Harvard professor Ruth Wisse said on Friday that Israelis should not be blamed for the hardships of Palestinians in a talk that focused on a speech last week by pro-Palestinian activist and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein. On-campus flyers advertising Epstein’s speech two weeks ago compared images of Jews in Nazi Germany to Palestinians at Israeli security check points.
The event was sponsored by Chabad at Stanford, in conjunction with the Jewish Law Students Association, Jewish Med Students Association, Jewish Business Association and Israel Peace Initiative.
“We felt a speech by Professor Wisse would be a constructive response to the events,” said Rabbi Dov Greenberg, director of Chabad at Stanford.
Greenberg told The Daily that Wisse’s talk was not intended to directly refute Epstein’s, although in a press release about Wisse’s talk Greenberg said that “students are clearly outraged about Hedy Epstein’s remarks.”
While her audience ate Challah bread and drank champagne for the Kiddush, Wisse discussed the origins and effects of anti-Semitism. Her most pointed remarks related to the current political situation between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Of course the Palestinian people suffer — it is genuine, it is undeniable, they can’t advance; the Jews would love to cure that suffering, but it is not a problem that the Jews created, and it is not a problem that the Jews can solve,” she said. “The Jews want to do anything to accommodate at any price, but this will not solve the problem. We can not afford to do this, it does not help.”
One student asked Wisse about the extent of Israel’s mistakes in its treatment of Palestinians.
“Could we do it better? Of course, but the one thing we cannot bear is one who believes that we are responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians,” Wisse said. “People who believe this are lying, and that lie is disastrous for both Jews and Palestinians.”
Wisse placed blame instead on the Arab world and on Palestinian politics.
“Why have the Palestinians insisted on keeping refugees?” she asked. “The greatest scandal is that the Palestinians have allowed their people to remain refugees. This is not a creation of Israel, it is a creation of Arab rulers.”
Wisse said the Arab world continuously launches attacks against the Jews, who remain silent and want to be accepted. She said this attempt to “be nice” has led many Jews to willingly accept responsibility for the Palestinian suffering.
“Anyone who takes responsibility for something that they neither did nor can correct is adding to the sum of the evil. The Arab rulers are responsible for the Palestinian conflict and they have to resolve this problem.”