2016-10-26 / Editorial

Our date with an opponent of Israel


“We are ardent Zionists and work every day to make Israel stronger…socially, economically and politically.”

Those were our opening words when we sat down for coffee with Professor Stellan Vinthagen at the University of Massachusetts. Vinthagen is a Professor of Sociology and holds the inaugural endowed chair in the study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance. Our interest in the professor started when we learned that he has been involved in Gaza flotillas and is a vocal proponent of BDS and academic boycotts of Israel: (For reference see: https://- blogs.umass.edu/vinthagen/category/ boycott/)

By way of background, we are long-time supporters of UMASS, where we both received graduate degrees. The Chancellor invited us to campus to see the new Institute of Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies and hear about recent developments in the Department of Chemical Engineering. We asked for the meeting with Vinthagen to hear his arguments in order to sharpen our own positions and to engage in a dialogue with an opponent of Israel.

We bluntly asked the Professor how he could have gotten on the wrong side of history. He explained his pacifist background, which arose from his father’s understanding of WWII. Interestingly, his grandfather served in the Swedish military during the war and saved Jews coming to the border. We related that nearly all of our extended families were lost in the Holocaust and we believe that if Israel had existed in the 1930s our family would have had a chance to survive.

During the conversation, Vinthagen acknowledged the shortcomings of Palestinian leadership, crimes committed by Hamas and the PA against Israel, that the flotillas had nothing to do with humanitarian aid but rather was a political statement, and that boycotts are not a productive tool. When confronted with specific facts, he did not engage.

Another illustrative exchange was on the “occupation,” which his blogs refer to as “illegal.” He had no response when we pointed out that under international law, Israel captured the land in a defensive war and was obligated to maintain control absent any peace treaty.

He said that the UN requires Israel to give back the “West Bank.” We explained the history of the relevant UN resolutions, which are explicit in not requiring Israel to withdraw from all the territory captured in 1967. The good Professor also had no specific response.

We challenged his view that the settlements were illegal. We also pointed out that in a final peace agreement, the borders would be adjusted so some of the towns would be in Israel and others would be within the Palestinian state. When asked if Jews could live in that State if they chose, he actually agreed that it would be a good thing.

It is clear to us that Professor Vinthagen is not accustomed to being confronted with facts and detailed history. He would much prefer to talk to the uneducated or those who are already anti-Israel. As for reconciling his non-violent philosophy with the violent end result of his strategies, we could not really determine Professor Vinthagen’s opinions. Perhaps he did not want to upset two alumni?

As we were departing, Eva summed up the situation in one clear sentence, “There will never be peace until the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state!”

We encourage each and every supporter of Israel to challenge those who would deny Israel the same rights and privileges enjoyed by every other nation. Whether it is from naivety or malice or anti- Semitism is not relevant. It is our obligation to speak out. Supporting the JCRC’s Israel Advocacy Initiative is a great place to start. s

Eva and Marvin Schlanger are members of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Israel Advocacy Initiative Committee.

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