An Open Letter to the Columbia/Barnard Faculty Committee on Divestment
I would like to ask you, the signatories of the Columbia/Barnard divestment petition, one of the most simple questions, a question you fail to answer on your website: what do you hope to accomplish through divestment? And ‘end the occupation’ is not an answer: you as well as I know that it is an oversimplification of reality. ‘Ending the occupation’ is not something Israel can do unilaterally by withdrawing Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza. To do so would be to invite scores of suicide bombers who do not care for the end of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza: as Abdel Aziz Rantisi of the Hamas so amply puts it, they will not stop until all of Palestine is liberated. So I would like to know, concretely, logically, what you intend on accomplishing?
I ask this because, according to historical record, Israel has tried numerous times to end the occupation. That is what Oslo, Camp David II and Taba were all about. That is what Rabin, Peres and Barak were all about. That is also what Ben Gurion’s acceptance of the UN Partition, Israel’s repeated offers for peace afterwards in 1967, 1973 and 1981 were all about. As I recall, historically, each and every offer that Israel made to ‘end the occupation’ was met with the same answer as the Khartoum decision: No, no, no. It seems when you reflect on history and not heuristic that the Arab countries and the Palestinian leadership is more responsible for the continuation of the occupation then the Israelis.
You say that you “hope that moral pressure from the international community could be an effective means of encouraging political transformation.” But what transformation are you looking for, and aren’t you looking in the wrong place? Once again, Israel offered even under the government of PM Sharon to begin negotiations It unequivocally accepted the Mitchel and Tenet plans, but Arafat and the Palestinian Authority couldn’t even provide the seven days of quiet that was requested. And both you and I know that he could: let us both admit that the 20,000 armed Palestinian Police that marched in Gaza on Oct. 10th as a show of force to the Hamas after Abu Lehiya’s funeral could be used to stop the terror attacks, if Arafat so wished. And remember that Arafat is weakest in Gaza.
So shouldn’t you be instead more concerned about the political transformation in the Palestinian Authority? How about divesting in the countries who support the corruption of Arafat’s regime, who is, by the way, responsible for the deaths of approximately 150% more Palestinians through its public execution of ‘collaborators.’ How about encouraging the divestment from the EU who passed on funds to the PA after it was clear to the entire world community that Arafat was behind the Karine A weapons smuggling affair? Or from Egypt which allows weapons to be smuggled through its border with Gaza? Or from Saudi Arabia who ran a telethon to raise money for the families of suicide bombers, therefore encouraging more children to kill themselves while murdering others?
If you really were interested in promoting peace and bringing about a political transformation you would not be calling for divestment in Israel. Instead, you would be calling for the liberation of the Palestinian people from the yoke of a terrorist leadership. You would call for the Palestinian people to overthrow Arafat and accept the agreement offered by Israel. You would, instead, encourage increased investment in the civilian Israeli market (which, until the current violence, employed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians) and the Palestinian market to give people a reason for living and not dying. In other words, you would call for peace and not economic war.
So, again I ask, what do you hope to accomplish through divestment? If your answer is to ‘end the occupation’ I hope you will divest from the divestment petition.
Columbia University should encourage honest academic debate, but it must discourage its professors from allowing their emotions to get in the way of rational thinking, and stop them from using their authority to distort history. Since they are, in the end, University employees, the University is responsible to take action.
Monthly Archives: October 2002
An Open Letter to the Columbia/Barnard Faculty Committee on Divestment
Doesn’t it strike you kind of odd that the Arab world has produced numerous Abu Jihad’s (roughly translated, father of the struggle) but no Abu Ahvas (father of brotherhood)? That in throughout the years there have been hundreds of pro-peace groups who peacefully protested Israel, while none of those has been founded or lead by Palestinians? That instead of a “Peace-now,” and pro-peace youth movements such as Hashomer Hatzair and HaNoar HaOved, the Palestinian Authority brings forth the Tanzim and generations of potential suicide bombers? That while there are “Seeds of Peace” summer-camps held in America, the Palestinian Authority runs summer-camps for Palestinian children during which they are taught to disassemble and reassemble an AK-47 and kidnap Israelis?
I say this because I was and always will be very pro-Palestine. It’s just that now I believe that before we can establish a free-Palestine, we have to work for a Palestine free from terror. But it really doesn’t matter what I say, since I have a confession to make: I’m Israeli.
Yes, I am an Israeli that founded an umbrella organization for pro-peace left-leaning youth movements in 1999. I worked to build a framework in which Israeli and Palestinian youth-leaders would be able to get to know each other as like-minded partners, and not as members of opposite teams. Its just that I lacked that partner myself, and that when my movement sang “Shir La Shalom” (the song for peace) as it’s anthem, our partner Palestinian movement sang “By Blood and By Fire We Will Liberate Palestine.”
Have you ever asked a Palestinian what they think will end the terror. “End the occupation and the terror will end,” they will invariably say. But, factually, that does not seem to be true. The terrorist bombings started, if we are to remember, along with the peace process in 1992. The heaviest suicide bombings until the present were right after Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated, in 1996, as Shimon Peres ran for Prime Minister. You see, the suicide bombings do not aim to “end the occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza, nor to establish a ‘free Palestine.’ As the Hamas Spokesman Rantisi quite nicely points out, the suicide bombings’ goal is to have the Jews return to Poland.
It’s just, Mr. Rantisi and company, we do not have anywhere to go back to. Last time we were there we weren’t quite welcome. And since Jews have lived continuously in the Land of Israel (holding a majority in Jerusalem since the days of the Temples), and since it was and is the only land we ever could call home, we’re here to stay. So why can’t you understand that we want to live in Israel as good neighbors to a Palestinian State?
Most people forget that Israel has offered throughout its history, first in 1948, then after ’67, ’73 and ’81, to give back its territory and establish an Arab presence in the West Bank and Gaza in return for peace. (Let’s see Britain, France, Spain, China or Russia, to say the least, do the same to the Irish, Basques, Tibetans or Chechnyans.) It wasn’t until 1988 that the PLO so kindly accepted UN Resolution 242. And guess what happened directly after that? Israel sat down at the table with them and out came Oslo. And then Camp David II in 2000. And then state-sponsored suicide bombings like never before.
I believe we will be locked into this conflict until one brave soul rises through the ranks with enough backing to protect himself from Arafat (or, as in the case of the leading democracy-advocate in Egypt, from any Arab authority) and calls himself (or herself) Abu Ahva.
I hope the Palestinians are looking for this Abu Ahva too, because I am convinced, as are the great majority of Israelis who voted for Barak and Rabin, that the second s/he comes will herald the end of the occupation. So if you see Abu Ahva please tell him or her, in my sake and the sake of all of the peoples in the region, to hurry.
I must admit that the debate on Iraq is evoking quite a visceral reaction in me. My stomach physically hurts when I think about the melting pot of influences and interests inherent in the debate over a possible war in Iraq. I even feel betrayed by my fellow human beings, by my friends on the left and by Europe in general. I feel betrayed because I, like most of the world, made the solemn promise of “never again;” and now, and for the half century, instead of fulfilling our pledge and learning from humanity’s mistakes we are forsaken those rights that give us the right to be free humans. By bickering and arguing about the external aspects of going to war in Iraq, and the abstract question of whether Iraq poses a threat to the world community, we are forgetting what reality has had in store for all of those Kurds and Shiites who have faced the very real threat of continued rule of Hussein.
Half a century ago the United States was faced with a very similar question, and our bastion of morality, FDR, decided that he would not risk American power in bombing the train-tracks to the death camps in Europe. Nearly my entire family was in those very death camps, along with millions of others that were brutally murdered because America wouldn’t risk it. (Although he did risk it in bombing Dresden—a far worthier cause then saving Jews.)
And I am appalled that the left is more concerned with putting roadblocks up to Bush than saving the hundreds of thousands of lives that Hussein threatens. No, the war is not against the Iraqi people. Yes, the war will cause casualties, but, due to changes in military doctrine the focus will be military targets, read: those who oppress and murder and rape with the consent and direction of Hussein.
And then there is good old Europe, another bastion of morality and human rights, with Germany on one hand who is up to the elbows in investment in Iraq, while sending over its best scientists to do Sadaam’s dirty deeds, and will not threaten that investment. Or Russia who too is afraid to loose the billions of dollars owed to it by Iraq. And China, another “humanitarian” friend of “democratic” Iraq, which sits astute on the Security Council. And I will not even mention the French, who, until not long ago, considered Iraq a sort of sister state, while Chirac called Hussein his good friend. It infuriates me that the United States has to weave a resolution to the UN Security council when its members are in Iraq’s pocket (lets not forget the chair, Syria, who is doing very well thank you very much due to the dirt cheap smuggling of Iraqi oil under the radar of the sanctions.)
So yes, the war does fit into America’s plan to exert its influence over Asia and the Middle East, and possibly also the grand Bush dynasty oil strategy, but how can we doubt the fact that an American presence will be better to the peoples living in Iraq than the Hussein regime? American might not be ideal but it sure is better than Hussein (who we know has committed genocidal acts against the Shiite majority and Kurdish minority), Syria (who murdered close to ten thousand at Hama, and continues to occupy Lebanon and decimate local opposition), the Saudis (don’t even get me started), etc.
It is our responsibility as free peoples to stop the violence. And we must do so wherever it rears its head, and if Iraq is on the agenda for different reasons so be it: we should be independent enough to recognize responsibilities and make alliances, even though we might not fully agree with our partners. Let us rebuild Iraq and the rest of the Middle East as we did Europe, and, yes, do it using Iraqi petrodollars. Of course there will be interests at play, but it doesn’t mean we should sit still. As the watchdogs of democracy, it is our job to insure that the work is done properly.
And what about international law? We should not be afraid of setting precedents: if a democracy will be the next hegemon it will obey the laws of humanitarian morality due to its character and moral fiber: democracies operate under the rule of law. If a tyranny, let’s face it, it won’t care about precedents anyway.
So, yes, as long as the goal of the War in Iraq is to topple Sadaam it is in my name. I could not think of a more noble cause than to free people of genocidal oppression. To paraphrase what a more intelligent man, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, once said: in the choice between righteousness and peace I choose righteousness. It is time to fulfill our duty to our fellow human beings.