Divestment Panel shows intellectual laziness


Two weeks ago, I noticed a “Justice for Palestine” flyer. Although I would consider “Drive the Jews into the Sea” a more honest name for this group, I stopped to read the advertisement, and eventually decided to attend the event.

That night, a panel discussion was held featuring five professors from Harvard and MIT who had signed a divestment petition that seeks to remove all Harvard and U.S. funds from Israel. Ostensibly, the goal of the petition is cripple an already weak Israeli economy, thus giving Israelis a final push out of their homeland.

As I approached Austin West that evening, I felt pangs of apprehension: If it turned out that there actually was some sort of rational basis for this petition, I would be forced to apologize for all the times I denied the existence of the tooth fairy, unicorns and the abominable snowman. Fortunately, I needn’t have worried.

Although I am pro-Israel, I am not anti-Palestinian. Palestinian people living in poverty-stricken conditions in Israel do not deserve their situation. Civilians killed in attempts to root out terrorists do not deserve to die, and should never be targeted. Israeli settlers who intimidate and beat people and steal from Palestinian olive orchards are not entitled to their criminal behavior.

If there was some way that peace could be guaranteed in Israel by giving the Palestinians a homeland, I would favor such a move. Actually, hostilities would cease if Palestinians were granted the lands they desire. The only problem is that the land they desire is Israel — all of it.

At the panel, each speaker echoed a common theme. Each discussed his or her opposition to the violation of Palestinian human rights by Israel, U.S. financial and military support of a country that violates human rights and support for divestiture of funding until Israel takes an “initial step” toward peace.

As I pointed out to the panelists during the ridiculously-formatted “question and answer” session (Prof. Duncan Kennedy’s “moderation” of this discussion was an absolute sham), each of these contentions is completely supportable — so long as the other side gets no seat at the table.

Each contention shares the twin ailments of rank hypocrisy and latent anti-Semitism. To hear the panelists, one would imagine that the Israeli army mows down innocent women and children without any provocation.

It is true that civilians have died at the hands of Israeli soldiers. That cannot be justified, but it can be explained: These casualties occurred during military strikes against known and suspected terrorists. The Israeli army attacks military targets, and in military actions there are often civilian casualties. These civilians do not deserve to die, but they also are not the targets of the attack. This stands in stark contrast to the tactics employed by Palestinian terrorists who target civilians almost exclusively. If someone could demonstrate how a public bus in Jerusalem translates into a military target, I would be very interested. None of the panelists mentioned the hundreds of innocent Israelis and others who have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists. The panelists insist that Israel should be punished for violating human rights, yet they tacitly allow murder — the ultimate violation of human rights — when the primary victims are Israelis.

As for the demand that Israel take the “initial step” toward peace, the panelists succeeded in demonstrating that they are both historically ignorant and hypocritical. Yasser Arafat had an offer from Israel that would have met 97 percent of his demands in 2000, and he rejected it. Evidently, the panelists’ definition of “initial” differs from that found in the dictionary.

More than 50 years have passed since the world turned a blind eye to Hitler’s attempt to systematically exterminate the Jewish people. Out of that tragedy emerged the recognition of the need for a Jewish homeland. Israel is the manifestation of that home. Now, the pro-divestment movement wants Harvard and the entire United States to turn its back on Israel once again. Israel’s crime? Actively defending itself against the murderous acts of terrorists, who deny Israel’s right to exist. Following this logic, one would expect that a draft is in the works to sanction the U.S. for attacking the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

The signatories to this petition have disgraced themselves and Harvard University. They have every right to oppose Israel and to speak their mind on the subject. However, signatories who are University professors have the intellectual obligation to make good faith efforts to present the truth. A half-truth is every bit as deceptive as an outright lie.

The signatories want divestment because they do not like Israelis. To sign this kind of petition and insist otherwise is an insult. The signatories place the blinders of anti-Semitism and hypocrisy over their eyes, and urge us to do the same. I can only hope that truth is too important to this institution for them to succeed.

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