Resources: Student Op-eds

Many students respond to BDS initiatives on campus through newspaper editorials. Also, we recommended checking out the Gary A. Tobin Awards for Excellence in Student Reporting on Anti-Semitism. Below are a few examples of student op-eds:

McGill Daily: BDS a lot of bunk; The movement to boycott Israel does not accomplish its goals

Published: October, 29

Often, when someone argues that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are failing because of one of the actors in the conflict, it is obvious that rather than taking an impartial stance on it, certain people prefer to label, degrade, and make accusations. Jon Booth’s article (“Learn, boycott, divest, sanction,” Commentary, October 21) follows this example.


Instead of making thoughtful suggestions that might be beneficial to both parties in the conflict, Booth labels Israel as the reason for the failure of the peace talks. Apparently, the years of violence – perpetuated by both parties – have nothing to do with the failure of peace negotiations.

The BDS campaign that he promotes is one meant to demonize Israel rather than achieve any gains for the Palestinians themselves. These BDS organizers falsely label Israel as a racist state and reject any compromises for a two-state solution that would benefit both parties. Apparently, rejecting Israel’s right to statehood is legitimate, but rejecting the same right for Palestine is not. It might seem obvious that the solution should include a compromise between these two parties – but supporters of Palestinians like Booth only search for solutions that would end the State of Israel and create a Palestinian one in its place. A true human rights activist wouldn’t deny the right of a people to exist, whether they are Israeli or not.

It’s a shame that by focusing on divestment and sanctions, they are not taking any action that might benefit the Palestinians.

Quebecor Media Inc. columnist Eric Duhaime has written about the lead-up to the BDS conference held at UQAM a week ago. Activists demonstrated in front of Le Marcheur, on St. Denis, in an effort to convince store owners to stop selling Israeli-made products. Among them was Jafar Khadir. Just a few years ago, according to Duhaime, he held a meeting in his home for the organization the People’s

Mojahedin Organization of Iran, a classified Iranian terrorist group in Canada and the U.S. since 2005.

If you look into the background of these so-called activists, many have ties to organizations you wouldn’t want to be representing. It’s time to call upon activists with such ties, who call for the boycott of a democratic country and also support terrorism and use violence to achieve their political goals, to reveal those ties and denounce terrorism.

It’s difficult to understand the logic behind BDS. It won’t benefit the Palestinians; it won’t disadvantage Israel’s economy (anti-BDS

movements have been much stronger than the BDS movements themselves); and, most of all, it is based on the hypocritical notion that one people’s nationhood is more legitimate than another’s.

Vicky Tobianah is a U3 Honours Political Science and English Literature student, McGill Daily news writer, and Tribune columnist.

The Guardian of the University of San Diego: Divestment Resolution Should Verify Claims

Published: April, 2010


Dear Editor,

The A.S. divestment resolution advances prima facie, a concern for human rights. No one disputes the need for mechanisms like regional institutions to protect international human rights. However, the resolution does not advance those goals of human-rights protection, and instead unfairly maligns and dishonestly targets the state and people of Israel.

It is important to know the magnitude of the Israeli-Palestinian strife, but like all conflicts, the causes, actors and institutions involved are varied and multifaceted. I was in Israel during the Gaza War a year and a half ago, and it is clear to me that the A.S. resolution fails to give sufficient color to the crisis facing the Middle East, and instead misjudges the current state of affairs.

On a research note, as a graduate student, I am deeply disturbed by the biased nature of sources and the rhetoric adopted by the authors and supporters of the resolution. First, Israel bears no resemblance to South Africa, having unilaterally disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005. By contrast, Hamas and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade have singly targeted the Jewish population, having killed 1,000 innocent Israelis.

Secondly, measures from unbiased researchers have reported major improvements in terms of Israeli compliance of international human rights accords in the past decades. Israel remains the only state in the Middle East that protects and advances women’s and LGBT rights. Measures of democratic development and civil liberties also reflect a high degree of free speech, free press and an open and vibrant multi-party system that includes Arabs and Muslims.

Finally, as an Asian-American with parents coming from a country that does repress human rights, I see active discussions on campus concerning human rights in Iran and creative student efforts led by Liberty in North Korea on very real human-rights abuses in North Korea. Maybe the A.S. Council should look into those efforts. But for the time being, A.S. resolutions need to be responsible and should contain verifiable claims that advance honest inquiry. This resolution fails on those counts.

—Jeffrey Kwong

PhD student, International relations

The Guardian of the University of San Diego: Divestment Won’t Benefit the Cause, or UCSD

Published: May, 2010

Dear Editor,

The divestment resolution that the A.S. Council has discussed in meetings for the past two weeks called for the University of California to liquidate its holdings of “any United States companies materially supporting or profiting from occupation and human rights violations.” It specifically mentioned Israel’s activities in the West Bank and Gaza. The resolution made no specific mention of firms that deal with the dozens of countries whose human rights records are, by many accounts, far worse than those of Israel — including many of Israel’s sworn past and present enemies.

Divestment resolutions wind up in the courts all the time. Such resolutions are often challenged, and sometimes struck down, on the grounds that conducting foreign policy is not the business of a state government’s investment fund, or that the state’s money is for purposes other than a political statement by a particular group seeking to impose its views on a diverse community and administration. A possible outcome of enacting the proposed resolution would be to force the UC system into a costly legal battle at a time of severe financial strain.

The divestment resolution represented nothing more than a costly, one-sided demonstration that is practically guaranteed not to bring about any worthwhile result. Furthermore, the proposed divestment resolution is counterproductive even to the goals of the bill’s vocal backers, Students for Justice in Palestine.

No one should lose sight of the reality that the proposed UC divestment is not likely to change the behavior of any firm, government or other entity. All we would accomplish by selling off those equity holdings is a forfeit of our shareholder influence, and a transfer of it — possibly at a deflated price. In other words, the UC system would lose any ability to influence the management of the firms in question, while at the same time, it would create a quick profit opportunity for some other party that is not caught up in our political debate.

The main argument set forth by South Africa divestment proponents in the 1980s was that, through a broad-based divestment campaign, Western financiers could drain the capital resources of firms that conducted business in South Africa. Those firms would in turn pressure the South African government into ending apartheid so the capital sanctions could be removed.

Unless the UC divestment were somehow augmented with more serious capital market sanctions from Washington (which won’t happen, as our foreign policymakers have a different attitude toward the Middle East conflict than the extremists behind this resolution), the financing abilities and business prospects of the firms in question won’t be affected.

The SJP-backed resolution specifically targets firms that conduct business with Israel in relation to its self-defense. Selling our already issued GE stock, for example, is most unlikely to compel GE to ask the Israeli government to halt their businesses.

The divestment resolution was an attempt at appropriation of university funds by a vocal subset of students intent on making a symbolic statement on a divisive, emotionally charged issue. That is not an appropriate use of a public university’s resources — or its good name.

—Michael Furchtgott

PhD student, economics

The Guardian of the University of San Diego: Israel Shouldn’t Be the Only Target of Divestment

Published: May, 2010

Dear Editor,

On April 28, the A.S. Council began debating a motion to divest from companies that do business with Israel. The resolution was peppered with various accusations of recent Israeli abuse of Palestinians, specifically citing the fighting in Gaza last year and the area’s present blockade.

The particular accusations, however, were window-dressing — excuses for the resolution. Resolutions nearly identical to these have been debated in various forums in Europe and North America since 2006, long before the present blockade and the Hamas-Israel war in January 2009.

Indeed, the resolution’s sponsors knew very well that, if passed, any such resolution would have no concrete effect. The chairmen of General Electric and United Technologies would lose no sleep over the resolution because the university no longer holds investments in either company. The point was solely symbolic: It is part of a larger attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel. By passing such a resolution, especially in a campus not known for having strong views on the subject, its proponents hoped the larger effort to boycott Israel would gain more momentum, with similar resolutions attempted elsewhere.

At a certain point, readers must ask themselves: Why does Israel alone face such resolutions? Perhaps Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights justifies the council’s attempt to delegitimize it.

Such claims are riddled with flaws. For instance, although generally ignored by the media, Israel is not the only country to occupy disputed territory. Critics of Israel ignore Turkey’s occupation of Northern Cyprus since the 1970s (and its treatment of its Kurdish population), and were never heard arguing for sanctions against Syria during its 29-year occupation of Lebanon (or its assassinations of anti-Syrian politicians since its withdrawal). Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor (1975-99, during which 200,000 died) went almost unnoticed in the Western media.

Divestment critics might counter that it is Israel’s particular actions that demand action. Yet compared to other similar conflicts, the death tolls are paltry. Palestinians and Arabs decry Israeli “genocide” of Palestinians. Compare this to other conflicts: In the past five years, the Janjaweed, a violent militant group, has killed 400,000 black Muslims in Darfur. In Rwanda, 800,000 people (more than 10 percent of the total population) were butchered in three months in 1994. In three years, Serbians killed 200,000 Bosnian Muslims (10 percent of the total population).

Realizing that the resolution failed to reflect reality, the A.S. Council moved to indefinitely table the measure last week. In doing so, the council kept itself from becoming pawns of those seeking to delegitimize the state of Israel at any opportunity.

—Cameron Brown

PhD student, political science

The Stanford Daily: We Choose to Invest

Published: May, 2010

When I was a freshman at Stanford in 2006-2007, divestment launched on campus in relation to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. At the time, it was sudden, it was divisive, and it was damaging. Although the bill was defeated in the ASSU Senate, the ramifications continued for years, dominating much of my Stanford experience. Tensions were high on campus as many people felt alienated and disillusioned by the process. Interfaith dialogue was deeply shaken as religious communities found themselves on opposite sides of a destructive debate.

Recently, a similar bill was proposed in the UC Berkeley Student Senate. Following that, one was also submitted to the UC San Diego Student Senate. From accounts that I have heard from friends at Berkeley, the experience was equally traumatic. Although the bill at Berkeley was also defeated, the ripples it has caused for their community will be long lasting. To my dismay, there once again seems to be the beginnings of an Israeli/Palestinian divestment campaign here at Stanford.

One powerful line from the hours-long debate at Berkeley came from the Cal Chabad Rabbi. He made the point that you cannot fight darkness with darkness; you must fight darkness with light. A negative campaign against alleged abuses will only bring more negativity and damage. And, it will not address the issues or solve the problems – it will only cause further polarization and make peace even more elusive. In my experience with divestment when applied to this conflict, damage is wrought, but nothing positive comes of it. In the past, divestment campaigns helped combat apartheid in South Africa and genocide in Darfur. However, the divestment campaign against Israel is a crass bludgeon, which reduces an incredibly complex situation to euphemisms and demonizations.

Therefore, the Stanford Israel Alliance chooses to invest, and we hope you will join us. We agree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deep, complex, and painful. We support the Palestinian people in their desire for an independent state alongside the State of Israel. To that end, we wish to help the Palestinian people build up their infrastructure and economy, which will be the basis for a future state.

In the coming weeks, Stanford Israel Alliance will be raising awareness and support for two NGOs that are working to improve Palestinian and Israeli society. is a microfinance organization based in the Palestinian Territories, inspiring entrepreneurship among Palestinians. The Peres Institute for Peace is an Israeli organization that builds connections between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen, environmentalists, and civil leaders to forge common frameworks between the two peoples.

Our goal is to move past the venomous rhetoric that divestment inspires and attempt to tackle the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from a positive perspective. It is our responsibility as Stanford students to help foster a more nuanced understanding of the issues, and to deal with the legitimate grievances that exist.

Stanford is a place of innovation and change. Perhaps this is one area where we can live up to our reputation.

Yishai Kabaker ‘10
Stanford Israel Alliance

The Badger Herald of the University of Wisconsin: The other side of the US-Israel debate

Published: November, 2010

It is no mystery that the strongest ally to the United States in the Middle East is Israel. Israel is a dynamic, modern democratic nation with free elections where all citizens can vote. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that allows both free press and free speech, and recognizes the rights of women, homosexuals, and people of all religious affiliations. Israel is a global leader in industry and ideas and increasingly is at the forefront of medical and technological breakthroughs. Yet time and again groups such as Progressive Dane and individuals such as John Mearsheimer try to convince and manipulate Americans into seeing Israel as a illegitimate country, maligned for alleged human rights violations and unwillingness to engage in peace talks.

These organizations try to hoax individuals into forgetting all that Israel has done to create a Palestinian state. Attempts such as the 2000 Camp David peace accords, the 2005 unilateral pull out from Gaza, and most recently, the 10 month settlement freeze all hoped to bring Palestinians to the negotiating table. Instead of following the U.S. approach to pursue continual progresses in an extremely difficult peace process, organizations like the Progressive Dane encourage divestment and invite anti-Israel speakers who espouse for a one state solution.

Divesting from Israel, a country whose values are parallel to the U.S., does nothing to improve the condition of the Palestinian people or work towards promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Calls for a one-state solution reveal a lack of any historical understanding of the region. Supporters of a one-state solution suggest that Israel’s creation as a Jewish State, backed by the UN, was somehow illegitimate. Instead, they argue that the only legitimate state can be one state with a Jewish minority and a Palestinian majority. Advocating for a one-state solution calls for the dismantlement of the State of Israel so it can be replaced by a Palestinian nation. By claiming that the sole Jewish State does not have the right to nationhood in a world with Muslim, Hindu, and Christian countries that exist without any challenge is by definition anti-Semitic. This anti-Semitism is further solidified because advocating for a one-state solution shows no political, legal, or cultural knowledge of the Middle East. The two-state solution, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly endorsed by the UN, the U.S. government on a bi-partisan basis, and Israel. To foster a culture of coexistence, brotherhood, and peace we must go beyond blaming just Israel for the ongoing conflict.

Both Israel and Palestine are far from perfect. Yet rather then placing the blame solely on Israel, and advocating for divestment from Israel here in Madison, the community should actively engage in productive measures promoting mutual understanding between the two sides. Rather than spewing biases, all members of the University of Wisconsin, led by the Middle Eastern Studies Department, should commit to pursuing understanding in hopes that as future leaders we can establish permanent peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Jonathan Buksbaum ( is a junior majoring in psychology and political science. He is the Vice President of MADPAC, the Madison US-Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The Harvard Crimson: My Israel

Published: February, 2011

“Discrimination is built into Israel.” Zionism “has at its core the replacement of one people with another.”

These were two claims I heard at a law school panel discussion on “boycotting the Israeli occupation” which was coincidentally held on a Friday evening, when many Jews would be observing the Sabbath through prayer and a family-style meal. As the speakers attempted to ascertain the best practices for attacking and dismantling the State of Israel, I thought back to the four years I spent there before starting law school last fall.

The Israel I experienced differed starkly from the fascist dystopia of which the panelists spoke. That Israel, my Israel, hopes for peace with its neighbors and respects the rights of minority groups, sometimes to a greater extent than the U.S. does.

My military service as a dual citizen gives me great respect for Israel’s deep yearning to co-exist with its Arab neighbors. I served in the Coordinator for Government Activity in the Territories, the Ministry of Defense agency responsible for liaising with the Palestinian Authority, a quasi-sovereign and internationally recognized government entity through which the Palestinian people exercise a great deal of authority over their communities in the West Bank en route to full realization of their national hopes (for which even the conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his support).

As part of my service, I visited hospitals in Jerusalem where Palestinian children, with Israeli military coordination, receive critical dialysis treatments several times a week (such treatment is unavailable in the West Bank). I saw a Jewish Israeli surgeon, an Apache pilot in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, treat Palestinian, Iraqi, and African children in an intensive care unit. At the crack of dawn I welcomed Palestinian workers to the Israeli community of Qedar outside Jerusalem, where they worked with their Israeli neighbors for much higher wages than they would earn in a Palestinian city.

The upshot here is that Israel doesn’t have to let thousands of Palestinians, many of whom still deny Israel’s basic right to exist, into its communities for medical care or work (as happens every day). But Israel does. These actions, along with Israel’s full, painful withdrawals from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the Sinai Peninsula in 1982, speak louder than words to Israel’s deep desire to get along with—not replace—its neighbors.

Living in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv exposed me to a cosmopolitan diversity that would give many world cities a run for their money. Both cities, one renowned for piety and the other for partying, host gay pride parades that run the gamut from uniformed (and sometimes armed) soldiers fresh from an on-base stint to gay and lesbian Arab-Israelis who enjoy a level of freedom unparalleled in the Middle East (homosexuality is a capital crime in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and several other Muslim countries). I saw same-sex couples walking the streets hand in hand, something I rarely see here in liberal Cambridge. Gay Israelis may sponsor their same-sex partners (including Palestinians) for immigration rights, something currently impossible in the U.S.

Arab-Israelis make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population and participate in Israeli democracy at all levels. Justice Salim Joubran, an Arab Christian, sits on the country’s Supreme Court, which has not shied away from confronting other branches of government to advance human rights. Arab men and women continue to vote in elections for and serve in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Out of respect for the complexity of Arab-Israeli identity, Arab citizens are exempt from the compulsory military service that has secured the accomplishments of Israeli democracy.

I know personally that Jews and Arabs in Israel, rather than locking themselves in a self-defeating downward spiral of discrimination and resentment, often come together under the aegis of scholarship. I studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with numerous Arab students who seemed quite content to learn with their Jewish compatriots at the highest-ranked Middle Eastern institution according to international rankings. After a year of study, I went to work for the non-profit Hand in Hand, which runs four bilingual, multicultural schools throughout Israel where Jewish and Arab youth study together in both Hebrew and Arabic (both of which are official languages). Where else in the Middle East would I have heard an Arab adolescent talking about attending his best-friend’s bar-mitzvah—and understanding the Hebrew far better than most American Jews?

As a young democracy that recently celebrated its 60th birthday, Israel is not perfect. Many agree that Israel should play a greater role in helping Palestinian national aspirations find their proper realization. But obfuscating basic truths about Israel’s diverse society and longstanding desire for peace is counterproductive and will only serve to inflame an already polarized discourse.

Lee M. Hiromoto, HLS ’13, served in the Israel Defense Forces from 2008-2010.

The Charlaton of Carleton University: Opinion: Arab Israeli Conflict

Published: February, 2011


Ask the average Canadian what result they’d like to see in the long, bloody Arab-Israeli conflict, and I suspect they’d say: peace.

I think the average Carleton student feels the same way, and hopes for a just and peaceful reconciliation between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

Ask me, and I’d wish for a safe, secure Israel next door to a viable, prosperous and democratic Palestinian state.

Unfortunately, these views are not shared by Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), or their fellow members of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the world’s only Jewish state.

Let’s be clear on what these people are all about.

Take the case of a little Montreal shoe store called Le Marcheur.

For months now, this family-owned small business has been the target of weekly protests by anti-Israel boycotters, who are trying to shut the shop down for carrying a few pairs of Israel-made BeautiFeel shoes.

The protests were finally suspended at the end of January, after one protest group accused the other of racism.

Go back a little further in BDS history, and we encounter the example of Mountain Equipment Co-Op, a Canada-wide outdoor outfitter that faced boycott calls for stocking Israeli-made underwear.

In 2009, MEC’s membership voted by a wide margin to ignore the boycott calls and keep selling the offending undergarments.

That same year, the United Church of Canada also rejected an anti-Israel boycott resolution at its national council.

The bottom line is the BDS movement is losing its fight in mainstream society.

Its principles and initiatives have been condemned by every major federal political party, and by the Ontario Legislature.

Canadians of all stripes have lined up to oppose this vicious, morally bankrupt gong show.

And let’s not forget the wise words of American R&B artist Macy Gray on her Facebook profile, after BDS groupies tried to convince her not to perform in Israel: “Some of you so called boycotters are just assholes.”

Why? Because BDS, and by association SAIA, are not about peace.

They’re not about talking things through, they’re not about seeking compromise between opposing sides, and they’re certainly not about promoting human rights.

They are about the economic, social, and cultural isolation of Israel.

They’re about demonizing and delegitimizing the very existence of Israel – and thus the right of Jewish people to live together in their historic homeland.

Human rights and social justice are just words they use as weapons in this perverse and disturbing campaign.

SAIA’s latest tactic is centred on the idea of socially responsible investing.

For them, this means boycotting companies whose international operations include Israel, the Middle East’s largest economy.

But here’s a thought: investing in Israel is one of the most socially responsible decisions a company, or a university, could make.

It means investing in a global leader in clean energy and green technology.

It means investing in the only Middle Eastern country where women, minority ethnic groups, and GLBTQ citizens have equal rights.

It means investing in the only Middle Eastern country where Jews, Muslims, and Christians all live together in relative harmony.

It means investing in a tiny, progressive, democratic light amid a vast expanse of violent, tyrannical gloom.

If SAIA and its allies object to Israeli government policy, why take action by boycotting businesses, universities, and cultural organizations? Let’s stop beating around the bush.

These groups have one simple goal, and that’s to see Israel gone.

Their strategy is division – so let’s fight back by uniting.

Their tactics are dishonest – so let’s respond with the truth.

Their goals are heinous – so let’s all dig into our common decency, and expose them for who they really are.

That’s how peace is reached.

Emile Scheffel is a fourth-year political science student and a member of Carleton’s Israel Awareness Committee. He said he is pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and pro-peace.

The Columbia Spectator: Against Intellectual Boycott

Published: February, 2011


Today begins a week of frustration, a week of confrontation in place of collaboration, and a week when a short-sighted argument conquers productive goals. Today begins Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Israeli Apartheid Week.”

Apartheid, a set of discriminatory policies in 20th century South Africa, is just one of the antiquated labels C-SJP has applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—last month, the group hosted an event that deemed the situation a modern Holocaust. These names not only conflict with each other, but also evade the actual issue at hand.

Social inequalities in Israel right now certainly exist and denying them would be as unproductive as deeming them apartheid. A constructive view of the future must recognize these problems and solve them, but the apartheid metaphor implies untruths, misdirects responsibilities, and in the end moves us further from actually addressing the issues that it aims to present. C-SJP’s labeling only serves to isolate a huge group of students on campus who want to see change. Support for Israel, like support for any state, does not imply unconditional support for each of its laws and social norms.

“Apartheid Week” represents a dangerous trend on campus and in the world. The campaign itself is an arm of the larger Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which aims to fix Israel’s problems by demonizing the state. It twists a very complex situation into a simple dichotomy, and blames Israel for not coming up with a quick solution.

Beyond presenting the apartheid metaphor to our campus, C-SJP applies BDS to our community, refusing to collaborate with any organization that supports Israel. A university is a place of learning, not a battlefield. It goes without saying that any person wanting to be truly informed about any conflict must examine all sides of the situation and determine his or her own personal opinion on the matter. Intellectual boycott of any one perspective breeds ignorance and radicalism and has no place at Columbia.

Hillel openly welcomes discussion on this issue, as communication is the only way toward mutual understanding, compassion, and peace—presumably everyone’s goal. Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine are not mutually exclusive. Just last week, Hillel hosted Ghaith Al-Omari, former advisor to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, for a lecture alongside Israeli journalist David Makovsky. Representing a Palestinian voice in the conversation, Al-Omari stated that moderate, mainstream Palestinian opinion looks forward to a two-state solution that keeps Palestinians’ best interests in mind and will be accomplished through diplomacy. Students genuinely want to hear Palestinian perspectives—presented calmly and rationally with time for questioning—and the event garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews. We would be thrilled to work directly with C-SJP and not against them, but as long as they hold public displays of bias, we will continue to respond.

I ask C-SJP once again to engage in a dialogue. Together we can explore issues and inform students. We will both develop an attainable vision for the future, and nobody’s voice will get lost in the banter. For the sake of the entire Columbia community, I can only hope that this week and in the future, C-SJP will open not only their mouths, but also their minds.

Matthew Jacobs is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in history and theory of architecture and neuroscience and behavior. He serves on the Hillel executive board as Israel Coordinator.

The Columbia Spectator: Where are the Moderates?

Published: March, 2011

During Israeli Apartheid Week, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine has once again offensively exploited a historical tragedy. No rational person can deny the plight of the Palestinians, and no moral person can ignore their suffering. However, labeling Israel as an apartheid state grossly distorts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and belittles the suffering of South African apartheid victims. If Apartheid Week has proven anything, it has shown that C-SJP misrepresents the moderate majority of Palestinians and works against a peaceful two-state solution.

Israel is a democratic, multi-ethnic country that upholds equal rights for all of its citizens. Minorities comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population, and they enjoy the same civil liberties as any Israeli. Israeli-Arabs vote in Israel’s democratic elections and hold seats in Israel’s parliament. An Israeli-Arab, Salim Jubran, is a judge on Israel’s Supreme Court, and other Israeli-Arabs have served as deputy speakers of the Israeli parliament. Not surprisingly, a recent poll showed that 40 percent of Israeli-Arabs living in East Jerusalem would rather relocate their homes and maintain Israeli citizenship than join a Palestinian state. In contrast to citizens of other Middle Eastern nations, Israeli-Arabs enjoy greater political freedom and opportunity in Israel than they would in any other Arab country.

Unlike Israeli-Arabs, Palestinians are governed by the Palestinian National Authority (PA). Though Palestinians have substandard public services, the PA has caused much of this disparity by working harder to attack Israel than to implement effective governance. This neglect has imperiled Palestinian life and made Palestinians dependent on Israel for most services. To repair this damage, Israel has recently worked extensively with Fatah to enhance Palestinian infrastructure and autonomy. With American and Israeli help, Palestinians have cultivated a competent police force that provides basic security. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has worked with Israel to develop the Palestinian Ministry of Finance, leading to unprecedented GDP growth in the West Bank. Israel has not abandoned the Palestinians, and this recent cooperation will hasten Palestinian independence.

Despite the incalculable benefit to Palestinians that Fayyad’s work has accomplished, C-SJP wants none of it. C-SJP cares little for changing Israeli policy or for protecting human rights. If Apartheid Week were about promoting civil liberties, C-SJP would have strongly condemned Hamas—an internationally recognized terrorist organization—and its despotic regime in Gaza. Instead, its true objective is much more ominous: The elimination of the state of Israel.

Beneath the guise of apartheid and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, C-SJP renounces the Jewish right to self-determination. Zionism is the movement of Jewish nationalism and a response to two millennia of anti-Semitism and exile; yet, C-SJP has labeled Zionism as inherently racist. By claiming that a democratic Israel cannot morally exist, CSJP undermines mainstream Palestinian thought. According to a 2009 poll, 74 percent of Palestinians and 78 percent of Israelis want a two state solution. While Prime Minister Fayyad encourages economic integration with Israel, C-SJP calls for economic boycotts. While Palestinian activists, such as Ghaith Al-Omari, aspire to have two states for two people, C-SJP calls for the end of Israel. Why does C-SJP ignore moderate Palestinians? Why do Palestinians and Israelis cooperate more often in the West Bank than we do here at Columbia? Rather than represent the fringe of Palestinian activism and creating a toxic campus environment, C-SJP should embrace the example of mainstream Palestinian and Israeli leaders who see the kinship between Zionism and Palestinian independence.

Just as Israelis desperately yearn for a partner in peace, supporters of Israel on campus long for someone interested in respectful dialogue. As Matthew Jacobs wrote in the Spectator on Monday , conversation does not have to delegitimize Palestinian suffering. On the contrary, discussion must respect the dual national needs of both Palestinians and Israelis. Surely there are Palestinians on campus who hope to see a flourishing Palestinian state exist adjacent to a thriving Israel. Who stands for the Palestinian voice of moderation at Columbia?

Jonathan Huberman is a sophomore in the joint General Studies and Jewish Theological Seminary program majoring in history and Jewish thought. He is the director of public relations for LionPAC.

The Cambridge Varsity: Who’s Afraid of Omar Barghouti? Me.

Published: March, 2011

This week I attended a talk given by Cambridge Universtiy Palestinian Society, featuring Omar Barghouti, founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Last week an article in this newspaper painted Mr. Barghouti as a saint and laughed off any criticism of him.

The BDS movement is far too simplistic to try to solve such a complex issue as the Israel/Palestinian conflict. It does not directly address the issue which is the cultural, social and political situation in Israel at the moment. Instead it focuses on punishing innocent companies and academics for tenuous links with the State of Israel. This is a negative and destructive method, causing damage to the economy not just of Israel, but also to Gaza and the West Bank.

But what’s so scary about Mr Barghouti? His casual use of buzzwords such as apartheid and ethnic cleansing are unfounded, and yet no-one in attendance questions him on this. To compare the situation in Israel to South African apartheid is unacceptable. This belittles the horrors of apartheid in South Africa in many ways, in Israel there is no apartheid. Everyone in the state has the vote, including the non Jewish 20% of the population, and there are currently 14 Arab Members of the Knesset (Israeli Government). However, this short article will not try to address the nitty gritty of Israeli Policy.

Ok, so maybe he’s ignorant in his analogy of Israel to apartheid South Africa. But that’s not so scary… Barghouti accuses Palestinians who have engaged with Israelis in intellectual debates and artistic partnerships of being “guilty of moral blindness and political shortsightedness” and “clinically delusional or dangerously deceptive.” OK, so maybe he’s an extreme one-stater. Still not so scary. But the repercussions of his talk are.

This blinded ignorance is infectious, as comments left on the article “Who’s afraid of Omar Barghouti?”, on the Varsity website suggest.  In response to one student’s defence of Israeli democracy, another, instead of engaging in sensible debate, replied “its so sweet seeing these jews to the rescue – they never fail to amuse! I can only try and understand their fascism and blinded fundamentalism”.

Also thrown into the comment for good measure was the analogy of a Jew supporting Israel being like an Arsenal fan “…those wearing blue and white must chant and sing as the Yid-Army faces its next round of what it thinks is the Champions League.” Surely Cambridge students can express their opinions in a more respectful way, without generalising the opinions of religious groups, without valuing condescending insults above serious discussion.

Politically extreme speakers like Barghouti are not unique. Over the last year the Cambridge University Palestinian Society has hosted other such speakers such as Salman Abu Sitta, Ben White, Robert Boyce, Daud Abdullah and Azzam Tamimi. Tamimi, for example, banned from UCL, has advocated suicide bombings and spoken in praise of ‘the Jihad of Hamas and Hizbollah’. He spoke in Cambridge twice last year and has been invited back next month. Daud Abdullah has signed the Istanbul Declaration which condones attacks on British troops. We should not silence these views. Instead I call on the brilliant minds of Cambridge to question these speakers, and highlight the flaws in their fundamentalist ideology. However, I do ask, is it appropriate for the Palestinian Society to present only this extremist narrative?

In the specific case of Omar Barghouti, instead of hosting a negative and destructive proposal for BDS, why not instead focus our attention on positive, progressive and constructive solutions to the problems faced in Israel? Instead of divesting, we should invest in programs bringing Israelis and Palestinians closer together.

So many initiatives are doing incredible work to build bridges and we should be supporting, not undermining them. There’s the Parents Circle which unites hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones in the conflict, and encourages them to support each other, working together towards reconciliation rather than turning to revenge. The Israeli-Palestinian Business Forum assists small and medium-sized enterprises to engage in cross-boundary commerce and joint ventures, as well as advocating policies that will encourage a more positive business environment for cooperation. The Abraham Fund’s Israel branch is an educational organisation dedicated to enhancing coexistence between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens. The list goes on and I think it’s time for the Cambridge University Palestinian Society to catch on.

By Zac Kenton, the External Officer of JSoc

The Harvard Crimson: Do Not Divest from Israel

Published: May, 2002

There is a time and place for everything, including divestment—but now is not the time, and Israel is not the place.On Monday, professors from Harvard and MIT presented a petition that calls for the two universities to divest—or sell all the endowments’ investments—from Israeli companies and from companies that do business in Israel, until Israel complies with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 which calls for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. This preposterous proposal comes at a time when it would do the most harm to Israel. At the moment, Israel is attempting to defend its citizens and its borders from terrorist attacks, as is the right of any sovereign state. This proposal for divestment once again makes Israel the victim of a double standard; Israel is not the only nation that takes strong and forceful action in times of war, yet it is consistently singled out for criticism.There is no doubt that divestment is a powerful tool, capable of positive change when used properly. It is a moral and economic lever that can coerce people and nations to change unjust practices. But this powerful lever is also a blunt tool; divestment squeezes all the citizens of the target country, whether or not they agree with the government’s decisions. And in this age of globalization and multinational companies, divestment also affects workers in other countries. Because of its power and its bluntness, divestment should be used sparingly.

South Africa in the 1980s was the right time and place for divestment. Apartheid’s racist laws and South Africa’s brutal repression of blacks were morally repugnant. Many institutions, including Harvard, divested their holdings in South African companies, as divestment was incorporated into a larger campaign of international censure, which was one prominent factor that successfully brought an end to the Apartheid system.

But any comparison between today’s Israel and Apartheid-era South Africa is so fundamentally flawed as to be offensive. The Israeli legal code does not discriminate against Arab Israelis the way that the Apartheid laws discriminated against black South Africans. In Israel, the law provides for the equal treatment of all of its citizens, both Jewish and Arab. In South Africa, however, blacks were the victims of laws that controlled their day-to-day lives, dictating where they could live, work and travel. And in South Africa, the government slaughtered blacks when they protested the government’s policies; Israel has done nothing even approaching that level of repression—to either Israeli Arabs or to Palestinians in the West Bank.

Divestment was all the more appropriate in South Africa because it penalized companies that were using the racist laws to their advantage. Many companies exploited the Apartheid system by using cheap black labor. Surely selling a company’s stock, at the very least, is appropriate if that company is taking advantage of human rights violations to make money. But there are no indications that any companies in Israel are taking advantage of human rights violations; in fact, the ongoing violence is doing a great deal of harm to businesses in Israel.

Only when both sides feel safe will peace return to the Middle East. Divesting from Israel would only undermine its sense of security at this difficult time, when it needs all the support it can get. As a result, divestment would be counterproductive to finding a just and lasting peace.

By the Crimson Staff

The Brown Daily Herald: The Dangers of Historical Analogies

Published: March, 2011

Comparing Israel to the purely evil and racist regime of apartheid South Africa is deeply offensive to Israelis and all those who seek a genuine resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Brown Students for Justice in Palestine publicized this analogy last week with a banner on the Main Green that read, “Do you want your school invested in apartheid?” The best defense against such hostile and offensive rhetoric is the truth.

The Israel-apartheid comparison holds very little truth. This analogy is guided by a misunderstanding of the unique aspects of the Israel-Palestine relationship. Furthermore, it is counterproductive, serving only to polarize both sides in this heated conflict.

To Israel and its supporters, characterizing Israel as an apartheid state is perceived as an attempt to delegitimize and vilify it. Because delegitimizing Israel alienates Israeli supporters, Brown Students for Justice in Palestine is not serving the interests of Palestinians. They are not making Israeli supporters more amenable to compromise, cooperation or peace.

Instead, this comparison leads to more aggressive Israeli policies and more rigid support for Israel. Characterizing Israel as an apartheid state prevents any goodwill negotiations between the two sides. It obliterates any potential middle ground and creates a false choice between Israel and Palestine. This unfair polarization is intellectually dishonest and counterproductive.

Only the purest ideologue would support every Israeli policy related to the treatment of Palestinians. But it is important to understand the source of Israel’s policy flaws. Israel has not erred simply out of malice or hatred for Palestinians. Rather, Israel’s occasional use of excess force is caused by a belief that Israel faces a hostile world. This belief is not merely irrational paranoia but is grounded in reality and proven by frequent missile and suicide bomb attacks against Israel. If Israelis felt more secure in the belief that pro-Palestinian groups are not looking to undermine their state, then they would be more amenable to peaceful compromise and less willing to resort to military force. Classifying Israel as an apartheid state will not increase the chance of peace in the region, nor will it make Israel less likely to deploy its army. This offensive rhetoric is therefore counterproductive if the main goal is for justice and dignity for all the people of the Middle East.

Not only is this Israel-apartheid analogy counterproductive, but it is also inaccurate. Brown Students for Justice in Palestine wants people to associate the Israeli state with the racist apartheid state that once existed in South Africa. But the Israel-Palestine situation is by no means comparable to the situation faced by black Africans under the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the case of South Africa under apartheid, there was little to no moral ambiguity. The apartheid state was exclusively motivated by racist ideology. This was not a mutual conflict where both sides deserved blame, nor was it a situation in which both sides had legitimate demands. The racist and oppressive wishes of the apartheid government did not deserve any recognition.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is far more complex than the case of apartheid South Africa. While whites in South Africa subdued a land that they had no connection to, Israelis have a legitimate claim to their ancestral homeland. The apartheid state of South Africa was a product of white colonization and greed. The Israeli state is the product of a long-oppressed people seeking to reclaim their land and gain autonomy.

The South African forces that resisted apartheid rule were also different from the current forces of resistance to Israel. Black South Africans were merely attempting to reclaim their land, dignity, autonomy and right to self-determination. Not all of the forces opposed to Israel have the noble and pure intentions that the South African resistance did.

Many of those who resist Israel deserve international condemnation, not respect. Some of Israel’s foes are violent anti-Semites who routinely target citizens. These terrorists are funded by regional despots who demonize Jews to cover up their own corruption and oppression.

Not all of Israel’s foes are anti-Semitic. Many are peace-loving, tolerant people who only want self-determination for the Palestinian people. It is wrong to portray Israel’s critics as a uniform group of violent terrorists. But it is equally wrong to portray these critics as a uniform group of moderates who only care about justice for the Palestinians and do not have any ulterior motives. If Brown Students for Justice in Palestine thinks that it is only supporting a noble struggle for self-determination, it is sorely mistaken. In reality, the anti-Israel coalition is composed of both noble and sinister forces and has both admirable and deplorable agendas. It is therefore inaccurate to compare the forces of resistance in South Africa to the forces of resistance in Israel.

When applied correctly, historical analogies can shed light on contemporary struggles. When applied incorrectly, they distort reality and are counterproductive. The Israel-apartheid analogy is one such false analogy that incorrectly applies lessons of the past to prevent progress in the future.

Oliver Rosenbloom ’13 is a history concentrator from Mill Valley, Calif. He can be reached at oliver_rosenbloom(at)

The Tufts Daily: Celebrating at 63: The Birth of Israel

Published: April, 2011


More than 80 years ago, Albert Einstein famously declared, “Zionism springs from an even deeper motive than Jewish suffering. It is rooted in a Jewish spiritual tradition whose maintenance and development are, for Jews, the basis of their continued existence as a community.” With Einstein’s sentiments in mind, the Tufts community prepares once again to congregate in the Mayer Campus Center tomorrow to celebrate our annual I−Fest tradition as Israel turns 63 years old. Nonetheless, several questions have been raised regarding the legitimacy of celebrating the State of Israel’s independence and its basic right to exist.

Should Israel’s policies, in the context of the Arab−Israeli conflict, be addressed and extensively debated? Absolutely. However, when that scope overshadows and questions the commemoration of Israel’s very existence, it becomes increasingly concerning.

Nakba Day, translating to the day of “the catastrophe” in Arabic, mourns the displacement of the Palestinian people after the creation of the State of Israel. The fundamental issue I take with Nakba Day is not the fact that it highlights Palestinian suffering, which must be both recognized as well as remedied, but rather its denial of legitimate Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel.

The vision for Jewish self−determination was conceived by early Zionist thinkers and political philosophers who believed that after centuries of persecution and pogroms, the Jewish people were entitled to independence under the universal ideal of self−determination. That principle, as defined by Article 1 in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, states that “All peoples have the right to self−determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

To address local Jewish and Arab demands for autonomy and liberation from the British Mandate of Palestine, the United Nations passed the Partition Plan in 1947. U.N. Resolution 181 Part I, Number 3 specifically calls for the establishment of both a Jewish state and an Arab state, with a Special International Regime overseeing the contentious city of Jerusalem. The implementation of Resolution 181 depended on the acceptance by both parties, but it was subsequently rejected by the League of Arab States, who could not come to terms with the idea of Jewish sovereignty in the British Mandate.

The Arab leaders boldly declared they would wage war on the State of Israel “with the same determination and force as during the Crusades,” as King of Saudi Arabia Ibn Saud warned. The Arab League was vocal in its genocidal intentions, as Secretary General of the League Azzam Pasha declared on the eve of Israel’s birth that “this will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres.”

As promised, hours after the nascent Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, five of the seven Arab League members launched a military attack on the Jewish state. Lebanon and Syria invaded in the north; Iraq and Transjordan (now Jordan) attacked from the east; and Egypt, assisted by Sudanese reinforcements, assailed the south. The defenders of the young State of Israel were ill−trained, ill−equipped and lacked a professional military, as judged by international standards.

The Independence War left a deep psychological as well as physical toll on the newly founded State of Israel. On a human scale, Israel lost 1 percent of its population, the proportional equivalent of 3 million Americans today for the United States. The reality that many of the fallen soldiers in the 1948 clashes were Holocaust survivors, some having just returned from concentration camps in Europe, left a deep wound in the psyche of the Jewish people. With the memories of Auschwitz−Birkenau’s gas chambers still fresh in their minds, world Jewry were presented with a stark message that the international community would continue to turn a blind eye to the slaughtering of their kin.

Even as the young State of Israel was struggling for its survival, it proudly stated in its Declaration of Independence that, “The State of Israel … will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of creed, race or gender; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” It was during this tumultuous birth of Israel that what we now know as the Palestinian refugee problem came to be. This issue is based heavily on the claim that the Zionist forces ethnically cleansed the land through systematic expulsion. This, however, could not be farther from the truth.

The hundreds of thousands of Arabs who abandoned their homes in the wake of the war in 1948 had a few reasons, including credible instances of expulsion, but it has been historically noted by historians, including “New Historian” Benny Morris, that the majority of these soon−to−be refugees left not because of Israel, but rather because of other Arabs. According to Morris’ estimate, up to 80 to 85 percent of Palestinian Arabs who left were not forcibly expelled.

Furthermore, a research report by the Arab−sponsored Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut, Lebanon, asserts that the majority of the Arab refugees in 1948 were not expelled, and 68 percent of them left without ever seeing an Israeli soldier. Emil Ghoury, Secretary of the Arab Higher Committee during the 1948 war, wrote in the Beirut Telegraph that same year that, “the fact that there are those refugees is the direct consequence of the action of the Arab states in opposing partition and the Jewish state. The Arab states agreed upon this policy unanimously.”

Even among the Palestinian leadership, this fact is well−acknowledged. In 1976, in the official journal of the Palestine Liberation Organization, current Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas admitted, “The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland. … The Arab States succeeded in scattering the Palestinian people and in destroying their unity.”

To this day, the plight of Palestinian refugees in member states of the Arab League such as Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia has not been duly addressed. The autocratic regimes of the region have deliberately chosen to use refugees as political pawns, rather than helping them integrate into society, a clear violation of U.N. Resolution 194, which calls on all governments involved in the Palestinian refugee question to share responsibility. The international community repeatedly ignores the countless government−sanctioned abuses and breaches of Resolution 194, such as the Hashemite−orchestrated “Black September” campaign, in which thousands of Palestinians in Jordan were massacred.

I call on pro−Palestinian activists to celebrate Palestinian culture on this campus, while acknowledging the Israeli narrative and the right of a Jewish and democratic state to co−exist peacefully with its Arab neighbors. I implore my colleagues to explore the other Nakba — the inability of failed Palestinian leadership over the decades to coalesce around a constructive goal of building a prosperous and peaceful Palestine. At a time when Israel’s neighbors in the Middle East cry out for freedom from oppression in the so−called “Arab Spring” and their autocratic leaders respond with equally tenacious and violent crackdowns, it becomes evident that the singular oasis of stability in the region is Israel. The Jewish state, while by no means a perfect democracy, can attribute this stability to its vibrant, maturing and functioning democratic system of government. Despite its flaws, astonishing images such as Arab women voting en masse with blue ballots in their hands for Knesset (parliamentary) elections, an Arab−Israeli judge sitting on the High Court of Justice, and Muslims and Jews alike treating patients at Israeli hospitals in unison all serve as microcosmic testaments to Israel’s thriving democracy. Curious to learn more? Come see for yourselves, as we celebrate I−Fest 2011 in the Campus Center tomorrow from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Daniel Bleiberg is a sophomore majoring in international relations. He is the president of Tufts Friends of Israel.

Maryland Diamondback Online: Support Israel

Published: April, 2011


This week marks the third-annual Palestinian Solidarity Week at our university. Students for Justice in Palestine, the primary sponsor of the week’s programming, claims its goal is to unite students who are concerned about the well-being of the Palestinian people and seek the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. But the numerous provocative events that are part of the week do something far different than achieve its stated goals. The solidarity week’s events and the speakers the group brings to the university present distorted facts and extreme biases that ultimately seek to vilify and isolate Israel. Often, the inflammatory comments and content of the programs spark strong reactions, diverting attention from the true underlying issue at hand: How can the Israeli and Palestinian peoples work together to create a lasting, constructive peace?

Instead, Students for Justice in Palestine spreads a message that does not fairly represent the framework and delicate situation in the Middle East’s only democracy. Readily apparent from the very beginning of the week, the depiction of a security barrier as the “Apartheid Wall” is the first of many misrepresentations of Israeli intentions. Posters claiming “Zionism is Racism” and the spewing of misleading statistics and inconsistent facts about life in the West Bank and Gaza only further distorts the issue. The group neglects to mention the security wall was built to defend innocent Israelis against the suicide bombings that occurred on a daily basis just a few years ago and the constant rocket attacks that persist today.

Furthermore, yesterday’s event with Norman Finkelstein, a political scientist who seeks to inspire support for Palestinian statehood through what the Anti-Defamation League calls “his anti-Israel animus,” is the perfect example of how this week is counterproductive and pushes the debate away from the conversation that is necessary. Finkelstein is a man who has made radical claims, such as that Jews exploited the tragic events of the Holocaust for personal gain, and has stated that some Jews in America are “de facto agents of a foreign government.” That a group can say a speaker such as Finkelstein is part of a week that is fair and respectful is shocking and something every student should question.

Despite all of the accusations made this week to delegitimize Israel, it is a state that receives widespread bipartisan support, whether it be from the White House, Congress or students at this university. Both the Action Party’s Kaiyi Xie and the Love Party’s Ben Simon, the two candidates for Student Government Association president, agree on their strong support for Israel. Xie and Simon are just a few of the countless student leaders from a broad range of groups who have publicly stated their support for Israel and desire for a peaceful resolution to this deep, complicated situation.

Likewise, for our entire university to ever build ties of mutual understanding and respect — ones that are critical to realistically addressing the issue — this should be a week designed to promote positive dialogue that can advance the Palestinian cause and build the unity necessary for peace. The pro-Israel community seeks to do just that with Israel Week, held May 2 to 5, which seeks to promote Israel in a cultural way and is inviting to all students who wish to attend. I challenge Students for Justice in Palestine and every student at this university to work together, rather than apart, to create a more inclusive and honest discourse that other schools can look to as we seek to achieve a goal that is desirable to all parties.

Daniel Ensign is president of Terrapin Students for Israel. He can be reached at daniel.ensign at gmail dot com.

The Stanford Daily: One Step Forward, 2 Steps Back

Published: June, 2011


When I came to Stanford as a freshman in the fall of 2007, I was shocked to see the condition of the interfaith community. Fragmented and scared, students would whisper about the events of the previous year. Divestment, Muslims against Jews, Jews against Jews. The anti-Israel divestment campaign of the previous year had rocked the Stanford community. It drove people away from wanting to learn about or discuss Israel, drove Jewish students from wanting to befriend Muslim students and even drove Jews away from the Jewish community as a whole.

I was able to witness firsthand the devastating effects of the 2006-07 divestment campaign, because I was the only freshman to join the Stanford Israel Alliance. I joined because, after facing anti-Semitic abuse during high school, I found Israel was the one place where I knew I could be safe as a Jew, and I wanted a place like that to exist for all people. That’s why I wanted to try to improve the condition between Jews and Muslims on campus. I wanted to make things friendlier, so that people did not have to be afraid to express themselves, so that the discussion could be more positive. When I discussed co-sponsoring a charity drive for children in Israel and Gaza with the Muslim Students Awareness Network my freshman year, some of the Jewish/pro-Israel students looked at me like I was crazy.

Eventually we overcame the emotional scars of divestment, and the charity drive to send gift baskets to children in Israel and Gaza went forward. It was a major success because it was a positive way to deal with the conflict. Since then, the number of Jewish and Muslim interfaith events has increased. Political disagreements surrounding Israel have been handled in a more positive light. We repeated the charity drive my sophomore year and launched an even more successful microfinance campaign the year after. The past few years have been a huge step forward, but I fear that we are on the verge of taking two steps back.

This spring saw the initiation of a renewed divestment campaign. Divestment calls to the University not to do business with companies that do business in Israel. While the campaign purports to be about a few specific companies, in reality it is a campaign to delegitimize Israel, using literature from international movements that try to convince countries to boycott and sanction the Jewish state. This campaign is divisive because it places the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a conflict that takes into account centuries of nuance, squarely on Israel’s shoulders. That’s not fair; both sides share responsibility.

Divestment aims to injure Israel economically, without actually directly helping the Palestinians. This should be upsetting to anyone who cares about Israel and also anyone who cares about the Palestinians. We should work toward change that helps both sides of the conflict, not simply injure one side or the other.

Regardless of our politics, the campaign of divisiveness that is in the process of being put forth can only have destructive outcomes. We don’t know how our actions on campus will affect a faraway conflict in the Middle East, but we do know what our actions will do to this community. Therefore, the best solution is for the people with different political views to come together and find creative solutions to those disagreements that will help achieve a real and lasting peace for the Middle East and for all of the communities on this campus. We do not need to replicate the animosity in the Middle East in order to make productive change. I have faith that if anywhere in the world there is a place where Muslims, Jews and people of all religious and political dispositions can come together to find constructive solutions to the Middle East conflict, it is Stanford University. I implore you, Stanford University, do not let this campus go back to the way things were. We have changed, and we are so much better than divestment.

Justin Hefter ‘11