Walking through my campus in mid-October, I could not believe my ears. A crowd of my Penn peers and professors, standing before a statue of Benjamin Franklin, chanted, “There is only one solution: Intifada, revolution.” The protestors argue that this statement upholds the belief that Palestinian liberation can occur only through revolution against the State of Israel’s “occupation.” During the First and Second Intifadas, Palestinian militants engaged in “a strategy of fear-inducing violence” that ultimately left thousands dead and failed to advance the cause of Palestinian liberation by any discernible means. Educated people rooting for unproductive, violent uprising is shocking in its own right. But to Jews, many of whom support a Palestinian state, this chant of a solitary solution upheld by “from the river to the sea” rhetoric eerily echoes traumatic terminology from our past. One Solution. One Final Solution.
October 7 and the ongoing situation in Israel and Gaza have rocked my community to its core while thrusting Jews to the center of an ideological pressure cooker, pitting Israel’s very existence against desires for progress and liberal ideals. Images of burnt babies and desperate Gazan families have become so normalized in my daily media consumption that I fear my own desensitization. Harrowing stories from ravaged kibbutzim and imperiled, overrun Gazan hospitals haunt my dreams, as I picture how I would fare in such conditions.
As I struggle to comprehend the violence present in my media exposure, watching my peers amplify hateful narratives under the guise of “freedom” and “liberation” fills me with the utmost confusion. Hearing Ivy League students and professors feeling “exhilarated” by the October 7 slaughter, cheering on this “glorious” attack while ignoring my community’s suffering, fills me with a profound sense of urgency to speak out against this narrative.
But how can I do so when a hive-mind of indifference toward all human suffering has become the norm for many? How can I engage with people who do not recognize the indifference toward Jewish suffering present in their messaging?
Indifference is a direct threat to progress and effective discourse, serving as a means of consciously ignoring and detracting from legitimate issues of suffering. Instead, it allows for the advancement of a narrative without necessary objection to said suffering. At the White House in 1999, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel delivered one of the most lauded speeches in American rhetoric: "The Perils of Indifference.” Addressing humanity, his narrative highlights the threat of indifference to the elimination of suffering and hate around the world. He references defining instances of human-born tragedy to bolster the notion that indifference “is more dangerous than anger and hatred,” for indifference “elicits no response” in the wake of suffering despite awareness and, thus, allows it to continue.
The threat of indifference to humanity cannot be overblown, for apathy toward the suffering of all requires the abandonment of one’s sense of humanity to serve their own needs. If one human suffers, all humans suffer. If we abandon our sense of humanity in the face of all suffering, who are we as a society?
As a student in what should be a bastion of intellectual discourse, I fear that indifference has reared its ugly head, in this instance toward the impact that words used to convey the Palestinian liberation narrative have on the Jewish community. Rhetoric that indirectly calls for violence against Jews and ignores our suffering has validated expressions of outright hatred toward my community, creating a hostile environment of ripped down posters depicting kidnapped children and antisemitic projections onto Penn buildings rather than promoting conversation.
Expressing the need for “one solution” in the form of Intifada — violence — draws associations to the Final Solution of the Holocaust, which itself grew from indifference as Wiesel argues. Attending an elite institution, I hope my peers and professors recognize how this sounds and understand the meaning of the Final Solution as they engage in advocacy that directly involves the Jewish experience. However, many express indifference toward the obvious suffering of the Jewish people, past and present, in favor of stalwart support for their narrative. Amplifying calls of violence as a reaction to Israel’s defense of its civilians from barbaric terrorism while ignoring undeniable consequences to the Jewish community reflects a concerning level of apathy toward suffering on the whole.
Cheering for “one solution” also reflects an indifference toward the context of this phrase to Jews in today’s climate. Espousing this narrative while calling for a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea” ignores the reality that the success of this belief at the hands of Hamas would culminate in a genocide of Jews akin to the Holocaust. After all, this narrative is backed by militant leaders calling for the death of the Jewish people and a vowed repetition of October 7 attacks until Israel ceases to exist. Denouncing Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of annihilation and reducing this defense to the same level of Nazi Germany’s genocide employs the Reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy – which consists of sloppy comparisons to Nazis — which underscores the indifference embodied by the “one solution” narrative.
This leads me back to my initial question: How do we engage with this indifference?
Inform yourself academically of facts, not through headlines or reposts. Unsurprisingly, approximately half of U.S. adults obtain news from social media platforms. While social media provides instant, easily digestible content, it undermines the necessity for in-depth understanding by employing more emotion than fact. The proliferation of misinformation on social media, particularly around this conflict, cultivates misunderstanding en masse. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in centuries of intricate ideological, political, and territorial context, demanding a deep exploration into the region’s history and the beliefs of both sides which social media cannot possibly explicate. Objective sources, comprehensive historical accounts, and scholarly analyses present the information necessary to reach a nuanced opinion. In addition, allowing one’s perspective to be open and malleable fosters intellectual development.
It is equally imperative to encourage others toward this goal. Effective discourse is impossible when any side remains closed off. The complexity of this conflict demands continued engagement with all sides, including people across the spectrum of literacy on the topic. No one will ever be the ultimate source of information, so exploring all perspectives bolsters conversation and the necessity for investigation. This includes understanding why some hold a perspective beset by bandwagon appeals in order to thoughtfully guide such individuals to meaningful awareness. Pointing out indifference and ignorance objectively, without ad hominem attacks, will progress discourse toward the realm of understanding. Personal attacks only alienate people and validate the desire to embrace the tunnel vision of one’s narrative. As such, blatant stereotyping has no place in effective discourse. Individual Jews do not represent Israel, the same way that individual Palestinians do not represent Hamas.
As this conflict unfolds and narratives become further entrenched, I implore those who value progressive conversation to seek it through comprehensive academic investigation, avoiding sources that amplify tropes to invigorate emotion. I challenge those who utilize villainizing or dehumanizing tropes to instead commit themselves to intellectual development, to meaningfully understand differing perspectives with empathy, not apathy. I beg people who stand before crowds of Jewish people indirectly calling for their murder to recognize the ineffectiveness of this in advancing Palestinian liberation.
So, is there really only one solution? I argue not.
EVAN GOLINSKY is a College senior studying political science and cinema and media studies from Miami, Fla. His email is email@example.com.