Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: Understanding divestment

As a campaign begins at Stanford proposing divestment from selected companies associated with military occupation and human rights abuses in Israel-Palestine, Yishai Kabakar of Stanford Israel Alliance seems to be striking early to take control of the rhetorical ground where the debate will unfold.

In reading Mr. Kabaker’s piece closely, I will try to make two points. First, it does a disservice to people of good will who care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when it relentlessly insists that the divestment discussion is utterly dark, divisive, and destructive. This view, which fills most of the article, attempts to make the debate radioactive before it starts, whereas I suggest that the debate can be positive and fruitful. Second, the article transitions to a place of common ground on which those who want the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians can meet. I commend Mr. Kabaker and SIA for the excellent projects described in the last few paragraphs.

The article begins with a cascade of negative language regarding a divestment campaign at Stanford three years ago: “divisive … damaging … people … alienated and disillusioned … Interfaith dialogue … deeply shaken.”

A recent debate on divestment in Berkeley’s ASUC Senate, we read, was “equally traumatic,” though “the bill at Berkeley was also defeated.” This seems to me an inadequate representation of what happened at Berkeley. The bill won a majority Senate vote, was vetoed by the president, and fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto. Speakers in favor of the bill included such distinguished Berkeley professors as Judith Butler and Daniel Boyarin, as well as Hastings law professor George Bisharat and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights Richard Falk. The bill was endorsed by 100 UC faculty. Five Nobel Peace Prize laureates – Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi, Mairead Maguire, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, and Jody Williams – expressed support in writing.

This and other evidence should make us consider that something important and valuable might have been taking place in that debate. But no, we continue to be deluged in the language of dark catastrophe. A Chabad rabbi paints the effort as “fight[ing] darkness with darkness.” There are dire predictions of more negativity, damage, polarization, making “peace even more elusive” if talk of divestment (even on a relatively symbolic level) continues.

Particularly interesting is this: “In the past divestment campaigns helped combat apartheid in 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.”

Divestment was good for South Africa and Darfur but it is wrong and crass for Israel. Why is that?

Finally, I know one of the leaders in the effort to put divestment on the table in Stanford’s Undergraduate Senate. Fadi Quran, the only student presently at Stanford who actually lives in the Palestinian territories, participated in a Stanford overseas seminar in India on Gandhi’s legacy, which was led by Prof. Clayborne Carson and me. Fadi’s language and tactics are very far from being divisive, polarizing, or negative. He is making enormous efforts in the opposite direction, reaching out in respectful and loving terms to those who disagree with him, affirming the primacy of love as defined by Gandhi and King, linked to a total commitment to nonviolence, along with the courage to struggle for justice and peace against great odds.

So who is polarizing? Where is the darkness coming from?

I fully agree with Yishai Kabaker’s statement that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deep, complex, and painful,” and with his support for an independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. I deeply appreciate the Stanford Israel Alliance’s involvement in positive work to build desperately needed infrastructure and connections between Israeli and Palestinian “businessmen, environmentalists, and civil leaders to forge common frameworks between the two peoples.”

May peace and mutual understanding come to the region.

Linda Hess
Senior Lecturer
Department of Religious Studies

  • Arafat

    Last week in the Islamic Wolrd:

    Weekly Jihad Report
    Apr 24 – Apr 30 Jihad Attacks: 35

    Dead Bodies: 93

    Critically Injured: 208

    Last month in the Islamic World:

    Monthly Jihad Report
    April, 2010 Jihad Attacks: 149

    Countries: 18

    Religions: 5

    Dead Bodies: 701

    Critically Injured: 1793
    List of Islamic Attacks, murders and injuries year-to-date in the tolerant, compassionate, peace-loving Muslim world:


  • words

    palestine is facing apartheid. i dont care how many times you say it is not.
    “Apartheid Israel can be defeated, just as apartheid in South Africa was defeated.”
    – Winnie Mandela
    “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.”
    – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
    “Israel came to resemble more and more apartheid South Africa at its zenith — even surpassing its brutality, house demolitions, removal of communities, targeted assassinations, massacres, imprisonment and torture of its opponents, collective punishment and the aggression against neighbouring states.”
    – Former South African Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils
    “But what is interesting is that every black South African that I’ve spoken to who has visited the Palestinian territory has been horrified and has said without hesitation that the system that applies in Palestine is worse.”
    – Professor John Dugard

  • Obvious

    You want to know the easy way to differentiate between black South Africans and Palestinians? Black South Africans were not lobbing bombs at the whites, threatening to kill all of them. That has been the backbone of Palestinian culture since it was invented. Hence the checkpoints and barriers to prevent suicide bombs.

  • 56-22-1

    If there is NEVER a Palestinan state, there will still be 56 states whose majority religion is Muslim; there will still be 22 countries that speak Arabic and keep the Arab culture. The world’s only Jewish state is the size of New Jersey. It is the only state in the Middle East where there is the freedom to worship God in any faith one chooses. If the Arabs of Israel ever felt that they are not happy in Israel, they have 22 other countries to choose from (That is if the Arabs of those countries were welcoming. They aren’t.) The Jews on the other hand, have nowhere else to go.

  • Seth

    The recreational compassion displayed by Linda Hess is appalling: Two decades ago, Arab Morocco built an Apartheid Wall in occupied Western Sahara to subdue the native non-Arabs. Since then, Morocco has exterminated or expelled the natives. Only a few hundred thousand remain, walled off in ghettos. Three decades ago, Muslim Turkey built an Apartheid Wall across Occupied Cyprus, to bar native Cypriots from returning to their homes. Since then, Turkey has moved tens of thousands of settlers into Cypriot homes. And for five decades, the Chinese occupiers of Tibet has expelled hundreds of thousands of natives and settled that sad land with Chinese.

    Surely, Saharans, Cypriots, and Tibetans are suffering greatly. But the Op-Ed (May 6) by Linda Hess, Senior Lecturer with the Department of Religious Studies, includes not one word of comfort for them. One can hardly blame Ms. Hess. It’s easier to pick on Jews than take a stand against evil men – particularly when the evil men have oil and grant money.

    Still, Jesus said, “You must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the study halls and at the street corners, so they may be seen by people.” As a lecturer in Religious Studies, Ms. Hess must know this.

  • phil


  • Arafat


    Isn’t it interesting that the “peace loving” Ms. Hess also forgot the following Apartheid Wall.

    Published 16:26 30.12.09
    Latest update 16:38 30.12.09
    Amid protests, Egypt defends right to build Gaza wall
    Regional critics accuse Egypt of aiding in blockade of Gaza by building wall to curb smuggling.
    By DPA
    Tags: Israel news Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit on Wednesday defended Egypt’s right to secure its border in the government daily al-Akhbar, while the government gave the green light for a limited protest of the reinforcement.

    “What Egypt is doing is placing structures on its territory related to Egyptian defense,” the foreign minister said.

    Egypt’s upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, likewise issued a document endorsing the government’s security measures in northern Sinai and along the border, the government-owned daily al-Gomhuriya reported Wednesday.

    In recent weeks photos purportedly showing a reinforced steel wall being built underground along the Egyptian-Gazan border have revived domestic and regional criticism of Egypt’s role in maintaining the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

    Activists from around the world this week gathered in Cairo in the hopes of marching to the Gaza border to protest its closure.

    The Egyptian government initially banned the protest march. But faced with the rising criticism, the government on Tuesday told organizers of the Gaza Freedom March that 100 of the activists could march to the border.

    Egypt has repeatedly defended increased security at the border as necessary for maintaining its sovereignty and national security. In January 2008, during Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip, thousands of Gazans breached the border, pouring into the Egyptian side of the divided town of Rafah to buy food and other goods.

    Egypt has long been under international pressure, particularly from Israel and the United States, to stop the smuggling of basic commodities, contraband, and weapons through tunnels under the border.

    Israel and Egypt closed the Gaza Strip’s borders after Hamas took control of the territory in 2006.

  • Arafat


    And thank you for expressing your thanks. I sincerely appreciate it.


  • Rev George

    The real aim of the advocates of divestment is the dissolution of Israel! That has been the goal of Israel’s adversaries for the previous 90 years. Most of the accusations against Israel are either false, or due to Israel’s reaction to the attacks of its enemies. That the organizations that.advocate for divestment keep making these accusations is vile!

  • Gus Rumpf

    I would HAPPILY trade all the Muslims in America, Progressive Politicians America, and Linda Hess, for all the Jews in Israel.

    Muslims and Progressives are like an anti-freedom, anti-human rights, anti-God PLAGUE attempting to conquer the World by force, supported by air-heads like Linda Hess.