Op-Ed: Shawn Musgrave Believes “BU Deserves Better” During “Israel Public Relations Week”

March 20, 2011

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Editor’s Note: As an Op-Ed, this piece does not reflect any opinions of the Quad as a whole. We accept Op-Ed pieces at submissions@buquad.com.

Sidewalk hawks and freebie hustlers of the world, Shawn Andrew Musgrave is your man. Having in a past life been paid to foist sample drinks upon the dull-eyed masses in my town’s least-traveled mall, I’ll go pretty far out of my way to accept an offered flier or bite-sized whatzit. Hell, I’ll even make conversation with those poor souls peddling inane crap, begging donations or promoting some event I’ve never heard of, because I know better than anyone that they haven’t had any real eye contact since going on shift. Simply put, I’m a sucker. And it was this empathy, my own foolishness really, that led me to take the fateful cookie.

Walking through the GSU on a recent Tuesday, I spotted the familiar vultures in their coordinated club t-shirts. Most had conceded defeat and left their fliers or baked goods hanging slightly off the table’s edge, some punctuating their silence intermittently with half-hearted sales pitches to no one in particular. All easily avoided. But having spotted a daring soul handing out fortune cookies (nearly always an auspicious sign) smack in the middle of traffic, I obligingly took one. I left the GSU without even checking the smiling lad’s affiliation and cracked open my prize, dutifully checking the fortune before popping the wafers into my mouth.

What I read baffled me: “Within 48 hours of the earthquake in Haiti, Israel’s medical search-and-rescue crews were first to respond.” What a crap fortune, I thought, and retraced my steps. “Israel Peace Week” the t-shirts read at the cookie-vending table. I took another: “Since the construction of the security fence in Palestine, rocket attacks have decreased by 90%.” Most comedies oblige the trilogy, so I took one last stab at the pile: “Currently, there are 14 Arab members in the Israeli Parliament.”

Huh.

Now, all three of these cookies might have their facts entirely straight for all I know. [None cited sources for verification, but one must grant certain concessions to pastries I suppose.] Few could doubt, to be sure, that the Israeli search-and-rescue teams are top-notch and that they did immeasurable good for those trapped in Port-au-Prince as part of the international rescue effort. Similarly, a quick search reveals that there are indeed fourteen Arab members within the Knesset. So kudos to these rare cookies standing up for journalistic integrity, right?

The trouble is, like most sound bites and bumper stickers, these fortunes capture only a narrow slice of reality. Take the second cookie extolling the security fence for instance. Granted, a two-inch slip of paper has precious limited space to work with, but surely somewhere one could have worked in the (similarly factual) point that the construction of the wall in Palestine has been decried as illegal by no less eminent bodies than the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice. An awkward omission, certainly. Not to mention that the “fence” in question stretches over 400 miles and encompasses a nearly 100 foot “exclusion area” (read: cleared trench) on either side, has conveniently trotted around (once again, internationally illegal) Jewish settlements and effectively destroyed any semblance of a Palestinian economy that existed prior to its construction.

With these thoughts I left the GSU for the vast wilds of Commonwealth Avenue, and was almost out of the shadow of Warren Towers when an advertisement caught my attention. In the center, an attractive “BOSTON” in all capitals incorporating the logos of the Celtics, the Bruins and the Sox (not to mention Shaq and a few Boston landmarks), underscored with another factoid: “In 2010, Israeli innovation contributed $2.4 billion to the Massachusetts economy.” And once again, discreetly tucked away in the upper corner, the emblem of “Israel Peace Week” with nary an explanation connecting the question of peace with the message therein.

 

Flash forward a week to the height of the Students for Justice in Palestine “Apartheid Week.” Walking past Warren once again I noticed that the too-big-to-fail poster had been taken down. In its place hung another Students for Israel-sponsored advertisement, this time suggesting that “66 percent of Palestinians hold a positive view of democracy and human rights in Israel.” For all you skeptics out there in TV-land this poster boasted not only a citation (unlike its fiscally-oriented predecessor) but even the survey date. Those willing to squint at fine print along the poster’s lower edge would find that the survey in question was conducted over eight years ago in November 2002. As a friend would comment later, “that’s straight propaganda.” Assuming that the survey results were valid at the time (the quoted Palestinian Center for Policy and Social Research certainly has a sterling reputation, so this is not necessarily a stretch), any number of intervening events since 2002 make it questionable and even laughable to extrapolate this statistic to the present day. Even without respect to its legality or appropriateness, few could seriously suggest that Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, in which an estimated 1200 to 1400 Palestinians were killed over three weeks, could have no bearing on Palestine’s view of Israel’s respect for human rights. Such pollster sleight of hand bears apt comparison to taking Bush, Jr.’s post-9/11 popularity as the measure of his exit approval ratings. It is misinformation at best and out-and-out deceptive in effect.

But take comfort, ye Terriers of all creeds and persuasions. Find solace in that familiar refrain: this is all partially funded by your undergraduate student fee. The BU student body deserves a balanced, factual and comprehensive take on peace for Israel and Palestine, one that considers a range of relevant legal, historical and political arguments. Blatant PR tactics – distributing non-sequitur treats and broadcasting equally unrelated (and unsubstantiated) messages in unquestioning praise of Israel – serve  only to obscure facts with spin at the exclusion of substantive conversation. If nowhere else, college campuses should harbor the level-headed who acknowledge fallacies as such, red herrings be damned.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Musgrave did attempt to contact BUSI on this issue, but received no comment.

Shawn Musgrave (CAS 2012) studies economics, global development and public health at BU. Beside jettisoning his thought-flotsam into the vast beyond of the Internet, Shawn fills his time performing with BU’s Liquid Fun (youtube.com/LiquidFunImprov) and the BU NeoFuturist Project. Shawn can be reached at smusgrav@bu.edu.