Friday, October 05, 2007

History alive

I'm team teaching a course in which the students are looking at epidemics in history (bubonic plague, smallpox, TB, etc), leading up to an intensive study of the current AIDS crisis. This was all going to lead up to an event called Peace Jam in the spring, where students would have the opportunity to meet Desmond Tutu.

Now it's not clear if he's going to be able to speak. He's been uninvited from the University of St. Thomas, where Peace Jam is scheduled to take place.

Tutu was uninvited because of this:
The mention of Hitler in the speech comes during a section in which Tutu urged the audience not to assume that the status quo lasts forever, and in which he urged those listening to challenge to “Jewish lobby” in the United States. “People are scared in this country [U.S.], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? This is God‘s world. For goodness sake, this is God‘s world. We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end, they bit the dust.”
I'd be REALLY bummed if the students did not get to meet Tutu. But as a Jewish person with extremely conflicted feelings toward Israel, I'm finding this very hard to discuss with my students.

I am in complete agreement with Tutu (aside from his equating the pro-Israel lobby with the "Jewish lobby"). I find it to be a serious problem the way all conversation shuts down the moment it heads toward a certain comparison. I was once at a training session with a horrible organization called "The David Project" whose mission is to teach adults to work with students to reframe Israel as "David" and the Palestinians as "Goliath," rather than the other way around. At the training they went over how to teach students the "red lines" when it comes to discussing Israel, and what to do when another student crosses the line. Needless to say, one of those lines is any comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany. I was repulsed and offended by their curriculum.

So I support Tutu and oppose his St. Thomas ban on many levels, personal and professional. But when it came up in class today, I became very defensive.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the other day a student at my school called a (non-Jewish) teacher a "fucking Jew," or that the kids have been known to use the phrase "That's so Jewish" (part of the South Park Syndrome). For some unknown reason, this brings out my defensive pro-Israel reflex.

Anyway, this is something I'm going to have to figure out if I am going to be a social studies teacher. Why am I as critical of Israel as can be when I'm among other Jewish people, but defensive and weird when I'm not?

1 comment:

Tegan said...

Often people react the same way you did. You might feel that other Jewish people are as informed on the issues surrounding Israel because of it's importance to your shared culture. Often people get defensive because they feel their culture is being misunderstood by outsiders. Every group has it's problems. By having people on the outside point out the wrongs or over simplify the issues is what frustrates a lot of cultures with these complex problems.

Everyone has an opinion when they sit on the outside lines because they are mostly insulated from the consequences. Right now it is hard to value many people's opinions since being informed on world issues has been out of style for years. Maybe you could do some lesson that covers making informed opinions, stating the opinions in a balanced way. Kids don't seem to understand the context of the jokes that are being put out their now and they need to understand why this language is not appropriate. Thats a tough question you are asking yourself I wish you luck with finding the answer.