The Fallacy of Divestiture

In late September, Larry Summers, President of Harvard delivered a speech at the morning prayer service of the Memorial Church of Harvard, a non-denominational Protestant congregation. The daily morning prayer service has been a part of Harvard’s tradition since 1636.

What he said shook the academic world. “Serious and thoughtful people,” he declared, “are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not in their intent.”

Summers rejected a petition signed by 69 Harvard professors calling for divestiture in Israel – a fancy term calling upon American universities to divest their endowment portfolios of any companies doing business with Israel……as a sign of protest. “(The Petition) falsely conveys to students that Israel is the only nation in the world to occupy someone else’s territory,” he maintained.


In Europe, petitions such as the Harvard petition have been expanded to include the blacklisting and removal of Israeli professors and researchers from literary journals in Britain to canceling performances of Israeli song artists in Norway.

Suzanne Fields, writing in the Washington Times, noted that “no longer is the anti-Semite one of the uneducated rabble-rousers of the politically uncouth in brogans and white hoods. The new bigot carries petitions in Harvard Yard in the heart of the Ivy League decked out in running shoes with politically correct labels.”

What made the Summers sermon so outrageously on point, was that he didn’t stop with the divestiture issue, but went on to criticize student fund raising events for known terrorist organizations, and observed that college students who condemn global capitalism constantly and unfairly single out Israel comparing Prime Minister Sharon to Adolf Hitler.

But what really ticked him off was the double standard that is applied to Israel on the campuses of America and Europe.

Funny how campus activists never seem to mention the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. They bemoan capital punishment in the United States, but say nothing when the Palestinians routinely execute suspected collaborators, including the mothers of young children. They single-out Israeli human rights abuses that pale next to those of their Arab neighbors, which we know less about because of press restrictions. Why is that?

As Tom Freidman noted in his October 16, 2002 NY Times article on the subject:

“You are dishonest because to single out Israel as the only party to blame for the current impasse is to perpetrate a lie. Historians can debate whether the Camp David and Clinton peace proposals for a Palestinian state were for 85, 90, or 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. But what is not debatable is what the proper Palestinian response should have been. It should have been to tell Israel and America that their peace proposals were the first fair offer they had ever put forth, and although they still fell short of what Palestinians feel is a just two-state solution, Palestinians were now prepared to work with Israel and America to achieve that end. The proper response was not a Palestinian intifada and 100 suicide bombers, which are what brought Ariel Sharon to power.”

It is shameful that at a time when some Palestinians are writing that they made a historic mistake in not nurturing the Clinton peace offer, pro-Palestinian professors and students in America and Europe pretend that the only reason the occupation persists is because of Israeli obstinacy. This approach will never gain the Palestinians a state, and those who dabble in it are simply prolonging Palestinian misery.

Truth is, anti-Zionism isn’t necessarily anti-Semitism – until it reaches a certain pitch……. and on our college campuses, the pitch is audible. By singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction — out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East — is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.

So let’s call this what it is. “Shame” – not on Israel (the only real democracy in the Middle East), but on those who arrogantly hold Israel to a standard of conduct to which no other nation in this world is held.

Half a million people are murdered in Rwanda. Silence.

The Chinese annihilate Tibetan culture. Silence.

Two million Christians and animists are killed in the Sudan. Silence.

Tens of thousands of civilians are killed in Chechnya. Silence.

Egypt imprisons the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world, after a phony trial, and not a single student group in America calls for divestiture from Egypt. Silence.

Syria occupies Lebanon for 25 years, chokes the life out of its democracy, and not a single student group calls for divestiture from Syria. Silence.

Saudi Arabia denies its women the most basic human rights, and bans any other religion from being practiced publicly on its soil, and not a single student group calls for divestiture from Saudi Arabia. Silence.

Iraq, whose Kurdish and Shi’ite populations have been gassed and poisoned (not by the American military) by that paragon of democratic leadership, Saddam Hussein. Silence.

Jordan killed more Palestinians in a single month (September 1970) than Israel has between 1948 and the present. Silence.

Have you seen any petitions against these countries lately? I haven’t.

These tragedies dwarf the most outlandish accusations against Israel, but fail to garner the moral outrage that Israel evokes among its campus critics. In the West Bank city of Jenin, in April, for example, Israel was painted as the world’s pariah…..Nazis, butchers, conducting “war crimes,” surrounding the infant Jesus with Israeli tanks – claims of 3,000 Palestinians massacred; claims that Israel poisoned the water supply; claims that Israel dumped bodies into mass graves. A bishop in Copenhagen compared Sharon to Herod. Newspapers across Europe substantiated the allegations with reports of grisly deeds by Israeli soldiers.

The only problem was, there was no massacre!

No matter!

When the UN hosted the Third World Conference Against Racism in Durban, the world had an opportunity to address the hatred that afflicts hundreds of millions of people around the world but they only found time to dwell on Israel accusing it of genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, and apartheid, while the vicious racism of the Middle East and Africa was ignored.

In the name of “human rights” and “justice,” these advocates and self-proclaimed “protectors of the Free World” decry Israeli actions and seek to punish her by conducting academic and cultural boycotts while Palestinian clerics call for the killing of Jews without eliciting any protest. The Saudi and Egyptian media report on Jewish conspiracies on 9/11 and “blood libels,” but there is no outcry, let alone calls for a boycott.

It is this absence of balance, not the criticisms (which sometimes may be warranted) that has been most troubling. I do not choose to call this double standard a guise for anti-Semitism, although the effect of these double standards can be predicted.

Israel is not utopia – far from it. But in its governance and its transparency, it is as democratic as most other democratic nations in the world and certainly more democratic than any other nation in the Middle East.

For those who argue that their right to “criticize” is being infringed, let them understand what criticism is not…..

It is not ”criticism” to portray Israel’s lawful presence in Gaza and the West Bank as an illegal occupation, yet never utter a word of objection about Chinese, Syrian, Turkish or Russian occupation.

It is not “criticism” to place Middle East violence at Israel’s doorstep while ignoring the immense risks that Israel has taken, and the sacrifices that it has endured, in the quest for peace with the Palestinians.

It is not “criticism” to accuse Israel of apartheid when it is the Arab world that preaches “Kill the Jews,” and dances in the streets when terrorists succeed in doing so.

Demanding that good Aryans boycott Jewish shops is no different from demanding that good universities boycott the Jewish State. It’s all the same poison.

If a 5-year old can understand that slaughtering innocent civilians is wrong, then why can Europe not see it?

If we cannot tell the difference between a democratic Israel and an apartheid South Africa or a terrorist like Yasser Arafat from a peacemaker like Nelson Mandela, then we are all parties to the greatest moral failure of our time – the inability to distinguish between those who are the defenders of this world (for whom there is no greater priority than the preservation of human life) and those who are the aggressors (who justify the sacrifice of innocents in the name of Allah).

We have a right to expect more from those who teach our children on the campuses of America. Their positions do not entitle them to foster anti-Semitism under the guise of “truth” and “justice.”

The issue isn’t “divestiture” at all. It’s called “intellectual honesty.”

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