How To Atone For The Crusaders’ Crimes: Support Peace in the Middle East

By Dan Haverty, Student Contributor

Recently, an article appeared in The Crusader in which Professor David Schaefer challenges the argument in favor of changing the College’s mascot name. Professor Schaefer explains that supporters of the name-change fail to consider a third dimension that is usually forgotten in discussions of the Crusades: the atrocities committed against the Jewish communities. He reminds us that along with Muslims, Jews were one of the primary targets of the Crusaders’ bloodlust, and so concludes that “those who sincerely wish to atone for the real atrocities committed by the Crusaders and their followers, as they should, ought instead to demonstrate support for the tiny, embattled state of Israel, and oppose the viciously anti-Semitic ‘boycott, divestment, sanctions’ campaign.”

I am not as concerned with the name-change as I am with Professor Schaefer’s conclusion. The right of the Jewish people to their own state in the Middle East is justified by centuries of marginalization in the Christian West, but not when that support turns into subjugation of other minority groups living on the same strip of land.

The BDS campaign was initiated in the middle of the last decade in response to escalating violence between Palestinians and Israelis. It aims to force companies and governments to withdraw their unilateral support of Israel and force the Israeli government to comply with UN demands to respect Palestinian rights, freedom and equality, in accordance with international law.

Labeling the BDS campaign anti-Semitic is misleading and irresponsible, and it misconstrues its motivations and objectives. It also risks trivializing historical crimes that were motivated by real manifestations of anti-Semitism.

Israel certainly deserves some recognition for maintaining its commitment to democracy in a region plagued by theocratic despotism, but it is important to remember that many thousands of people within Israel’s jurisdiction do not share the fruits of liberty.

Right now, dozens of Palestinian political prisoners are being held in horrid Israeli jails without trial; hundreds of families are grieving over children shot dead at the hands of Israeli police; and an army of Palestinian journalists faces severe punishment for committing the crime of criticizing governmental policies. I don’t think they would agree that they’re bathing in equal rights and justice.

In light of this treatment, the UN recently published a report which determined that the treatment of Arab people within Israel’s borders amounts to the crime of apartheid. Most readers will be familiar with that term and what it entails, but to emphasize the point, the International Criminal Court defines apartheid as “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” The State of Israel boasts institutions that are truly democratic in nature, but democracy for some does not mean democracy for all. The BDS campaign seeks to dismantle that system and extend Israeli democracy to the entirety of Israel’s population.

It is correct to call attention to the crimes committed by the Crusaders against European Jewish communities during the Crusades. It is a vital part of this discussion and deserves serious consideration in whatever action the College chooses to take. But it is incorrect to conclude that somehow one can only atone for the Crusaders’ atrocities in the Middle Ages by actively supporting Israeli crimes today.

Of course, I am not arguing against the existence of the State of Israel. The violence committed by militant Palestinian groups like Hamas and Fatah is atrocious and does not deserve a place in the political process. But one doesn’t need to support a violent overthrow of Israel to appreciate that certain policies are creating legitimate problems that are harming ordinary Palestinian people.

A more constructive solution to this conflict would be to recognize both Israel and Palestine’s right to exist—side-by-side and in peace and security. Israel must respect Palestine’s territorial integrity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as the cultural importance it places on Jerusalem. Likewise, Palestinian groups must respect Israel’s right to exist in peace as well as its unique status as the only Jewish state in the Middle East (and indeed, in the entire world). Both states must also respect the rights of the respective minority groups that will inevitably reside within their jurisdictions. The West—which wields considerable influence in the Middle East—should actively encourage a policy that supports a viable, two-state settlement. It possesses the power and the resources to convince both parties that their interests lie not in the total destruction of the other, but in mutual respect and recognition. An internationally-supported policy of that nature would move the Israeli-Palestinian conflict considerably closer to a peaceful resolution, and I think that is a much more meaningful way to redress the crimes committed against Muslims and Jews during the Crusades.

Photo courtesy of College of the Holy Cross

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