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Vandalism undermines constructive discussion

This morning, while walking down the Infinite Corridor, I had the misfortune of coming across a miscreant in the process of vandalizing some posters. Many readers may have seen this person's work. The posters, which had been put up by MIT Students for Israel, asked why the Palestine Liberation Organization had not changed its charter if it was really interested in peace.

Our "friend's" addition to the poster was, "Israel is Apartheid," scribbled in bright red marker across the front of the poster, much in the manner of a "Today!" notice. When I asked the mad scribbler to please stop vandalizing the posters, he told me that he just wanted to let people know the truth. I reminded him that he could just as effectively let people know the truth by putting up his own posters; his response was that it was more cost-effective to convey his message on other people's posters. I tried to remind him that vandalism was wrong, but his response was that so was blowing up people's houses, and so was deporting people.

We are at MIT, not in Israel or the occupied territories. At MIT, the issues related to the Middle East are (believe it or not) more or less academic, not a matter of life and death, nor a matter on which our actions here will have a palpable impact. Thus, debates thereon should be fought cleanly and legally, not with petty, stupid acts such as vandalism.

If we were in Israel, if we were in the occupied territories, if we were a family whose olive ground had been uprooted or whose factory had been confiscated, a case might be made for the necessity of illegal actions against the authorities for lack of effective alternatives. But we are not, and those who disagree with MITSI are not in a life-and-death struggle with the authorities, and thus vandalism and other illegalities have no place.

If this argument about means stirs no understanding, let me address ends. What did our vandal think he was accomplishing by vandalizing the posters? Did he think that scribbling "Israel is Apartheid" would have any effect upon people's thinking about the issue?

Those who disagreed or agreed would continue to do so; the majority in the middle would be completely repulsed by our friend's tactics and would be inclined to be more receptive to the message of the MITSI poster -- that the untrustworthy PLO would stop at nothing to accomplish its goals.

Those with some understanding of the issue, including those who sympathize with the Palestinians' plight, would of course know that the slogan "Israel is Apartheid" contains little truth, as Israeli Arabs are voting citizens of the State of Israel, as there are Arab members of the Israeli Parliament, and as Arabs consist of only about 10 percent of the total Israeli population. (Most people would agree, I think, that the most monstrous quality of apartheid is its disenfranchisement of 80 percent of the South African population.)

Of course, discrimination exists in Israel, is reprehensible, and should be eliminated, and one must agree that the situation in the occupied territories (which are NOT a part of Israel) is wretched and full of injustice; I am only saying that "apartheid" is not an appropriate term, and its use serves only to inflame the passions of interested parties. If our vandal disagrees with this, he has every right to do so. But if he is trying to win others over to his views, rather than isolate himself politically and socially, he has chosen the wrong tack.

I hope that the marking maniac will pause to consider some of the thoughts in this letter. His sense of the injustices that the Palestinians have suffered might actually do them some good, if it were properly channeled in a way that would win the respect and concurrence of others. Until he learns some of the basic lessons of civilized behavior, though, I am afraid that his anger will do no good either for the Palestinians or for himself.

Bob Grossman G->