Widgets Magazine


Divestment at Stanford is a distraction

To the editor:

I write as a faculty member implacably opposed to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, as a Jew convinced that there is no greater ethical dilemma than this in present-day Jewish life and also as a member of the Stanford community opposed to the divestment initiative now championed by some on campus.

How should we balance these seemingly conflicting convictions?

As it happens, many inside of Israel, and arguably the majority of American Jews, too, share similar beliefs.  And it’s just these issues that are being fought over in the current Israeli election scheduled for this March. But the divestment campaign provides little more than a distraction.  Instead of facing the real-life dilemmas of a conflict in which two peoples demand, legitimately, the right to live decent lives in the same slice of land, it seeks to seduce supporters by collapsing suspicions of dubious multi-national corporate activities into the Palestine-Israel mix.

How Israel and Palestine will sort out a terrible, and unequal, conflict in which the stories told by each side for decades now are harsh and unforgiving and make of a mess of both truth and exaggeration, is tougher now to predict than ever before. It will demand that all who care intensely about these issues are willing to confront the need for real, wrenching compromise, for an honest resolution where no one gets all that one wants, where all recognize that a free and viable life for Palestinians is no less crucial than simple, basic security for Israel. Perhaps in the future, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to live together in a closer relationship but, for now, as writer Amos Oz has so often insisted, divorce is essential with equitable division of assets. Divestment, however dressed up as criticism of nefarious business practices, is merely an effort at delegitimizing one side of this conflict. It is an exercise in obfuscation and it should be seen for the diversion that it is.

Steven J. Zipperstein, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Department of History, Stanford University

Contact Steven Zipperstein at szipper ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • Zach Rosenthal

    I’m interested in hearing more of your argument — I could imagine a divestment supporter asking the following question: why can we not acknowledge that there are legitimate political grievances that need to be overcome, while also acknowledging that corporations are committing human rights abuses against Palestinians? Moreover, if your argument is about the movement simply delegitimizing one side, then what would you say to the claim that the movement rejects all human rights abuses, but in this instance, corporate oppression really seems to be one-sided (i.e. the U.S. doesn’t have investments in multinational Palestinian corporations committing human rights abuses). My posing these questions, however, may simply represent my misunderstanding of your argument — in either case, I would appreciate your clarification.

  • guest

    great point

  • Steven Zipperstein

    Can’t seem to master how to reply, Zach, and feel free to email me at my Stanford address…

  • Law Student

    This is solely about increasing, and disturbing, antisemitism on the left.

  • Guest

    It would be helpful if Stanford had a professor who was expert in the Mandate Period. Perhaps covering such items as British policy, Jewish land purchases, Arab immigration INTO Palestine, treatment of Jews in Arab lands during this time, the response of the British when it came to Jewish immigration during the run-up to the Holocaust, the various White Papers, Grand Mufti-Haj Amin al-Husseini etc, etc. There is an important book gathering dust in the Green Library – “The Rape of Palestine” written in 1938.

  • Jonathan Poto

    Divestment from Israel is intellectually is a good idea but its coming at a time when there’s growing liberal antisemitism, even at Stanford, therefore I would vote no on a resolution supporting it.

  • Guest

    Divestment in NOT an intellectually good idea. It is an idea employed by those with a cause that cannot win by truth or might.

  • robman012

    Since when did “conflicts” become obliged to neutrality? With your logic, Northern Americans in the 19th century should’ve been more neutral to southern slavery because not doing so was one sided and bias. Change comes about by not being neutral. If there was continued neutrality, then God knows my people would still be in chains today. Deviance drives change, and its a good thing. No one should be neutral towards situations of injustice.

  • Shane Bauer

    That is a copout, reply on the record, right here. Or transcribe your conversation in your office and oblige us all.