Divestment at Stanford is a distraction

Jan. 26, 2015, 9:36 p.m.

To the editor:

I write as a faculty member implacably opposed to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, as a Jew convinced that there is no greater ethical dilemma than this in present-day Jewish life and also as a member of the Stanford community opposed to the divestment initiative now championed by some on campus.

How should we balance these seemingly conflicting convictions?

As it happens, many inside of Israel, and arguably the majority of American Jews, too, share similar beliefs.  And it’s just these issues that are being fought over in the current Israeli election scheduled for this March. But the divestment campaign provides little more than a distraction.  Instead of facing the real-life dilemmas of a conflict in which two peoples demand, legitimately, the right to live decent lives in the same slice of land, it seeks to seduce supporters by collapsing suspicions of dubious multi-national corporate activities into the Palestine-Israel mix.

How Israel and Palestine will sort out a terrible, and unequal, conflict in which the stories told by each side for decades now are harsh and unforgiving and make of a mess of both truth and exaggeration, is tougher now to predict than ever before. It will demand that all who care intensely about these issues are willing to confront the need for real, wrenching compromise, for an honest resolution where no one gets all that one wants, where all recognize that a free and viable life for Palestinians is no less crucial than simple, basic security for Israel. Perhaps in the future, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to live together in a closer relationship but, for now, as writer Amos Oz has so often insisted, divorce is essential with equitable division of assets. Divestment, however dressed up as criticism of nefarious business practices, is merely an effort at delegitimizing one side of this conflict. It is an exercise in obfuscation and it should be seen for the diversion that it is.

Steven J. Zipperstein, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Department of History, Stanford University

Contact Steven Zipperstein at szipper ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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