Op-Ed: Honest debate and its enemies

Opinion by and
May 10, 2010, 12:28 a.m.

As a student, I felt humbled upon hearing that the Stanford Israel Alliance (SIA) has undertaken an Invest for Peace program. The investment program seeks to do exactly what SIA has always done: engage a geopolitical conflict affecting the lives and safety of their parents, siblings, cousins, and friends, but in a collected manner that reaches out and engages the Stanford community, creating as much of a positive difference as a group of students possibly can. On Tuesday, May 4, Yishai Kabaker published an Op-Ed that announced his Invest-for-Peace strategy, which has since been embraced warmly by the Stanford community.

Yet Mr. Kabaker made clear his apprehension, shared by much of the Jewish community, about the concurrent attempt by Campaign Restore Hope (CRH), to launch a divestment campaign. He did so with good reason. CRH’s predecessor, Students Confronting Apartheid in Israel, last engaged the broader community by proudly hosting Hezbollah apologists and other more “moderate” advocates for Israel’s destruction.

Fadi Quran, who heads the current divestment push and saw these unfortunate events unfold three years ago, sought to allay fears in his Op-Ed on Wednesday, May 5. “This campaign is different,” he said. But he tempered this message with an avalanche of misleading generalizations, such as characterizing the entire Palestinian Arab population as prevented from accessing water. Mr. Quran failed to qualify such statements with the agent of action. While Israel moved rapidly to either build or approve the building of new wells for the Palestinian Water Authority, fulfilling its obligations under the Oslo 2 accords in 1995, the Palestinian Authority failed under its own obligations to provide the requisite pipes, thereby rendering the wells useless.

More generally, the fact that Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert offered full statehood to Palestinian Arabs on more than 95% of the land mass of the West Bank and Gaza, the fact that these offers were not met by negotiations but by barrages of suicide bombings and rocket attacks, and the fact that these attacks were what caused many of the restrictions Mr. Quran laments is, to him and his campaign, irrelevant. While Mr. Quran espoused in his Op-Ed the ideal of not shying from a debate on account of its complexity, we may rest assured this is not the debate he has engaged in.

The divestment program itself undertakes similar subterfuge. It claims to draw from universal values meted out with balance, claiming on its website “to ensure that our university is not invested in companies that violate human rights in the region.” This fails any level of scrutiny. Four companies comprise the roster of divestment, three of which are not publicly traded, and for which divestment is therefore moot. What remains – the only target of consequence – is the Israeli company Elbit, whose equipment monitors a fence that has successfully thwarted suicide bombings against the citizens of Israel, Arab and Jewish alike. In other words, divestment’s target is Israel alone, with no regard for those under the yoke of oppression by the Saudi, Egyptian, Yemeni, Lebanese, Iranian, Hashemite, Syrian, and other regimes of the region whose abuses tower over Israel’s.

And so while we are told that this campaign is about justice, it must be a concept of justice that can retain its meaning without apportionment. Indeed, this is because this concept of justice isn’t justice at all. This divestment campaign doesn’t want to talk about human rights; this divestment campaign just wants to talk about Israel.

The divestment campaign therefore recalls the storied justification Harvard President Lowell once gave in his attempt to place an outright quota on the number of Jews admitted by claiming that Jews cheat. But non-Jews also cheat, he was told. You’re changing the subject, he replied, we’re talking about Jews.

Yes, this divestment campaign believes in human rights, and yes, President Lowell believed in academic integrity.

Josh Weinstein
Graduate student in biophysics

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