Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: Strengthening Palestine means supporting Israel

In Friday’s Daily, outgoing ASSU President Michael Cruz ’12 published an op-ed in support of a petition advanced by a group previously named “Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel” (SCAI), now called “Students for Palestinian Equal Rights” (SPER). SPER’s – formerly SCAI’s – petition advocates for “selective divestment” from companies variously involved in Israeli activity east of Israel’s pre-1967 border. Cruz’s title, “Why I support Israel, Palestine, and divestment,” positions him as supportive of all parties, and in no way do I doubt Michael’s good intentions to aid both peoples. However, Cruz has fundamentally misunderstood what “pro-Palestinian” and “pro-Israeli” mean, which has been evidenced in the days since his op-ed was published by the elated disbelief of the SPER community on the one hand – “best ASSU president ever?” asked one vice president of SPER – and the incredulous frustration of our community on the other.

First and foremost, selective divestment is not pro-Israel because if it succeeds, media reports will never represent SPER’s petition as the carefully fine-tuned policy position that it professes to be; rather, the headlines will declare that “STANFORD DIVESTS FROM ISRAEL.” Moreover, divestment is not pro-Israel because it seeks to point the finger at and punish only Israel for its perceived misdeeds, without examining the record of the Palestinians and their governing body, the Palestinian Authority (PA). While I can list many Israeli policies I would like to see changed, Cruz in his op-ed belies his avowal to “promote all human rights” by failing to consider what we might demand of the Palestinians. Should the PA recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, as they have failed to do? Should the PA implement the institutions of a real democracy, and the rights one entails that are now regularly contravened by the PA – the freedoms of the press, of expression, of religion? Most ironically, SPER in its previous incarnation as SCAI wrongly accused Israel of somehow perpetrating apartheid, but what of the clearer case of Palestinian apartheid – the official, abhorrent PA positions that a future state in the West Bank must be free of Jews, and its law that selling property to Jews in the West Bank is a capital offense?

In March, Cruz told me that he believes “firmly” in “a strong state of Israel,” but his proposal Friday only weakens Israel while failing to strengthen the PA. In fact, the West Bank’s greatest hope today is not divestment but the drive to build up its civil society, led by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and most strongly supported by the United States, who contributed $600 million to the PA in 2010, and Israel. Both countries work daily with the PA to train its security forces, and the PA has begun to successfully assume responsibility for arresting and disarming terrorist factions within its own midst. As security cooperation has dramatically improved, Israel has been able to work with Fayyad to bolster the economic, health, and educational situations significantly in the West Bank. With a safer, stronger, and more prosperous PA, Israel is safer; with peoples that work more closely hand-in-hand, the greater trust that results enables brighter prospects for peace.

In striving towards peace, I believe that we must not seek to castigate, to demonize, to weaken the other – those we deem “at fault,” in Cruz’s words – while simultaneously shielding ourselves from all criticism and harm. Rather, we must look inward, identifying our own flaws so that we can act more humanely and productively, while also moving forward however we can with our adversary – who must eventually be our partner – to find opportunities for their actions too to be more tolerant, more constructive, and to create room for hope. Today in White Plaza, the Stanford Israel Alliance celebrates the founding of the Jewish state of Israel, 64 years ago. We will not be celebrating Israel’s policies or borders, but rather its existence – the visceral manifestation of the Jewish right to a national homeland. May we one day soon be able to celebrate too a Palestinian Day of Independence, one which from that point forward will mark a peaceful future of self-determination and coexistence for all the peoples of the Holy Land.


Marty Zack ’14
Co-President, Stanford Israel Alliance


  • In the 21st century, shouldn’t we be past the whole idea of religious states? 

  • LookingOutward

    If you had bothered to glance at SPER’s petition, you’d know that it calls on Stanford to divest from all companies  that profit from violations of human rights or international law in Israel/Palestine – regardless of whether they are Israeli or Palestinian. In fact, the majority of the companies highlighted in the petition are international corporations based in Europe. 

    “Moreover, divestment is not pro-Israel because it seeks to point the finger at and punish only Israel for its perceived misdeeds, without examining the record of the Palestinians and their governing body, the Palestinian Authority (PA).” 

    SPER points at everyone involved in perpetuating the abuses of the occupation of the West Bank – especially the PA. No one argues with the fact that its record is awful, just as Israel’s record is awful. And since the petition is criteria based, a fifth criteria could easily target any companies engaging in the rights abuse you rightly isolate: rights to freedom of the press, of expression, and of religion. SPER’s fourth criteria already calls for divestment from any companies engaging in institutional discrimination against a religious affiliation, but that could definitely be spelled out further. If you are interested in having an actual conversation about improving the human rights record of Israel and the PA in the West Bank, then you should go to a SPER meeting and talk to them about the particular rights violations you believe Stanford should stop funding. 

    If not, then in trying to frame a clear question of human rights as a political dispute between states you’re only oiling the status quo. Universal human rights are not political. Every party in the conflict, regardless of political affiliation, has an interest in ending the occupation. Fayyad’s efforts to build up civil society mean little so long as homes continue to be demolished. 

    I don’t think you disagree that a better future for Israelis and Palestinians means ending human rights abuse in the occupation of the West Bank. Do you have a better answer than divesting from that abuse? In this op-ed you indicate that our only answer is to “look inward.” Continue looking inward, then, as the tide of history passes you by. The rest of us will be pushing outside of ourselves for change. 

  • Guest

    To the President of SIA: Being a friend to Israel means not accepting all of its actions uncritically, but believing that Israel can do better and pressuring it to pull back towards its democratic foundations. Israel’s strengths are its advances in human rights and technological development, not its current illegal policies in the occupation. Pressuring Israel to stop violating human rights and international law in the occupied territories does not “weaken” Israel, but rather brings it back to these strengths. A true alliance between Stanford and Israel would mean supporting the policy of selective divestment.So long as the occupation continues, Israel will have no security, and the region will know no peace.

  • Just a comment

    Interesting and well written. While I admire the passion of SPER, sometimes I wish they had a more positive focus – silly examples might be organizing fundraisers for Palestinian organizations and charities, advertising opportunities for summer internships in education, organizing petitions to help the situations of Palestinian refugees in countries like Lebanon, hosting Palestinian cultural events, etc.

    The boycott stuff just seems bitter. As an IR major, I’m also disappointed that there isn’t more Arab activism on campus, although I thought the AMENDS conference was really interesting and well organized.

  • Impartial observer

    Lol this is a joke right?

  • guest

    Marty I think you make a very solid argument! Totally agree…

  • Guest

    Marty is right on because it’s a fallacy to assume that because the leaders of divestment say it will bring about peace that it will actually do so. From a policy perspective, Michael’s op ed and most pro-divestment argumets fail to realistically understand the ramifications of what an economically threatened israel would mean to the stability of the middle east and the legitimate prospects for peace.Even if divestment advocates dont think that they are anti semitic or anti israel, the policy of divestment is anti semitic and anti israel because the end result of a successful international divestment campaign would mean the end of the state of israel, the only Jewish country in the world.

  • Guest2

    Thanks for writing in Marty

  • Marty

    thanks everyone for the discussion – I really appreciate everyone’s commitment to having a productive dialogue here, rather than the usual black and white, back-and-forth yelling match. a few thoughts:

    to Guest #1: I agree completely that being a friend of Israel means aspiring to a better Israel, rather than “accepting all of its actions uncritically,” and I alluded to that clearly in my piece. I tried to make clear in my article, though, that I think there are far better ways to make progress in the region, and in particular with regards to improving the situation in the West Bank, than divestment. What I didn’t have room to spell out in my article is that I also believe divestment of any sort only encourages Israel to take a more defensive posture, empowering the hard-liners within Israel by upholding their narrative, and would only increase tensions, not reduce them. I also want to note that quite a few Israelis, and Israeli political parties, are quite opposed to continuing Israel’s current policies in the West Bank, and indeed, the new coalition deal this week raised the possibility that 99% of Palestinians would be all but released from occupation in the near future, if Mofaz is able to successfully implement his two-phase peace plan with Abbas’ approval (a huge if, but I think it certainly bears mention that that position is now a part of the governing coalition).

    to LookingOutward: I certainly am aware of the fact that the companies referenced in the petition are mostly European and that the proposal is indifferent to the companies’ nationalities; my mistake if I created any impression otherwise. But what I point out in my article is that successful selective divestment will not be interpreted as — and certainly doesn’t consider as its primary objective — a holding to account any and every company in the entire region that in some fashion or another is covered by SPER’s understanding of its criteria. Rather, it will be construed as a move which specifically targets and aims to weaken Israel, and that has certainly been SPER’s rendering of the proposal at any of their events I’ve ever been to. Moreover, in the article I point out that the petition only holds Israel to account, since it specifically targets businesses and so forgoes totally the opportunity to pressure the PA to change their deeply wrong and destructive policies. Yes, I know from my own conversations with Fadi and Omar and others that they certainly see the need for enormous change on the PA side of things; but you’d think that if SPER were truly committed to its name, wouldn’t they have the occasional event focusing on that crucial side of the coin? If they have, I’ve missed it (and I try to go to as many of their events as I can). I find this particularly ironic, because I think people like Fadi and Omar have a better opportunity to enact change in how the PA conducts itself than to affect Israeli policy and legislation. For example, I applaud Fadi for the work he’s begun to enable Palestinian National Council (I think I got that right?) elections to take place for the first time in some 25 years. And lastly on the mechanics of divestment — again, I find your suggestion that the petition could accommodate companies violating rights of expression implausible. Few — I think maybe one — of the grievances SPER commonly cites involves freedom of expression, and again, improving conditions in that regard requires governmental action, not private sector action.

    Your comment that “Fayyad’s efforts to build up civil society means little so long as homes continue to be demolished” encapsulates why your point of view differs from mine. The way I see it, Fayyad’s work is an enormous boon to Palestinian life in the future, and its consequences, over the long term, seem a good bet to far outweigh the damages wrought by home demolitions in the near term (a policy for which I am no apologist). In general, I try to view things through the lens of policy: it’s easy to identify a problem, but what options are there for a solution, and what side effects might they wreak? For instance, an abrupt drawdown of Israeli forces in the West Bank may have many benefits, but I believe it could also be ruinous for the security of both Israelis and Palestinians if executed misguidedly — a contingency which, again, Fayyad and Palestinian-Israeli/American collaboration more broadly make less likely with each passing day. (I think on that issue in particular there’s a clear compromise to be brokered — and I reference one such idea above.) On the other hand, I do agree with you that certain policies could be changed overnight to the benefit of all. So yes, I do have an answer which isn’t divestment, and it’s one I spelled out in my article: investment, partnership, and better policymaking on both sides — all things we can actively promote and even directly foster. Ultimately, I stand by my whole statement, the latter half of which you chose to neglect. We — by which I mean the respective parties in the conflict, and by extension, us (their supporters) on their behalf — must strive to better our own choices, indeed. Yet we must do so “while also moving forward however we can with our adversary — who must eventually be our partner — to find opportunities for their actions too” to grow in a positive direction, to be mutually beneficial for all involved, and most importantly, to build the trust and hope that one day, I pray, will forge a lasting peace.

  • Guest

     In their relativist, valueless fantasy-world, the proponents of
    Stanford’s divestment petition have unabashedly compared their efforts
    to honorable campaigns waged against apartheid South Africa and the
    genocidal Islamist regime in Sudan. If you think this is about “bringing
    out Israel’s strengths”, either you haven’t done your research, or
    you’re extraordinarily desperate to hear only what you want to hear from
    the divestment movement.

    These people truly believe, _without_any_sense_of_irony_, that with all
    the tyrannies in the world, with all the fundamentalist dictatorships in
    that very region, the one country deserving their greatest wrath is the
    one country in the middle east with a 64 year-functioning multi-party,
    multi-ethnic, multi-religious parliament, a highly active and effectual supreme court, and universal suffrage.

    Shame on Cruz for this fantastically short-sited assault on the cause of
    basic solidarity with an embattled democracy. And shame on his
    apologists for whitewashing SCAI/SPER’s history of leaders and
    guest-speakers who have made absolutely clear their rejection of the
    two-state solution, and flagrant advocacy for the destruction of Israel.

  • sam

    Jews are a people, not simply a religion.   The word Jew comes from PEOPLE descended from the tribe of Judah.  Israel is another name of the Jewish forefather Jacob.

  • Guest

    While I appreciate your concern about changing the situation in the West Bank, I hope you can soon follow it through to conclusion. Your current solutions presuppose equal “adversaries” who are both rationally deliberating over policy choices. Missing from your argument is any recognition that one of the ‘adversaries’ has limited the policy choices available to the other. Your long response still failed to contain even a nod towards the ever increasing structural imbalance in economic, military, and political advantage as Israel continues its expansionary project into whatever is left of Palestine. 

    Others have written more coherent responses to your position: http://www.palestine-studies.org/journals.aspx?id=10924&jid=1&href=fulltext

    I’ll just mark my resistance to pointing towards Mofaz’s two-phase peace plan as an indication of Israel’s amenability to ending the occupation. Mofaz calls for keeping the major settlement blocs, including Ariel, making discussion of a Palestinian state absurd. Jerusalem remains under Israeli control. There’s no settlement freeze. This is a peace plan? What self-sustaining state could possibly emerge out of those coordinates? Too easily do we imagine the ‘security’ concerns that would immediately herald the return of the occupation – provided it ever ended. 

  • Guest

    In other words: if your concern for the inequities of the occupation is anything more than words, I suggest you stop clinging to  more of the same “investment, partnership, and better policymaking”, and start critically evaluating which “partner” has been the exclusive beneficiary of this rhetoric in recent history.