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OPINIONS

Op-Ed: The occupation is not kosher

The Stanford campus has recently mobilized around the topic of “eviction”: Chi Theta Chi’s, of course. With a petition currently standing at 2,056 signatures [at the time of publication], this community action should show us what can happen when students care. Although the sudden revocation of the lease for a Stanford house is surely a cause for alarm, it seems painfully banal to remind ourselves that it is “evictions” like these, albeit with more violence and less notice, that are a constant reality for all who are subject to home demolitions in the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

 

As in so many cases of systematic oppression, no one is neutral in this conflict. Refusing to engage means, at best, uncritically arming the Israeli occupation with our tuition dollars, and indirectly ensuring that Middle East conflict will continue to stagnate.

 

As students, the kinds of change we can effect are indirect. Stanford’s endowment is valued in the top five among universities, and any decision to follow SPER’s call to divest would raise the symbolic and economic costs of occupation for Israel.

 

I approach this issue as a Jew, and as a citizen and supporter of Israel. I feel it is my obligation to defend Israel the best I can, and I see no better way than honestly recognizing its faults and urging it to improve. By continuing to engage in rights-violating practices, Israel is distancing itself from the international community and failing to solve its real problems – chief among them the so-called “demographic threat.”

 

It is clear that Israel cannot continue indefinitely on its current track of allowing illegal settlements and legislating ethnic and religious discrimination. However one slices the demographic data, Israel cannot count on Jews remaining a majority in the coming years. As Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, put it: “Israel, the Jewish State, is predicated on a decisive and stable Jewish majority of at least 70 percent. Any lower than that and Israel will have to decide between being a Jewish state and a democratic state.”

 

Divestment from the U.S. ally may be ‘tough love,’ but being a friend to Israel entails not accepting its behavior as given. Any student of history knows that disenfranchising a population from a minority position is not a strategy that can survive the long term.

 

Today, anyone seeking a better future for Palestinians will likely hear, “Why focus on Israel? Aren’t there other nations, even in the region, that violate rights?” This response is undeniably true, but it misses the point.

The Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq expresses the near-consensus position that no end to the Middle Eastern conflicts can be imagined without resolving the situation in Israel. As the report states, “The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Among other consequences, the centrality of Israel has meant that many regional regimes have been able to redirect attention away from their own repressive practices toward the conflict.

 

Moreover, Israel is itself singled out by American policy. Consider that the United States gives approximately a third of its aid, more than the combined total of aid to Latin America and Africa, to a country with under one thousandth of the world’s population and a relatively high GDP per capita.

 

Asking the University not to throw its substantial financial and symbolic weight behind companies that directly support human rights abuses, SPER’s petition urges divestment only from companies that engage in four criteria of practices in the occupied territories: (1) facilitation of acts of collective punishment (home demolition, land confiscation, and military action against civilians), (2) operation within occupier-only settlements, (3) maintenance of a “separation barrier” and (4) institutional discrimination against any people of a certain race, ethnicity or religion.

 

These criteria are universal in scope and can be applied to other conflicts as foundational principles of ethical investing. This approach does not come down on any side of the issue; calling for a principled divestment from rights-abusers is no more pro-Palestinian than refusing to deal with unethical diamond companies is pro-Congolese. Supporting divestment commits its supporters to no “side” except the right side of history.

 

As students, we can act when we sense injustice. The call for divestment is not “radical”; this form of grassroots, non-violent action has extensive precedents both on this campus and on others like it. Stanford’s own Statement on Investment Responsibility pledges to divest from any companies that “cause substantial social injury.” SPER’s petition demands only that Stanford commit in practice to the values it claims to uphold.

 

Itai Farhi ’14

Students for Palestinian Equal Rights

 

  • factchecker

    Well written. A few clarifications:
    First off, this is insulting that this cause is compared to the Chi Theta Chi eviction just to evoke popular support and empathy. These situations could not be more different. Just look at how divided the relative communities are: I challenge you to find people who are taking off from classes to help the administration help evict XOX. There are very smart, rational, peace-loving people who oppose divestment; this conflict is not so easily defined as is the XOX one. Best of luck to XOX for the security of their house.
    1. Though the U.S. gives plenty of aid to Israel, there are strings which force Israel to use much of that money to buy American products in return. 2. There’s no evidence that Stanford directly invests in Israel. As a private institution, it doesn’t disclose its investments.3. While I agree that finding a path to peace is imperative, you paint the picture that divestment is the only way for peace, which it is clearly not. The international divestment movement (BDS) has been around for 10 years now, and has made almost no (positive) impact on the conflict. 4. I’m pretty sure that the only U.S. establishment to OFFICIALLY divest from Israel is a supermarket in Washington state. The claims that Harvard and Hampshire colleges divested have been proved to be false. 5. Israel is one of the –if not the biggest– contributor to the Palestinians in terms of aid, supplies, and military training. How does divesting from the group that invests in Palestinians help the Palestinians?Divestment is purely a political act, more symbolic than practical, as it has yet to help the conflict, and typically just causes conflict on college campuses. SPER, formerly Students Confronting Apartheid By Israel, has failed at passing divestment for the past 6 years. 

  • factchecker

    and to use the term ‘kosher’ to try to validate your opinion further just because you’re Jewish is pretty shady as well. 

  • susan

    The occupation, while painful and unwanted by Israel, is legal and kosher. Legally, all that land was ceded to (and sold to) the Jewish State of Israel by San Remo Conference attendants, League of Nations, and United Nations. It had been illegally occupied by the Arabs since they waged an unlawful war against Israel to annihilate the nascent Jewish nation in ’48. And re-occupied by Israel in ’67 after the Arab states tried again in ’67. Land (not THE, not ALL) is to be turned over to the Arabs for a Peace Agreement and not until there is a peace agreement. So, far there have been multiple offers which have all been refused by the Arabs – from the 3 No’s Khartoum conference, to the offer by Clinton and Barak and the even sweeter offer by Ehud Olmert. Anyone who follows the Palestinian Media Watch knows that the Arabs are claiming all of Israel as Arab land. http://palwatch.org/

  • you’re wrong because

    If I sell your house, is it a valid sale? 

  • mr. beans

    ” ceded to (and sold to) the Jewish State of Israel by San Remo Conference attendants, League of Nations, and United Nations” …. and that is exactly why the Arab world does not trust the western world.  How would you feel if I sold your house to somebody else???

  • Svatoid

    Why does a Jew like Itai hate Israel?

  • Ed Tzeng

    Weak article.  Israel would like nothing more than peace with it’s neighbors.  Unfortunately, Arab neighbors have demonstrated an unmatched blood thirst and penchant for violence that forces Israel to defend her very survival.

  • read tzeng

    What a nuanced and historically literate contribution to this “dialogue”, Ed Tzeng. Thank you! We all appreciate it. For the future, you may want to educate yourself on whether the “unmatched blood thirst” of an entire ethnic group drives (or, even if this were not the most banal racism, could ever legitimate) the systematic oppression of civilians in the occupied territories of Palestine. 

  • Edtzeng

    Israel is not the one refusing to acknowledge the right to Palestinian statehood.  It is the palestinians and greater Arab world who refuses to recognize the right of Israel to exist.

  • Knguyen

    Why does such as small nation get so much coverage by the Daily and media in general relative to much larger countries who shamelessly and regularly commit atrocities and human rights violations? How many articles has the daily had on Syria in the last few years? Sudan? Russia? China? Iran? Saudi Arabia? North Korea? Belarus? Burma/Myanmar? What is this critical obsession with Israel and neglect of real menaces? 

  • lp

    You clearly read the article upon which you are commenting carefully, and are engaging thoughtfully with its arguments:

    “Today, anyone seeking a better future for Palestinians will likely
    hear, “Why focus on Israel? Aren’t there other nations, even in the
    region, that violate rights?” This response is undeniably true, but it
    misses the point.
    The Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq
    expresses the near-consensus position that no end to the Middle Eastern
    conflicts can be imagined without resolving the situation in Israel. As
    the report states, “The United States cannot achieve its goals in the
    Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
    Among other consequences, the centrality of Israel has meant that many
    regional regimes have been able to redirect attention away from their
    own repressive practices toward the conflict.
     
    Moreover,
    Israel is itself singled out by American policy. Consider that the
    United States gives approximately a third of its aid, more than the
    combined total of aid to Latin America and Africa, to a country with
    under one thousandth of the world’s population and a relatively high GDP
    per capita.”

    There should be an exceedingly greater “critical obsession with Israel”  given the extent to which American economic and military policies have a critical obsession with Israel.

  • Student

    “uncritically arming the Israeli occupation with our tuition dollars”?You’re a moron.

  • Ed Tzeng

    Your argument is circular, and proves my point in a sense.  Why is it the case that such a small country is central to the goals of the US in the entire middle east?  What does Israel have to do with Assad’s repression of his people, of the absence of human rights in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc?  Israel is the focus because of the fact that it’s enemies decide to make it so by hating her, and their rulers benefit from this hate because it deflect attention from their own failures.  If Israel did not exist, some other boogie man would need to be created in its place (US, Europe, shiites v. sunni, India, secularists)

    Also, China and Russia are globally much more important than Israel, but get disproportionately less attention, despite them being the world’s largest human rights abusers.  

    Finally, the aid Israel gets from the US (Jordan and Egypt also get billions despite having been monarchies w/o human rights) because Israel agreed to peace in return for giving back land they won in wars meant to annihilate Israel.   That land is worth much more than the aid Israel receives and spends mostly on US imports.