The divisive Israel-Palestine conflict has seen significant print in The Stanford Daily these past weeks. Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine issued a sobering call for Stanford’s divestment from companies operating in the occupied territories, firms benefiting from the occupation and its attendant violence (viz Caterpillar, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed, Cemex of Stanford GSB affiliation, et al). The purpose and criteria were made clear enough: Stanford ought not to associate, directly or indirectly, with the illegal and barbarous acts of a foreign government lest we further enable such acts. And the piece was timely, as on the following day Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a public push for further expansion of settlements into Palestinian territories, a move by now practically routine, but no less illegal or ruthless.
So far two responses have been issued, and both are revealing in their mistreatment of Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine. The first, titled “Searching for a partner for peace on campus,” by Mr. Yisroel Quint, rebutted the call for divestment, but in a rather odd way. His critique fell quickly into a series of claims which, upon inspection, dissolve into triviality as they exhibited no fidelity to relevance and were driven by what smacks of oversensitivity and an ad hominem attack on divestment leaders and advocates. Because of Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine, Mr. Quint claims, we are “moving away from dialogue” and toward “finger pointing and delegitimization and demonization.” That last phrase is curious since nowhere did the Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine letter stray from facts surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict, the summer siege of Gaza, long-standing ethnic discrimination against Arabs, or the matter of responsible divestment. Exactly how Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine took “statistics and events out of context” we are not told.
One week later, Mr. Ben Limonchik’s impassioned response fumbled the same overall line: that Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine is “regressive”, harmful, that it “hides the true goals of the divestment movement” (which he doesn’t explain). He labels divestment “a tool designed to win a propaganda war” – an extravagant ascription of motive. But if by fighting for basic human rights and promoting awareness of ethnic aggression, mass incarceration, blockades on food and supplies, meanwhile advocating a two-state solution and regional security all somehow qualifies as propaganda, then such efforts confer dignity on the term.
Surprisingly (rather, unbelievably), Limonchik and Quint chose the BDS co-founder Omar Barghoutti as the target of their smear campaigns, claiming in near perfect unison that Mr. Barghoutti “rejects Israel’s right to exist” (tacitly implying anti-Semitism). However no evidence to support such a claim is provided precisely because no evidence exists, betraying an effort to delegitimize divestment through calumny, spuriousness and diversionary tactics.
Where Quint and Limonchik actually succeed is through their conflation of lucid criticism of Israeli aggression with criticism of Israel as a whole, clumsily blurring the nuances of argument. Yet beyond the false claims and overheated rhetoric, the perfectly ineffectual wishes and “dreams” and empty calls for “dialogue,” such tactics fly wide of the original point, one which Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine and the divestment movement strongly encourage: non-violence and securing the safety of victims.
It’s worth observing the serious support both here and abroad for the divestment movement, how it’s pushing Israeli colonialism into the spotlight and emphasizing Palestine’s right to self-determination and equal right to defend itself against oppression. Consider Sweden’s recent recognition of Palestinian statehood, a move bitterly derided by the Israeli government, and coldly received by the US government, whose efforts in blocking such recognition are noteworthy.
Mr. Quint and Limonchik can host all the dialogues and peace seminars they want, and they can “dream of the day Israel and Palestine co-exist as neighbors,” but no amount of dialogue and dreaming is going to influence well entrenched systems of oppression thousands of miles away. And therein lies the reason why Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine is a force for good on campus. They’ll actually do something about the occupation and illegal settlement expansions by getting students and faculty to actively organize, by getting this enormous machine we call Stanford up and operating such that really positive, world-level change may some day soon be possible and may even occur. Opponents of peaceful, non-violent activism have much to answer for.
Steven Magness is a staff member in the Computer Science Department. He can be contacted at magness ‘at’ cs.stanford.edu.