Protest stories always make headlines, none more so than those encircling the controversy over Israel, Palestine and the region, but are these for the right reasons? Is it the protest that people consider, rather than the greater issues that prompt the protest?
Of course we have a right to protest, heckle, stamp and shout until we’re heard, but is this really useful to the wider debate? Our focus should be on coming to some sort of conclusion or solution, whatever the issue, rather than simply trying to drown out dissenting opinions.
Monday’s protest at the Union against Danny Ayalon, the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, serves to demonstrate quite how unconstructive protests can be.
‘Ayalon was left looking like the most reasonable, tolerant person in the room’
Ayalon holds extreme right-wing views in favour of Israel, which, while not widely accepted outside the state of Israel, should be accepted as viable enough under his right to free speech. But in news stories and general conversation this week, consideration of his views has been largely overlooked, in favour of consideration of the abuse he received. His beliefs have been propounded as ‘wrong’ by the pro-Palestine lobby, but there has been little consideration of them and how best to overcome these.
In order to move the wider debate forward any and all views need to be considered, and then discarded. Shouting over ‘the opposition’ is futile and achieves little.
Heckled from both inside and outside the Unions debating chamber, Ayalon hardly spoke, which was what he was invited to the Union, that ‘bastion of free speech’, to do.
‘Of course we have a right to protest, heckle, stamp and shout until we’re heard’
While many would hold this to be great news, has our level of debate really descended to who can shout the loudest? Perhaps we need to move beyond the playground.
When juxtaposed with those who shouted racist slurs and general anti-Israeli abuse, Ayalon was left looking like the most reasonable, tolerant person in the room at the end of the evening. Most who are familiar with his views would agree that ‘tolerant’ would not be a term used to describe them.
Members of the audience talked at him, voicing opinions they would have expounded regardless then immediately left, while others accused him of crimes he was not involved with. It would have been only marginally less constructive to shout them at a lamppost. Engaging with his arguments would undoubtedly have been far more productive in the long run.
By this stage in our academic careers we should be able to accept that people hold a variety of views, many of which we personally don’t agree with. But by refusing to engage with opposing views and defending our own (well-informed) opinions we stand no chance of progressing or advancing the wider debate.