Tsundoku and Kaizen

Tsundoku (noun)
Buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves, floors or nightstands.

I came across this word while browsing the internet the other day, and it stuck out to me. I think partly because I bought several books while studying for qualifying exams to reward myself once I passed, but they’re mostly still sitting on my bookshelves and nightstand [to be fair to myself, I’m halfway through one and I read very slowly]. I also think it stuck out because I’ve been interested in the idea of “wanting to want” for a while and I believe it’s related–at least for me.

Many of us have an idea of who we want to be. For some it may be in the form of a very clear vision and set of ambitions. For others, it might be a vaguer notion of “the ideal me.” We may find our inspiration directly from role models or we may amalgamate the hundreds of articles we passively read about how billionaire entrepreneurs wake up at 3:45am., exercise, and make another million dollars well before the rest of us normal people wake up.

I could tell you about the pomodoro technique to reduce procrastination, I could recommend site-blocking apps to help eliminate distractions, and I could tell you to lay out your workout clothes for tomorrow, but I’m sure you’ve heard all. This is not to dismiss these wonderfully helpful techniques; they work well for some people. For others though, we snooze, disable and laze our way back into our old habits.

Why though? Do we lack discipline? Are we not motivated enough? Is the status quo too comfortable?  Can we not overcome some internal/external obstacles? Are we bad at budgeting our time accurately? Or could it be something else entirely…something we don’t want to admit easily: Maybe we don’t want to be who we think we want to be. Perhaps we don’t want to do what we think we want to do. [Waking up at 3:45am doesn’t really sound that nice.]

I believe this is where I often confuse wanting something and wanting to want something. We may want ourselves to want to cook/exercise/read/meditate/etc, but we rarely find ourselves actually wanting to cook/exercise/read/meditate/etc. Is it that we want the benefits (tasty meals, an attractive body, knowledge, mindfulness, etc.) without putting in the work? From buying that once-used juicer to that treadmill that’s now gathering dust in the garage, we tell ourselves we are going to become a new better person, but too often we stay exactly the same.

So how do people change?

Kaizen (noun)
Change for the better; [now commonly used to mean] continuous improvement or the philosophy of making grand betterment through incremental steps

We’re presented with dozens of small decisions for how to spend our time each day. From my experience, these often subconscious choices are the most honest indication of what we actually want to do and who we want to be. Can it be changed? Yes, but probably not through drastic perturbations to our lifestyles that are difficult to sustain or not calibrated to our actual desire for change. [Sure, some folks have life changing moments–usually as the result of some sign from God type wake up call, but most do not and I would rather not wait for one to happen to me.]

The reasons to try achieving change in bite-sized pieces are many.  One is that by taking smaller steady steps we reduce the risk of failure. Of course some failure is unavoidable, but setting the bar too high makes it more likely that we will experience discouraging failures which can put us in worse positions. Coupled with that fact that habits are difficult to make and break, taking up to 9 months for some individuals, it’s clear that we shouldn’t be too distraught at failing to achieve even the smaller goals we set.

Another reason is that we aren’t as good at seeing the big picture as we think we are. Take climate change for example. Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychology professor, argues that one of the reasons we have not been responding as well as we need to be is due to our rather poor ability to deal with distant threats. A continuous improvement process allows us to take on immediate tasks, evaluate the direction we are heading, and adjust. This is not antithetical to having big goals, but rather essential to it.

Me (pronoun)
A new method for understanding myself that I’ve recently taken up is to document my feelings and thoughts more. Despite having to work in the land of lemmas, logic, and layered networks for most of my day, I discovered that I use a lot of emotional reasoning when it comes to thinking about myself. Whether it’s perfectionism or impostor syndrome, my mood is quite powerful in deciding how I view myself. By externalizing everything onto paper, I find myself being significantly more sympathetic to myself–something I’ve struggled with for a while.

I hope that as this process of writing about myself (and reading about “myself” through psychology journals, philosophical meditations and other blogs) continues  I learn to appreciate what I have achieved and use it as fuel to achieve even more. I also hope that I learn to accept my failures and shortcomings as reflections of my inability to do something at one point in time rather than my inability to do something ever.

My life has been quite turbulent these past few months. Some old habits are on the way out while others are thriving. I’m realizing that the abstract ubermensch who I thought I wanted myself to be is not the person I am nor can be. And I’m okay with that. I’m not abandoning improving myself in any way. In fact I’m better suited to do it now more than ever.

One day at a time

 

Expectations vs. Reality

If you asked me a year ago what I expected my second year of graduate school to be like, I might have answered: I would be done with my qualifying exams. I would have taken a bunch of interesting seminars. I would have picked my advisor. I would have organized awesome events. I would have had an awesome summer internship.

Yesterday, I found out that I did pass my final qualifying exam, a bit later than expected, but perfectly in line with what my department expects of its doctoral students. I only took one seminar but it led me to working on a fascinating project with the Yelp Dataset (blog post to follow). Unfortunately, I am not much closer to having an advisor. However, I helped organize some well attended events. I didn’t have an internship, but I still had an awesome summer and learned a lot of mathematics.

 

Lessons Learned

So what happened? I do not want to go into too much detail, but if you’re interested you can can get slight peek of the events by reading UCLA’s Discrimination Prevention Office Report here. In short, I spent much of the last year defending my rights and the rights of thousands of UCLA students to speak their beliefs. For this, I and a few other students faced large-scale, well-funded, highly-organized harassment and bullying. I was repeatedly ignored by Chancellor Gene Block, I was told to reconsider being involved with Palestinian activism by a high-ranking UCLA administrator, and–surprisingly–I was called a frog face. Ribbit!

In retrospect, I would not do everything the same way if given a second chance, but I do not regret the sacrifices I made. I learned a lot about myself, about my friends, about other graduate students at UCLA, about UCLA’s bureaucracy, and about the law. I made tons of new friends and grew as an advocate for Palestine and Free Speech. As the struggle for liberation and a just peace continues, I hope I continue to become more effective.

 

Moving Forward and Backward

Today, I and several others found ourselves the victims of another poster campaign on campus (see here and here). As you can see, it’s not new. In fact, you can read more about it here on UCLA Vice Chancellor Kang’s blog. As he mentions, these inflammatory posters violate Regulations Governing Conduct of Non-Affiliates in the Buildings and on the Grounds of the University of California. I’m not sure though if that means UCLA is planning on doing anything about it though. Is this selective enforcement? I can’t say for sure, but it feels like it. As for this round of posters, there was another game-changer that might test this theory:

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-5-54-36-pm
Cropped shot of one of the posters. 
There were many posters, but as one of the posters depicts the Vice Chancellor himself, I expect the response from UCLA to escalate from the usual campus-wide email. The whole McCarthyist “Red Menace” depiction is just the racist cherry on top of their Hate Group sundae.

 

Damages and Remedies

Before concerning yourself though with how Jerry Kang is feeling. Let’s take a bird’s eye-view assessing the damage and harm done here. Jerry Kang is a double graduate of Harvard University who has had a long and successful career as a Professor of Law. He has tenure, a Vice Chancellorship, and a consistent salary of around $300,000. When you google his name, it is his research, his blogs, and his websites that show up first. Compare that to the other folks the posters targeted. They are students–mostly students of color–students seeking their first employment, students with less than a hundred dollars to their name. They have no safety net and when you google them, it’s not their own profiles that show up. I can’t even get started on discussing the mental health effects without wanting to write another blog post just about that. Look, I feel bad for him, but this isn’t even apples and oranges.

As for remedies, the administration needs to work on-and this is the operative word here-concrete steps to help its students. I cannot stress this enough. When faced with a multi-million dollar hate machine that funnels money into campaigns to smear students via websites, posters, PR firms, and search engine optimization teams, an administration that is sincerely dedicated to education would not merely send an email. As much as we all want to be civil about this and challenge bad speech with good speech, that strategy has proved to be ineffective here. The point of the posters is to deter future student activists  via guilt-by-association and reputation damage. UCLA has some obvious ways to deal with this. Positively promote these students, give them the stellar attention they deserve. Give them the resources that a multi-billion dollar institution has in order to amplify their voices.  Offer strong letters of recommendation to these students for their fortitude. And frankly, if the administration is not prepared to genuinely defend its students in these kinds of way, they should not waste students’ precious time with meetings.

 

Looking Ahead

Now, if you ask me now what I expect my third year of graduate school to be like, I would not even try to answer. Being at UCLA is exciting, and so are Palestine solidarity and mathematical research. Ultimately I’ll never be able to expect the unexpected, but I will be able to adapt. And that’s much more useful. 

I woke up today with a long to-do list that I’ve been saving up until I heard back about my results yesterday. These posters may have made the list longer, but like I said, I learned a lot from last year and I am pushing through. My education won’t be stopped. My activism won’t be stopped. I won’t be stopped.

Pandämonium: Fernweh, Wandertrieb Und Zugunruhe

Our experiences do not define us, yet we are nothing more than our past and our future. Compelled to make new mistakes and relive old ones.

To be content is to be unhappy. To idle is to die young. We desire change. Our instinct is to wander. I grow restless.

Time slips away as moments become shorter. Darkness deafens the fragile senses. The Silence is blinding.

Who knocks? Is it death? …Is it reality?

 

Speak English, please.

amn’t a linguist by training, but every so often I come across a peculiarity of the English language that makes me wish I were. Whether it’s the differences in zero-marking between British and American English or the fact that we can ask “Aren’t I?” but not say “I aren’t,” the language is riddled with curiosities that developed for one reason or another and, when I’m lucky, they carry funny names like the “expletive it.” I want to seize this opportunity to write down some of my thoughts on two phenomena I recently encountered for which there does not seem to be suitable references online. These notes are rough, so take it with a vaguely predicated amount of salt.

Now, I’m certainly not the first to say this, but not all of “the rules” of English make sense, nor do they always seem to help clear up meaning. Irregardless, as a former student of The Greek, The Latin, and The Arabic, I enjoy learning about these international laws governing our languages. And you should too, if for no other reason than to enforce arbitrary syntactic structures upon your peers’ utterances at the most opportune (inopportune for them, of course) times. Perhaps follow it up with a “Speak English, please” to add insult to insult. [Whenever I’m caught in this situation with my proverbial pants down, I plead ignonce.] In all seriousness though, I still find it to be a constant struggle to adhere to MLA, APA, CMS, and other TLAs and my writing is often riddled with confusing punctuation and even more perplexing quasi-verbiage.

Caveat lector: The following has some math(s), but I’ll try to keep it self-contained.

1) Perhaps no distinction annoys the Descriptivists more than the fewer vs. less divide of 1770. Purists treat this as a matter of life and death, as if it were an eleventh commandment decreed by God herself that for all instances in which objects may be counted one must use “fewer” and for all other instances one must use “less.” I very much doubt any person truly follows this to a T, and even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage prefers the common usage of less in many instances. Notwithstanding, I believe I have found proof that this rule is not from God, but in fact man-made and impossible to satisfy. Consider the rational numbers and the real numbers, which consists of the rational numbers and the irrational numbers. There are infinitely many rational numbers and thus there are infinitely many real numbers, and certainly more real numbers than rational numbers. However, there are only countably many rational numbers while there are uncountably many real numbers. That is to say, we can count off the rational numbers in a systematic way (1/1, 1/2, 2/1, 3/1, 1/3, 1/4, 2/3, 3/2, …) whereas we cannot do so with the real numbers. Therein lies the problem. Are there fewer rational numbers than real numbers, or are there less rational numbers than real numbers? [A more symmetric phrasing is: which are there fewer/less of: rational numbers or real numbers?] In just one sentence we are talking about a single fundamental type of thing: numbers. Yet, numbers, when gathered in big enough groups, go from being countable to not. Thus it becomes ambiguous whether we ought to employ fewer or less. I do not know of other things that can be both countable and uncountable, but it seems almost ironic that “number” is the very word that leads to a contradiction of the fewer/less rule.

2) This second example has to do with adjectives, or modifiers, in a broad sense. There are lots of adjectives out there. Rumor has it, they’re in the top five most used parts of speech. As a refresher, here are some adjectives: blue, round, tall, fast, fake, honest, upcoming, fuzzy, melted, et cetera. How do adjectives work? You can learn more than you probably ever thought was possible here. There’s a surfeit of neat stuff, but let me break down the relevant bits. Functionally, what does an adjective do? It modifies a noun. How it does that depends on the adjective-noun combination.

Say you start with a noun, which naturally has some definition. The definition defines a set of properties that the noun satisfies. Then you modify the noun with an adjective. This modification usually has the impact of introducing further properties that the noun phrase (adjective + noun) satisfies. For example, suppose you have the noun “paper” which clearly has some definition. We know that papers can come in many colors though, so we modify it with an adjective to “blue paper.” We’ve now added the property of blueness to the set of properties, which causes a restriction. Simply put, the more properties there are that need to be satisfied, the fewer things there are that can satisfy all of them. Notice though that “blue paper” is both “blue” and “paper;” it satisfies two sets of properties, the first being the singleton set of blueness and the other being the set of properties of being paper. Phrased differently, “blue paper” is in the intersection of things that are blue and things that are paper. Linguists call this kind of adjective “intersective.” For the mathematically inclined: \{\mbox{blue paper}\} = \{\mbox{blue stuff}\} \cap \{\mbox{paper}\}.

Another kind of adjective is the subsective adjective, and as the name suggests it has to do with subsets. Take the noun “programmer.” Again it has a set of properties that define it. Now suppose we modify it with “clever” to get a “clever programmer.” We certainly still have that a “clever programmer” is a “programmer, i.e. \{\mbox{clever programmer}\} \subset\{\mbox{programmer}\}. However, just because someone is a “clever programmer” does not mean they are “clever”. It seems that rather than being another separate property that the “programmer” satisfies, the modification from “clever” affects a property. So instead of the property set expanding to include an additional property, “clever” alters a property within the set of “programmer” properties. The property adaptation in this case roughly is: “knows how to write computer code” becomes “knows how to write efficient computer code.”

Other types of adjectives may or may not exist depending on the school of thought you’re working with. A common example of this is the privative adjective with words like “fake.” A fake gun is not a gun and a gun is not a fake gun. Thus we have that the intersection of the modified and unmodified noun phrases is empty: \{\mbox{fake gun}\} \cap \{\mbox{gun}\} =\O. What we see is that property set for “gun” is not expanded by the adjective”fake,” but rather a crucial property (a gun discharges projectiles such as bullets) is negated (a fake gun cannot discharge projectiles). We can see something somewhat similar with temporally shifting modifiers like in the phrase “past president.”

In math(s) though, there seems to be some examples of adjectives which are distinctly different in behavior from the ones above. Rather than adding to, narrowing, or negating the properties, some adjectives widen. A clear example of this is in the noun phrase “general eigenvector.” One definition of an “eigenvector” of a matrix A is a vector x that satisfies the three properties that 0) x\neq 0, 1) \exists \lambda \in \mathbf{C}, m\in\mathbf{N},  (A-\lambda I)^m x= 0, and 2) m=1. A “generalized eigenvector” is only required to satisfy the first two properties, i.e. it is not required that m=1. So we have that \{\mbox{generalized eigenvector}\} \supset\{\mbox{eigenvector}\}. Other examples include skew fields, gaussian/eulerian/algebraic/etc. integers, and non-associative rings. By symmetry to the term subsective adjectives, I think (and a handful of other people on the internet agree) these adjectives should be called supersective. They have the ability to remove a property, and therefore loosen the noun phrase. Whether or not real examples exists outside of math(s), I am not yet sure. The closest I’ve been able to get to one is “dog food” vs “food” but please be careful.

So go ahead, Speak English, please.

Defiance, Riots, and Tear Gas

France Tennis Racket Tear Gas(3 June 2016 Nantes France) A protestor uses a tennis racket to return a tear gas canister during a demonstration to protest the government’s proposed labor law reforms in Nantes. Photographer: Stephane Mahe.

Palestine Lawyer Tear Gas Kick(12 October 2015 Ramallah Palestine) Hassan Ajaj: “I am part of my people, part of the Palestinian wish for liberation.” Photographer: Majdi Mohammed.

Public Green Spaces Around UCLA

This is a map of the area around UCLA:Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 10.53.36 PM [maps.google.com]

 

If you have trouble distinguishing between light and dark green, then I hate to be the one to break this to you, but over 95% of the green space in the UCLA map is … dark green.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.57.20 PM

I calculated this percentage using ImageJ, a free image analysis tool. I divided the area of the dark green locations (highlighted in red above) by the area of all the green locations excluding the Veterans cemetery and national park and school playgrounds.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask. Great question! Well, you can think of the dark green spots as abscesses–in the sense that they are private country club/golf courses. On the other hand, the light greek spots are public parks, also known as Mother Earth’s erogenous zones.

Let me be clear, this post isn’t me protesting about the city not spending money growing grass in drought-ridden Southern California. It definitely should not do that. Nor is this post a vilification of country clubs for wasting heaps of water growing acres of grass in the very same drought-ridden California so that people can play golf or lawn bowling (I think this point has been made sufficiently well by others). Rather, this post is a result of my frustration. California is such a big and potentially beautiful place with amazing weather year-round. We’ve got great beaches, fresh farmers markets, and loads to do. What we don’t have very much of is convenient public parks.

I knew before moving to LA that I was going to be surrounded by car-filled streets (don’t get me started on bike lanes), but I never expected to be excluded from almost all of the green areas around me because I don’t have $12,000 in disposable annual income or a quarter of a million dollars just to cover initiation fees hidden under my bed. It may very well be the case though that if these private clubs weren’t there, the land wouldn’t be lush to begin with. But that’s not my point. In my opinion, if someone wants to play a ridiculously water-intensive sport, then he should have to pay for it himself. However, for the city to let us get to this point, where in an approximately 18 sq. mile area, over 1.25 sq. miles are private golf courses and less than 0.05 sq. miles are public parks is a tragedy given there’s an abundance of research showing how important parks are for the community, especially in terms of public health. This issue only gets worse as one digs into the demographics of golf courses, which aren’t too different from what you’d expect given the high costs and an ongoing history of discrimination.

Ultimately, too many people, especially those with limited transportation options, don’t have easy access to local parks. Unfortunately, I don’t have much by way of solutions to fix what I hope you’ll agree is a serious problem. I can’t really imagine the city buying back some of the golf course land, but that’d certainly help distribute some parks throughout the region.  A more reasonable thing to try might be reducing rather than increasing the size of roads and thus freeing up some room. In the same vein, many parking lots can be transformed into multi-story parking garages thus freeing up some space to become lively social spots. Things certainly aren’t hopeless, Los Angeles is constantly transforming–I just hope it’s going in the right direction.

Adopting Department of State’s definition of anti-Semitism would be irresponsible

ColorEdited_WillowYang_Intolerance-900x580

The article originally appeared in the The Daily Californian. It was co-authored by Jonathan Koch. Photo by Willow Yang/Staff.

The U.S. Department of State seems an unlikely source for university policy regarding intolerance. The State Department after all, is not tasked with promoting equity in higher education — the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education does that. And yet, a working group of the UC regents tasked with countering campus intolerance is being asked to adopt State Department language regarding anti-Semitism into its policy. We support the goal of the working group and the inclusion of anti-Semitism under the rubric of intolerance. But the State Department language on anti-Semitism is inappropriate for university policy. If adopted into university policy, it would harm our freedom of speech and our freedom of academic inquiry.

The stated purpose of the working group is honorable and necessary. Already this year, the UC schools have seen several racist incidents on their campuses. A statement against intolerance could be a helpful tool for future efforts to make the UC system more equitable. Anti-Semitism, as a form of bigotry to be combatted, naturally ought to be included in such a statement.

Neither the working group’s mission nor the inclusion of anti-Semitism in its statement is the subject of controversy. The present controversy stems from an ongoing effort to redefine anti-Semitism to encompass criticism of Israel.

The definition promoted by leaders of campus groups Hillel and AMCHA would reproduce a factsheet published by the U.S. State Department entitled “Defining Antisemitism.” The first half of the factsheet advances several contemporary examples of anti-Semitism — this section of the statement we consider unobjectionable. The second half of the factsheet, headlined “What is Anti-Semitism Relative to Israel?” is the sole source of our objection. It holds that anti-Semitism is manifested through “demoniz(ing),” “delegitimiz(ing)” or “applying double standards” for the state of Israel. These “three Ds,” as they’ve come to be known, pose a challenge to free speech and thus to the academic and political activity of the students: They are broad enough to invite censorship of any view criticizing Israel.

To demonstrate the censoriousness of the three Ds is simple. Take the veridical statement, “Israel conducts the longest-standing military occupation in the world.” Though a bare statement of verifiable fact, it potentially fulfills all three criteria. One might claim it “demonizes” or “sets a double standard” by focusing on Israel to the exclusion of other countries. Some who advocate the annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories might even claim that it “delegitimizes” Israel. While we think these would be obvious mischaracterizations, there is nothing preventing the three Ds’ ambiguous language from being used to validate such preposterous charges by labeling the statement anti-Semitic..

In fact, the first UC document to recommend the three Ds language, the 2012 Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, contained just such a mischaracterization. To support the claim that pro-Palestinian organizing contributed to a negative atmosphere for Jewish students, the report cited “the dissemination of literature and information which accuse Israel of ‘genocide,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ and the imposition of an ‘apartheid state.’ ” Here, speech meant to criticize a government was construed as being harmful to Jewish students as a whole. But for us, a Palestinian and a Jew, pro-Palestinian advocacy is never an excuse to spread bigotry; rather, it is a duty for us to stand up for the people and ideas that we care about. The three Ds language would shut us, and our colleagues, out of the debate. This would be a serious harm to Palestinian students.

The damage would extend beyond the Palestinian community, however. Any policy that attempts to censor political criticism, or to misrepresent it as racist, harms the student body. It would prevent students from carrying out critical research and it would impede the freedom of political speech. Without the ability to function as a place of independent, critical thought, the university’s mission would be severely compromised.

There are no shortcuts to educating about, challenging and reducing any form of bigotry. It takes community engagement and educational work. Simply labeling speech in a vague manner or prohibiting it won’t do anything to change bigotry or misperceptions. We will continue to advocate a strong policy on intolerance that specifically calls out anti-Semitism. To ensure a robust and actionable policy, our union colleagues have asked for a more transparent process that formally includes students, beyond the student regent, in its crafting. Without that inclusion, we are unsure how the regents aim to craft an effective policy.

Free discourse continues to be our greatest tool in combating racism and bigotry. Whatever policy the working group recommends must uphold it.

Jonathan Koch is a teaching assistant in the UCLA department of music and the recording secretary of UAW 2865. Yacoub Kureh is a teaching assistant in the UCLA department of math and the head steward of UAW 2865.

Israeli solider-led seminars mask history of violence against Palestinians

The article originally appeared in the The Daily Bruin. It was co-authored by Jonathan Koch.

Imagine, for a moment, a seminar convened by some innocuously named student group: Bruins for Saving the Planet, or some-such. Imagine that at the front of the hall, speaking as guests and experts, are the CEOs of Exxon, BP and Chevron. Imagine that they give exactly the lecture one would expect: blithely dismissing the academic consensus that their industry’s activities are leading to massive climate change; asserting their industry is harmless; dismissing whatever “small problems” there may be, but insisting they’ve got them under control.

Such an event would rightly be dismissed as propaganda. The judgment would be near-unanimous.

Shift the mind back to reality; one need not imagine. When the topic at hand is the oppression of Palestinians, such events are not only commonplace at UCLA and other universities, but they can even go unchallenged.

Twice in the past two weeks, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law has invited Israeli soldiers to speak as experts and honored guests. The Israeli army administers the world’s longest-standing military occupation; it perpetrates a brutal and illegal siege of Gaza; and it is repeatedly condemned by the international community for egregious human rights abuses. No matter – the Brandeis Center and its campus partners see fit to host soldiers of that army as lecturers and forum-leaders. Such events distort the political discourse around Palestine by promoting a propagandized version of past and present – one that holds Palestinian rights and persons in contempt. But these events do individual harm as well: They are a form of intimidation against those students who have personally suffered, or whose families have suffered, at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces.

The human facts of the Israeli occupation are not in dispute. Since 2008, the IDF has subjected Gaza to periodic bombings; the most recent, in 2014, left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead (among them 538 children) and about 11,000 injured. Thirteen public and 17 private hospitals were destroyed or damaged; Amnesty International found that Israel deliberately targeted medical facilities. The IDF shelled U.N.-operated schools and shelters. All major human rights organizations – Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – have alleged that the IDF committed war crimes. It will take decades for Gaza to rebuild – Israel controls the borders, strictly regulating the importation of food and raw materials. Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, Israel pursues a path of colonial settlement, displacing Palestinian farmers from their land and carrying out regular reprisals against the population. Tear gas, rubber-coated metal bullets and random arrest are the daily reality in the West Bank; since the beginning of October, soldiers and police have killed 64 Palestinians, injuring many more.

This history is not easy to defend. Instead, soldier-guests seek to deny and distract. The Brandeis Center’s most recent soldier-led seminar presented an IDF that exists only in the imagination. While the guests spoke anecdotally about their professional lives in the IDF, none attempted to ground their claims in fact. Those claims – that the IDF is “the most moral army in the world” and “puts life first” – would seem laughably unhinged were they not so pernicious. But their goal is serious: to deny the present and history of the occupation, exchanging facts for a narrative favorable to the IDF. That narrative, however, is inevitably racist at its foundation. The logic goes like this: If the IDF is the “most moral army in the world,” then the bulk of its actions must be ethical. Violence against the Palestinians, then, must be justified by denigrating their rights and character; the ethical army does not treat them as human, and therefore they must be lesser. This racism was quick to expose itself at the Brandeis Center, with one soldier-medic readily admitting his belief that the protection of Israel required the violation of Palestinian rights.

Soldier-led seminars defraud the truth and spread racism among their audiences. They create a dangerous atmosphere for Palestinian students, discouraging them from participating in campus discourse at all. For the purpose of honest, egalitarian discourse, they are an intellectual disaster. So we are only left to wonder: Why is the Brandeis Center so desperate to justify Israel’s apartheid regime and war crimes that they invite apologists of the worst kind to our campus?

Koch is a music graduate student. Kureh is a mathematics graduate student. Both are members of UAW 2865, the University of California’s student-worker union.