Robert Reich: How To Talk About Israel And Gaza On A College Campus (Or Anywhere Else) – OpEd


A few months ago I met with a group of students to talk about what’s happening in Israel and Gaza. Some were Jewish, some were Palestinian.

I’m sharing what we discussed again in hopes that it might be helpful to others in discussing this ongoing tragedy.

The purpose of the meeting was to see what they could agree on, morally.

As you can imagine, emotions ran high.

I suggested that, at least for the purpose of our conversation, they not think of themselves as either “Pro-Palestinian” or “Pro-Israel” but instead look deeper into what basic moral principles were at stake.

After several hours, they agreed to seven moral principles.

I list them here — along with the process we went through — in hopes that they might be helpful to others in thinking about and discussing this ongoing tragedy.

1. What Hamas did on October 7 was morally despicable. (Some of the students wanted to explain why Hamas did it — about the accumulated grievances and gruesome history suffered by many Palestinians, especially those in Gaza — but they finally came around to distinguishing between an explanation and a justification. In the end, even those who understood why Hamas did what it did on October 7 agreed that the killings and kidnappings of innocent civilians were not morally justifiable.)

2. Hamas’s avowed aim to murder all Jews is morally despicable. (Again, we spent time distinguishing between an explanation and a justification.)

3. What the Israeli government has done since then in Gaza is also morally despicable. Some students initially wanted to defend Israel by saying that after October 7, Israelis could not feel safe as long as Hamas existed, and therefore Hamas had to be rooted out. This precipitated a discussion about how Hamas could be rooted out without the killing of innocent civilians, including large numbers of children. Which got us to our next principle.

4. The murder or kidnapping of innocent civilians is morally wrong. This was not a difficult principle for them to agree on, although several argued that warfare always involved the killing of innocent civilians, while others charged that Hamas was intentionally using innocent civilians as shields.

5. Israel’s policies toward Palestinians have been segregation and discrimination, based on ethnicity and religion, which are morally wrong. This was a hard principle for many of the students to accept, because they had different understandings of history. So the discussion was difficult. But all of them finally came around. (Most, although not all, decided that a so-called “two-state solution” was necessary, but we didn’t get into the specifics or how it could be achieved, because I wanted to keep them on the track of seeking moral clarity and agreement.)

6. It is morally wrong to urge genocide against any group — whether they constitute a religion, ethnicity, race, or nation. No disagreement on this. Some participants were initially unsure of whether universities should permit such advocacy on campus (the presidents of Penn, M.I.T., and Harvard temporized when asked this at a congressional hearing last week), but all finally agreed that it should not be permitted.

7. All of us have a moral obligation to do everything within our power to prevent and stop all forms of genocide, all killing of innocent civilians, and the promotion of hate. All agreed on this.

This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

One thought on “Robert Reich: How To Talk About Israel And Gaza On A College Campus (Or Anywhere Else) – OpEd

  • April 24, 2024 at 5:36 am

    Well you have been able to carve out some space or else be drowned in a sea of people who are caught in a hyperbolic loop which they can’t or emotionally won’t stop conflating genocide with civilian and child deaths and making endless comparisons to Nazis and Hitler but never Stalin or Mao curiously.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *