Just when I think I’ve seen it all, the U.S. government does something so mind-bogglingly stupid I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s real. That’s what happened today when I learned that the State Department has cancelled the Fulbright grants for seven students from Gaza.
Israel’s current policy vs. Hamas is to close off the Gaza strip until tough living conditions force Palestinians to rise up against their government. That means no one can go in or out of Gaza for work, food, or travel.
I’m not a fan of the culture war rhetoric that dominates discussions of Middle East politics, but if there is a culture war, then our best hope is to empower the brightest young Palestinians with education and job prospects, and let them build civil society from within. It’s Kafka-esque of Israel to insist upon a strong Palestinian civil society as a precondition for any negotiations, and then deny Palestinians access to the resources to build that society.
What outrages me, as an American, is that we let them get away with it. Technically, yes, Israel has a ban on Palestinian travel, but as one of the seven students said in an interview with the NYTimes, it’s hard to believe that American influence couldn’t have wrangled an exception for seven individuals selected by the State Department. Breaking cultural barriers is precisely the reason the State Department funds Fulbrights to begin with.
Public anger about the decision today is putting pressure on Israel and the US Government to make a visa exception for the seven students, but it doesn’t solve the fact that the Fulbright organizers have already cancelled the scholarships and given the money to other applicants. Now the question is whether they can russle up new funds for the original seven.
As Israel’s strongest and staunchest ally, it’s our responsibility not only to support them in tough times, but to give honest advice, to say “no” when they make a wrong turn. THAT’s what friends are for.