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Tools for conflict, tools for peace

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To the Editor:

As I sat through Tuesday evening’s lengthy ASSU Senate debate about divestment from companies involved with Israel, I recalled that old line: If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The proponents of divestment were trying to persuade the Senators that Stanford’s endowment is our only tool to address human-rights failings in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But sometimes you’re just using the wrong tool for the job.

That this tool could hammer only one side was brushed off. A few understated words were added about violations by Hamas (which have been extensive) and by Egypt, to build support, but with no companies there to divest from, in effect the proposal was aimed squarely at Israel. In a room heavily polarized into two factions – a microcosm of the region – the debate added heat but no light to the complexities of the conflict; instead (at risk of mixing metaphors) it poured gasoline on the flames.

This was the proponents’ underlying intent rather than the side issue they claimed. Led by Omar Barghouti, the Palestinians created the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to demonize Israel on campuses, with the clearly stated long-term goal of eliminating Israel. According to Barghouti: “Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead.” Ahmed Moor, another BDS author, wrote: “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.” The authors of the Senate resolution added a few words claiming independence from BDS, but in the same breath they said that “the Palestinians” asked them to do this. Had the resolution passed, you can be certain the fig leaf would drop and BDS would chalk up Stanford as a success for the movement. The resolution claimed to involve only the “D,” but I sniffed plenty of “BS” left in.

The Senators should set aside the hammer and the gasoline. More helpful approaches could be found if they just dig a bit deeper into their tool bag. Stanford has many smart Israeli and Palestinian students, and many other students and faculty willing to become engaged productively in this dispute. To begin bridging the wide gaps on campus and in the region, the Senators could attempt to spark a genuine dialogue about paths to peace so that, when these students return home, they will know one another’s stories and concerns and bring the nucleus of proposals for coexistence with them. That would be a course more worthy of Stanford’s time.

Dr. Alan S. Fisher, Accelerator Physics and Engineering, SLAC, Stanford University

Contact Alan Fisher at afisher ‘at’ slac.stanford.edu.