Friday, February 21, 2014

How I would respond to the students of Ramaz

The Jewish social media world has been passionately discussing the petition from a group of high school students at Ramaz, one of the preeminent Modern Orthodox high schools in the country. These students, members of a student group called the Ramaz Politics Society, would like to have Rashid Khalidi, a controversial and well known Palestinian professor at Columbia, who is known for his Pro-Palestinian views. While the students see this is an event that would ensure that students are “exposed to other points of view”, which lead to open-minded dialogue. The administration has refused, saying that while they are open and encourage various points of view, Khalidi views are so extreme as to make him outside of those whose views should be considered, certainly by high school students. (this is my summary and not theirs).

There has been much debate on the blogosphere and Facebook about who is correct. There is much to unpack here, and I am content to sit and the side to listen to both sides.

I am, however, thinking about this from the perspective of Jewish education. Ramaz is in a tough spot. To capitulate to their students, would be to allow their students to be exposed to ideas which they consider to be well out of bounds, at an impressionable time in their lives. If they refuse to let him speak, they will be accused of not welcoming different perspectives, of indoctrinating rather than educating their students, and perhaps of much worse. Students will feel jaded, an effect that will carry over into how they look at other parts of their education, particularly the Jewish component. I do not envy Dr. Paul Shaviv, the Ramaz Head of School, who is an intelligent and thoughtful educator.

Here is how I would respond

Dear Students, Faculty, Parents and Alumni,

As you are aware, Ramaz has been in the news recently due to a petition from some of our students asking us to change our minds, and allow them to invite Rashid Khalidi to speak. While we remain committed to open-dialogue and to exposing our students to different perspectives in both their Torah and General studies, we can not allow Professor Khalidi to speak. It is not that ideas from the Palestinian perspective are not welcome in our school. On the contrary, we believe that it is essential that our students hear from different voices and perspectives on Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Rashid Khalidi's views are so beyond the mainstream, and so openly hostile to Israel as Jewish state, that his voice is not welcome, and he will not be welcomed into our school.

At the same time, I recognize, that words alone are not enough to quell the passionate claims of our students that by not welcoming Khalidi, we are not open to dialogue. It is for that reason that we will be hosting a special program on Monday, March 24th where we will have various speakers who will discuss their perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These speakers will include both Israelis and Palestinians, and will allow for open and uncensored dialogue. Due to the importance we place on the idea of open-dialogue, alumni and parents are welcome and encouraged to attend.

We remain passionately committed to the idea of Religious Zionism and the value of hearing from a plethora of voices, and, equally importantly, that these two values need not, indeed do not, conflict.


Pesach Sommer

1 comment:

  1. Pesach,

    who would you suggest that school invite to this open forum?

    i take it that the students of ramaz have access to libraries, computers, the internet, dvds....where they can easily find opinions from both sides.

    why is it that we are the ones who must have "open dialogue"?

    when was the last time you heard of a course given by khalidi, where he invited a professor with opposing opinions to speak before his class?

    where is the anti israel group that has invited a pro israel speaker?

    why must we spend our lives apologizing and self flagellating to show that we are open?

    here is an idea

    why doesnt ramaz take the entire school on a field trip to one of the local universities that is hosting hate....errrrr....israel anti apartheid week....and leave them there for the day

    or maybe, stick them all in a room to listen to the beautiful pro pali poetry of this well educated guy