The one-sided Harvard-MIT divest petition

Ron Evans

(December 2002;  last updated 2011)

The extraordinarily complex Palestinian-Israeli conflict involves massive human rights violations on both sides. The Harvard-MIT divest petition [1] offers an incredibly simplistic remedy that singles out Israel for punishment. Critics have rightfully pointed out that the petition is hypocritical and antisemitic in effect. It condemns acts of violence on both sides, yet demands punishment of one side only - hence the charge of hypocrisy. It calls for economic sanctions against Israel but none against Palestinian organizations bent on eliminating the Jewish State-- hence the charge of effective antisemitism.

In an article of June 2002 entitled In Defense of Human Rights [2], seven professors attempt to defend the divest petition. We quote passages below and and then comment on them [in brackets].

"The idea that Israel should respect the human rights of all people and comply with international agreements is uncontroversial in most of the world. Here in the United States, and especially in our own universities, however, this petition has elicited a surprising amount of controversy and ill will."

[The professors seem unprepared to acknowledge that the ill will generated by the petition is a result of its inequity. Instead, they impugn their critics' motives, insinuating that the opprobrium comes chiefly from Americans who absolve Israel's human rights violations. Ironically, the authors conclude by expressing the hope that their own motives will not be questioned.]

"The Middle East is in crisis. Palestinian and Israeli civilians are killed daily, and that very troubled part of the world is experiencing a new escalation of fear, hatred, and mistrust. Nevertheless, a solution to this tragedy exists, and it has been accepted by nearly every country in the world, including the U. S. government: Two independent states, the state of Israel occupying its recognized borders, and a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. We and many others in this country and the Middle East, including Israelis as well as Palestinians, are optimistic that this outcome is both possible and workable as a way to insure long-term stability and security for all parties in the region. The purpose of our petition is to mobilize the substantial power of the U.S. government and economy to bring about this outcome."

[The professors claim to support a two-state solution while promulgating a petition which strengthens the hand of organizations opposing a two-state solution. Hamas and Islamic Jihad vow to continue attacking Israel until it is replaced with an Islamic State. Hamas leaders have been enormously popular with the Palestinian people. Suicide attacks on Israeli civilians have had an approval rating exceeding 60% during 2002-2005. Shockingly unconcerned with these facts (all documented in [3]), the petitioners have decided to help effectuate a two-state solution by mobilizing the substantial power of the U.S. government against Israel alone.]

"Further reason to doubt that Israel will spontaneously end its occupation comes from the insistence that ending of the occupation be contingent on the complete end of individual acts of violence by Palestinians. Although we condemn acts of violence on both sides as the divest petition states, this is a condition that no government could ever meet, however effective and powerful it is. Even the U.S. government cannot guarantee that none of its citizens will engage in acts of violence - that we will see no more Oklahoma bombings or Littleton school shoot-outs."

[The professors would have us believe that Israel is overly concerned about isolated mavericks like Tim McVeigh. What concerns Israel are the popular well-funded Palestinian organizations engaging in systematic campaigns of terror designed to maximize civilian casualties. There have been over 840 Israelis killed and 4000 wounded in the period 2001-2003 [4] by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, PFLP, et al. (Relative to total population, this is equivalent to a staggering 39,000 Americans killed and 188,000 Americans wounded in a three year period.)   The petitioners reprove these attacks only as lip service - they advocate absolutely no sanctions on Palestinian terrorism. Yet they actively promote measures to destabilize Israel and endanger her people.]

"As terrible as suicide bombings are, they do not justify continued occupation or abrogation of the human rights of Palestinians."

[Similar counsel was given in the weeks after September 11, 2001: "As terrible as the suicide attacks in New York and Washington are, they do not justify the abrogation of the human rights of Afghanis." Had this advice been followed, the Taliban and al-Qaeda training camps would still be flourishing in Afghanistan today.]

Many people fault the Palestinian Authority for being uninterested in peace, as evidenced by their alleged rejection of reasonable peace proposals. However, the offer that Arafat rejected at Camp David in July of 2000 would have resulted in the annexation by Israel of 10% of the West Bank, and would have left under Israeli control the largest settlement blocks, 80% of the settlers, and the grid of roads connecting them. Worse, the Israeli holdings would have cut the West bank into three noncontiguous Bantustans completely surrounded by Israeli territory, with the settler roads further dividing the Palestinian areas into 29 smaller pieces.

[This statement about Bantustans is a notorious lie disseminated by Arafat's team at Camp David. The map showing what Israel actually offered may be found at [5]. According to Shlomo Ben-Ami [6], Barak's representative at the peace talks,

"And when the ridiculous contention was voiced that what we were proposing to the Palestinians was cantons and that they would not have territorial contiguity, I went to [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak and showed him a map. As I recall, it was still the 8-percent map, a map of 8-92. Mubarak perused it with interest and asked aloud why the Palestinians were claiming they didn't have contiguity."]
Finally, Israel demanded that an additional 10% of the land (“green land”) would be under Israeli control for a period of 25 years. This land in the Jordan Valley would have given Israel total control over the relationship between the Palestinian entity and the outside world. Clearly this proposal is inconsistent with a viable Palestinian state.

[Interestingly, Arafat claimed in June 2002 that the Clinton peace plan was viable after all [7], although few paid any heed to his bids for peace once it became common knowledge that he praised suicide attacks in Arabic while denouncing them in English. In August 2004, Arafat intoned his usual Arabic refrain before thousands in Ramallah [8]:
"With our souls, with our blood we will sacrifice for Palestine. ...We are going to Jerusalem, martyrs in the millions."
Nabil Amr, former information minister in Arafat's cabinet and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, wrote in London's Arab newspaper Al-Hayat (September 2, 2002) [9]:
Didn't we dance to the failure of Camp David? Didn't we deface pictures of President Bill Clinton who courageously put on the table the proposal for a Palestinian State with minor modifications? Aren't we doing just that, dancing in the face of a grand failure? Yes. But were we honest in what we did? No. We were not, because today, after two years of bloodshed, we call for exactly what we refused, only after we became sure it was impossible to achieve!
From [10]:
In September 2002, armed assailants shot several rounds into the home of Nabil Amr after he and several other prominent establishment figures were accused of treason and scheming to eliminate Arafat.
Amr's right leg had to be amputated after he was shot in his West Bank home on July 20, 2004. Amr had just finished a television interview in which he criticized Arafat's leadership [11].

Had Arafat accepted the peace plan in January 2001, the Middle East would have been spared years of abject misery. Instead, the Palestinian Authority chose the path of suicide bombings [12], [13]. According to Al-Safir (March 3, 2001), Palestinian Communications Minister Imad Al-Faluji stated [14]:

This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat's return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton. ... The Palestinian Resistance will strike in Tel-Aviv, in Ashkelon, in Jerusalem, and in every inch of the land of natural Palestine. Israel will not have a single quiet night.]
"The talks in January 2001 at Taba - which would have still left two thirds of the Israeli settlers living in 87 West bank settlements - were a significant improvement. However, they were ended not by a walkout of the Palestinian Authority, but by the election of Ariel Sharon."

[The Taba talks were ended before the February 6 election of Sharon. After learning of Arafat's bellicose speech in Davos (January 28, 2001), Barak cut off diplomatic contact with Arafat. According to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times [15]:
Well, Mr. Peres did extend the olive branch, as planned, but Mr. Arafat torched it. Reading in Arabic from a prepared text, Mr. Arafat denounced Israel for its "fascist military aggression" and "colonialist armed expansionism," and its policies of "murder, persecution, assassination, destruction and devastation."
This speech finally made it clear that the Palestinian Authority had no interest in becoming a peace partner with Israel.]

"We are puzzled by the resistance of Israel's supporters to the conditions in the divest petition, because we think it is clear that Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is not only unjust and injurious to the Palestinians but also very harmful and strategically disastrous for the Israelis."

[The petition pressures Israel to end occupation, with no concomitant pressure against militant Palestinian organizations which regard all of Israel as occupied. And the professors profess to be puzzled!]

"Much of the danger that Israel now faces comes from the misery and hopelessness of three million people whose land Israel occupies in the West Bank and Gaza."

The petitioners would have us believe that occupation of Palestinian territories (which began after the 1967 war) is the reason Israel faces danger. Israel was the victim of hundreds of Arab terrorist attacks between 1948 and 1966 [16]. These attacks were motivated by occupation only insofar as Arabs considered all of Israel to be occupied.

[As Pat Clawson indicates below, Palestinians' misery and hopelessness is largely the result of their obsession to take over Israel. It is no surprise that Israel would face danger from a society which inculcates hatred and glorifies martyrdom [17], [18], [19]. A common refrain of suicide attackers and their supporters is "there is no other option". This too was the justification used by the Chechen guerrilla Basayev (see the front page of the September 18, 2004 New York Times) after the siege at a school in Beslan resulted in the deaths of over 180 children. There was no other choice!

While some suicide attacks are motivated by despair, many are the result of political and religious ideology, revenge, and hatred. Hamas, PFLP, and Islamic Jihad have made clear their political motive: to put all of Israel under Islamic control. Defending the choice of women as suicide bombers, Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin said that fighting Israel was a religious duty for all Muslims, male and female [20]. The glory of Islamic martyrdom has motivated both Palestinian and foreign suicide attacks in Israel [21], [22]. An interview with fifteen year old Hussam Abdo [23] reveals that he donned an explosive belt for personal revenge. Nationalistic and religious fervor are motives for many child suicide bombers [24].

Palestinian terrorism serves to perpetuate the current misery and hopelessness. Pat Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writes [25]:
The biggest single barrier to Palestinian growth is their violence against Israel, which forces Israel to impose closures and curfews. Those who want to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians should concentrate on stopping their offensive, which would allow Israel to lift the devastating restrictions on the flow of goods.]
"Why do we call on the U.S. government, MIT, and Harvard to cease military aid and investments in Israel but not Palestine? First, we believe that a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, coupled with a commitment to respect international conventions on human rights, are the most important steps that could be taken to bring peace to the region."

[Unilateral withdrawal from occupied territories may have advantages, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad have made it clear that it will not end their attacks [26]. One thus wonders how unilateral withdrawal will "bring peace to the region". Hamas has fired thousands of Qassam rockets into Israel [27], and the missile attacks have rained death and destruction on the town of Sderot [28]. Israeli disengagement from Gaza (August 2005) created the fear that Hamas would take advantage by launching missiles from closer range, threatening not only the besieged town of Sderot but also the larger city of Ashkelon. This fear turned out to be well-founded; rocket attacks on Israel increased more than sixfold, becoming nearly daily occurrences [29], [30]. In 2008, 3200 Palestinian rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza. The total number of rocket/mortar attacks from Gaza in the period 2001-2011 exceeds 12000 [31].

Not all Palestinians agree with the petitioners that Israel should withdraw unilaterally without any concessions from the other side. Former Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo addressed the Israeli public [32]:
The suicide bombings will not bring us peace, and confiscating of our liberty will not bring you security. Let us together reject extremism in all its forms. Let us together choose the path of peaceful negotiations.
Regarding suicide bombings, Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh said in July 2004 [33]:
And in addition to its being morally outrageous, I think it's, even from a political point of view, totally counterproductive because, as I say, it's premised on the rejection of seeing others as human beings. And you cannot really advance in peace or in negotiations unless you in fact see others as human beings, as equals.
Instead of promoting the path of peaceful negotiations, the professors prefer to proffer petitions that serve the terrorists' interests.]

"Although violence has come from both sides of this conflict, the positions of Israelis and Palestinians are not symmetrical. Millions of Palestinians are living under Israeli occupation, but no Israelis are living under Palestinian rule."

[Moral asymmetry between occupied and occupier becomes blurred when one takes into account that a significant percentage of the occupied violently oppose any Jewish presence at all in the Middle East. This is one of the primary reasons for the war that led to occupation in the first place!]

"Palestinian homes are demolished by Israeli bulldozers but not vice versa."

[Restaurants full of people are demolished by Palestinian terrorists, but not vice versa.]

"Israel imposes curfews and checkpoints on Palestinians, not the reverse."

[Palestinians don't need to impose curfews and checkpoints because it is not Israeli policy to send its citizens into Gaza hospitals, buses, and restaurants strapped with explosives. Checkpoints can be cruel, but they are the direct result of Palestinian terrorism. Dramatic evidence of how checkpoints save lives is provided in a 2005 video of a woman who attempted to blow herself up the very hospital in which she was being treated [34] ; see also [35] , [36] , [37] .]

"The Israeli government has explicitly endorsed torture, assassination, and deportation as acceptable actions against those it suspects have engaged in acts of violence."

[The Palestinian Authority has endorsed murder, crippling, and blinding of random men, women, and children who are not suspects at all [38] . The PLO has a long history of such violence; the 1974 massacre at Maalot (a precursor to the massacre at Beslan) is one of many examples of horrific attacks targeting school children [39].]

"And in the last few months, Israel has systematically destroyed Palestinian schools, hospitals, businesses, and civic institutions."

[There is a long list of buses, schools, businesses and institutions destroyed by Palestinians [40]. One could continue matching destruction for destruction, but it is already clear that "asymmetry" is a vacuous excuse for singling out Israel.]

"Moreover, the United States government and economic institutions have not played symmetrical roles in the conflict. Israel is the recipient of enormous U.S. military aid and investment, whereas Palestine is the recipient of very little. Were we providing the arms for both sides of this conflict, then it might be reasonable to demand a halt to all our funding of both sides. In fact, however, both U.S. military aid and corporate military investments are directed almost entirely toward Israel. This is the most striking, and dangerous, asymmetry in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

[Asymmetry in U.S. funding is irrelevant. The Taliban, poor and underfunded as they are, deserve severe sanctions for their terrorism, irrespective of asymmetry.

The authors say that the asymmetry makes it unreasonable to "demand a halt to all our funding of both sides." In fact the authors find it unreasonable to make any demands on the Palestinian side. The conditions listed in the petition are ultimatums against Israel - not a single condition addresses Palestinian terrorism. This is a tremendous moral failing in a petition that claims to value human rights for all.

Incidentally, the United States has given Egypt over 2 billion dollars per year during the last quarter century, over half of that for military aid [41], and the petitioners haven't uttered a peep about Egypt's abysmal human rights record [42]. If they are not fixated on the Jewish state and are indeed concerned with global human rights violations perpetuated with U.S. dollars, it is curious that they have expressed no interest in reducing U.S. imports from China. After all, the colossal 113 billion dollars that China received from the U.S. imports in 2002 (over 140 billion in 2003) helps maintain the brutal, half-century long occupation of Tibet.

Palestinians have received billions of dollars in international aid up through 2007 [43], [44], and they received 7.4 billion dollars more in the period 2008-2010 [45]. Millions of these dollars have been diverted from economic programs to fatten the wallets of Palestinian leaders [46] and to finance suicide attacks [47]. As is detailed in [48],
One of the documents captured is a table found in the "Tulkarm Charity Association", detailing the 10th payments cycle to "casualties of Intifada Al Quds" in the West Bank (in total, the payment cycle consisted of 2,040,000 Saudi Riyal, approx. $545,000). The table lists payments made to 102 families of terrorists who died during 2001, each family receiving 20,000 Riyal (approx. $5340). According to the table, the funds were transferred to the families through the Arab Bank. They were handed over to beneficiaries whose names and ID numbers are mentioned in the table.
The Palestinian Authority could afford to sponsor terrorism for decades to come: according to a bill submitted in 2001 by Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades to Arafat's chief finance officer Fouad Shoubaki, an explosive charge for a suicide bombing costs less than $150 [49]. The Brigades have received much of their funding from Iran [50]. The petitioners, gravely concerned about financial aid to Israel, are completely silent about the financing of Palestinian terrorism.]

"While we believe that Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories is the most important step toward ensuring the security needs of both Israelis and Palestinians, we recognize that many further steps may be needed to ensure a lasting peace, such as the stationing of an international peacekeeping force along the border. Our hope is that these measures will ensure a secure, democratic Israel beside a secure, democratic Palestine."

[The authors' assurances about security are questionable in the absence of any expressed interest from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, or Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in coexisting peacefully with a Jewish state. The prospect of international peacekeepers offers little comfort; soldiers are ineffective against suicide bombs, as Iraqis have discovered since 2002.]

"Third, why do we single out Israel and ignore violations of human rights committed by other countries? This is a strange sort of criticism: Social, political, and human rights problems are normally tackled one by one, as they arise."

[The authors of "In defense of human rights" agitate for the rights of Palestinians only, maintaining that "human rights problems are normally tackled one by one, as they arise". Prioritizing at the expense of human rights of Israelis in the Middle East conflict is blatantly discriminatory. Amnesty International's Middle East Department would lose all credibility if it used the fatuous justification "human rights problems are normally tackled one by one" to restrict attention to the human rights of just one side of a conflict.]

"Some of our critics have claimed or implied that our focus on Israel's policies is the result of anti-Semitism. Accusations of anti-Semitism have been used for decades to stifle criticism of Israeli policy, and they have been extremely effective. The world has been astonishingly silent during decades of Israeli occupation, and much of America still does not dare to raise any criticism of Israel. When criticisms of Israel are expressed, the charge of anti-Semitism serves to deflect attention away from the Israeli governmental actions that prompted the criticisms.

[Criticism of Israel's policies is clearly not antisemitic and should be encouraged. But the petition does far more than criticize government. It demands one-sided measures that benefit militants whose agenda is the mass murder of Israeli Jews. That militants prefer to target Israeli Jews is clear; the bombs blow up students at Hebrew University, not Al Quds University.]

"We want the petition to open up discussion of these issues in our academic communities and beyond. We hope that Israel's supporters will join us in an open debate, not try to stifle discussion by questioning our motives. We firmly believe that an open exchange of ideas, free from personal attacks, offers the best hope of progress in breaking the current deadlock and moving toward a resolution of the conflict that respects the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis alike."

John Assad, Patrick Cavanagh, Danny Fox, Nancy Kanwisher, Ken Nakayama, Molly Potter, Elizabeth Spelke

[In sum, the petitioners demand no sanctions against terrorists devoted to eradicating the Jewish state, while they fervently advocate actions to cripple Israel's economy and weaken her defense. The excuses offered for this one-sidedness are unconvincing. Little wonder that hundreds of Harvard and MIT faculty agree that the petition is not pro human rights but rather anti-Israel [51].

We close with the words of Michael Walzer, peace activist and Princeton professor of philosophy ("Arguing About War", Yale University Press, 2004, p. 129):
Only when the European critics of Israel are prepared to tell the Palestinians that there will be no help for a PA complicit in terrorism, can they ask American critics of Palestinians to deliver a parallel message to the Israeli government. Intellectuals committed to internationalism can best serve their cause by explaining and defending the two messages together." ]

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