worse, it was unfair to the students of Fresno State. It should not stand as the only statement by faculty about the war published to the student body.

The mission of a university ought not be to tell students what to think but to teach them how to think for themselves. The former is indoctrination, the latter education. The letter to Jiménez-Sandoval falls solidly into the camp of indoctrination. First, it credits the signatories with powers not available to mortal man: a higher morality that allows them to see the proper fit of language to reality (so you’d better believe them). Second, it ignores its own declaration about the importance of historical context by selectively ignoring any fact that doesn’t support its argument.

I’m pretty sure we can all agree that the initial Hamas attack on Israel was beyond barbaric: decapitating babies, broiling them in ovens before the eyes of their parents, ripping unborn infants out of their mothers, massacring a music festival – this level of evil leaves us stunned. But the main implication of the Open Letter is that this truly sadistic behavior can be understood, maybe even justified, as the over-reaction of an oppressed people—something the people of Israel may have even deserved. These initial atrocities, now easily disposed of, can be included in and overwhelmed by the over-arching anti-colonial narrative, whose propagation now seems to be the raison-d’etre of the humanities, especially English departments, nationwide.

But the conflict between Israel, various Arab states, and the Palestinians is a big and complex topic. Students should examine for themselves the main premise of the letter which is that Israel is a “settler-colonial” power comparable to any other colonial power, most obviously the United States itself and the powers of Europe. It’s the neo-Marxist narrative of the day, but it is hard to cram Israel into it.

Students might examine the following factors which make Israel different than the generalized colonial bogeyman:

  1. The Jews are native to the same land as the Palestinians: they also have an ancient claim to be there; their culture was formed there.
  2. There is no other land which the Jews can call native to which they can return, specifically, as Jews. See the history of World War 2 and the Nazi death camps for partial confirmation about why the Jews feel their survival requires a nation state. (6 million Jews were killed, virtually annihilating European Jewry. The death camps were liberated in 1945.)
  3. Before Israel was established in 1948, Jews were moving to that area of their own volition, not as part of a national program. The shock of the Holocaust certainly motivated many of them.
  4. It is true that 700,000 Arabs were displaced from their homes in Israel as a result of the 1948 war; it is also true that during the twentieth century 900,000 Jews either left or fled Arab countries to get to Israel and that many Arabs sympathized with the Nazi program of Jewish extermination. See “The Untold Exodus of Jews from Arab Lands.”
  5. Israel has been recognized as a nation by the UN since 1948. Upon its creation, Egypt, Transjordan, Syria and Iraq allied to destroy it. In 1947 civil war had already started in the area that would become Israel. A series of wars were fought thereafter as Arab states continued their attempts to destroy Israel.
  6. As a point of interest, 21% of Israeli citizens are Arabs, who have the same freedoms and rights as Jewish citizens. Arabs have served on the Supreme Court of Israel and do serve in the IDF.
  7. Israel has worked on many occasions with Palestinians toward a two-state solution, but the end-result of the most strenuous attempt, the Oslo accords, were two Intifadas—the violent rejection of a two-state solution by Palestinians. Even in Congress Rashida Tlaib invokes the slogan: ‘from the river to the sea.” I.e., the eradication of Israel and the Jews from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

In the Letter, Israel becomes a proxy for the West and all its alleged colonial sins. Nothing is said of the Muslim conquest of Asia Minor, Egypt, all of North Africa, and most of Spain, which were indeed “colonized’; in its sweeping comparison, a bad one, of New World history to that of Israel, it doesn’t mention the way the Aztecs of Mexico dominated and sacrificed members of the surrounding tribes, or how the Sioux conquered the Great Plains, pushing aside the Pawnee and Omaha tribes. The fact is, the West did not invent conquest or colonization or mass murder, although the Letter would give that impression. It even tosses in the bombing of Hiroshima for good measure, though one might wonder how this is relevant colonialism, unless the occupation of Japan after World War II is called a “colonization.” (Here, just for context, students might want to look into the Japanese invasion of Manchuria as colonialism, the Bataan Death March, the Rape of Nanjing, Japanese preparation for an American land invasion of Japan and the enormous casualties that would have occurred to both sides had the U.S. gone that route.)

All I’m saying is that you cannot understand the current war between Hamas and Israel without a deep dive into the history. It is complex, not morally black and white, and goes back at least to the advent of Islam. Do not trust your professors on this one. They have their own agendas. Don’t trust them on politics at all. Examine what they call “context” with your own eyes. Check sources they don’t cite: (I’d suggest historian Niall Ferguson as a beginning.) Finally, realize you are on your own. Be suspicious, and read, read, read.

Craig Bernthal

Professor Emeritus, English

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  • H

    HelloFeb 25, 2024 at 1:00 pm

    zionism is racism and “israel” is a racist terrorist apartheid state. It will fall. Free Palestine from the river to the sea.

    Reply