In UBC Student Newspaper Column, Anti-Israel Activist Tacitly Admits Their Cause Cannot Win The War Of Ideas

June 14, 2024

In a June 6 opinion piece in The Ubyssey, a student newspaper at the University of British Columbia (UBC) entitled: “Why the Protestors Won’t Talk,” pro-Palestinian protestor Anna Pontin defended the illiberal behaviors and attitudes of her peers through a series of incendiary, inaccurate, and at times Orwellian assertions.

Arguing that anti-Israel protestors indeed shouldn’t engage in dialogue, and that requests for such peaceful discussions are some kind of conspiracy whose “actual goal” is to “silence pro-Palestinian dissent,” she defended actions like the storming and unlawful occupation of the UBC President’s office as the likelier approach to bring about “meaningful outcomes” and argues that “protests and their tactics must escalate.”

Among the many ridiculous things asserted by Pontin throughout the piece are that Israeli universities are somehow responsible for “abetting Israel’s genocide” (no source or explanation offered), that UBC must condemn Israel’s defensive war against terrorists “as it did when Russia invaded Ukraine,” that Canada’s support for Israel is “senseless,” and that Israel is “a goliath of censorship at home and abroad.” To top it all off, Pontin noted that “Palestine has been occupied for over 76 years” — directly negating the legitimacy of the State of Israel’s very existence, even within its internationally-recognized borders.

Despite a good portion of her column being devoted to random rambling thoughts, overtly political conjecture, and regurgitations of baseless accusations and claims, it also offered a very telling and noteworthy window into the mindset of the encampment participants.

Inherent in Pontin’s claims is the belief that the anti-Israel movement is somehow entitled to its own set of rules, and is uniquely deserving of unparalleled special treatment that no other social or political cause has ever received (regardless of its impact on anyone else). Specifically, that they get to do and say whatever they want, at all times and in all settings, with no consequences, limits, rules, or scrutiny — while literally everyone else must adhere to whatever exact opinion or policy they prefer at a given time, and dare not defend their own rights or feelings when provoked.

This mindset is the only way to explain how Pontin can argue her thesis in a serious tone. She chided UBC administrators for backing out of a goodwill conversation with protestors after they “refused to provide names and student numbers ahead of time.” In what other scenario would a person be expected to hold professional-capacity meetings with individuals without even knowing who they are, let alone being unable to verify their affiliation with the institution whose business they are seeking to influence? In what other world would a basic, reasonable request like this be an invitation to denounce all cooperation and resort to chaos and disruption?

Pontin similarly chided administrators for being unwilling to adopt a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, despite knowing that the UBC Senate “voted on June 3 against suspending academic agreements with Israeli universities.” In what other context would someone feel they have the right to unilaterally dictate what an institution’s policies should be, regardless of the outcomes of its democratic processes? If Pontin is angry about this policy, she is free to try and convince the leaders as to why they should change their minds — rather than wasting readers’ time whining about it.

But that’s where the most shocking of the piece’s admissions comes into play — Pontin’s implicit awareness that the anti-Israel perspective cannot succeed on its own merits in winning people over, hence the need to resort to underhanded tactics. She refers to the outcome of peaceful dialogue as “predetermined,” mocks the alternate path of “mature activists … in the Real Adult World which operates according to long-term, nuanced, and complex political machinations,” and calls scenarios where both sides are “free to speak” a “pretense” and a “bad-faith negotiation.”

Pontin recognizes that using bullying, violence, and intimidation to make the cost of not giving into them more severe than the cost of trying to keep things under control. There’s a reason Pontin lauded the protestors’ refusal to speak as “already succeeding,” questions “what incentives are left for ‘meaningful dialogue?’ and described the demand for UBC’s formal “condemning of Israel’s genocide and scholasticide” as a “cultural concession.” Because the intention is, without ever actually winning an argument on the basis of the facts, to transform Canada’s culture of democratic values and open debate into one where compliance with their dogmatic ideology is forcefully required. Their goal is not to get to the truth, but to spread their propaganda to the general public regardless of the facts.

Pontin claimed it would be “hugely naive” for protestors to view dialogue as a path to progress. Perhaps what would be hugely naive would be for the Canadian public at large to act as though their true intentions aren’t obvious.

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