When I was a freshman at Stanford in 2006-2007, divestment launched on campus in relation to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. At the time, it was sudden, it was divisive, and it was damaging. Although the bill was defeated in the ASSU Senate, the ramifications continued for years, dominating much of my Stanford experience.
Tensions were high on campus as many people felt alienated and disillusioned by the process. Interfaith dialogue was deeply shaken as religious communities found themselves on opposite sides of a destructive debate.
Recently, a similar bill was proposed in the UC Berkeley Student Senate. Following that, one was also submitted to the UC San Diego Student Senate. From accounts that I have heard from friends at Berkeley, the experience was equally traumatic. Although the bill at Berkeley was also defeated, the ripples it has caused for their community will be long lasting. To my dismay, there once again seems to be the beginnings of an Israeli/Palestinian divestment campaign here at Stanford.
One powerful line from the hours-long debate at Berkeley came from the Cal Chabad Rabbi. He made the point that you cannot fight darkness with darkness; you must fight darkness with light. A negative campaign against alleged abuses will only bring more negativity and damage. And, it will not address the issues or solve the problems – it will only cause further polarization and make peace even more elusive. In my experience with divestment when applied to this conflict, damage is wrought, but nothing positive comes of it. In the past, divestment campaigns helped combat apartheid in South Africa and genocide in Darfur. However, the divestment campaign against Israel is a crass bludgeon, which reduces an incredibly complex situation to euphemisms and demonizations.
Therefore, the Stanford Israel Alliance chooses to invest, and we hope you will join us. We agree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deep, complex, and painful. We support the Palestinian people in their desire for an independent state alongside the State of Israel. To that end, we wish to help the Palestinian people build up their infrastructure and economy, which will be the basis for a future state.
In the coming weeks, Stanford Israel Alliance will be raising awareness and support for two NGOs that are working to improve Palestinian and Israeli society. Lendforpeace.org is a microfinance organization based in the Palestinian Territories, inspiring entrepreneurship among Palestinians. The Peres Institute for Peace is an Israeli organization that builds connections between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen, environmentalists, and civil leaders to forge common frameworks between the two peoples.
Our goal is to move past the venomous rhetoric that divestment inspires and attempt to tackle the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from a positive perspective. It is our responsibility as Stanford students to help foster a more nuanced understanding of the issues, and to deal with the legitimate grievances that exist.
Stanford is a place of innovation and change. Perhaps this is one area where we can live up to our reputation.
Yishai Kabaker ‘10
Stanford Israel Alliance