March 22, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | BDS: A Reality Check

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To the Editor:

In the guest column “On Divestment and Hypocrisy,” the authors described an idealistic moral calling to divest from companies supporting Israel’s so-called apartheid actions. The truth is not so simple. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extraordinarily complex, and portraying it as they did is inaccurate. Furthermore, their claim that boycotting companies is an action that will lead to meaningful change is fabricated.

To state that the living situation for residents of the West Bank is not ideal is correct. To claim that Palestinians deserve better treatment than what they currently receive is also absolutely right. But to compare what is happening in Israel with apartheid in South Africa represents a severe misunderstanding of the current conflict. Even South African Judge Richard Goldstone, whose U.N. Report on Israeli war crimes was reviled by Israelis and celebrated by Palestinians, has claimed “in Israel, there is no apartheid,” and “the charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony.”

Amarbneil, Emad and Hadiyah discuss five factors that they believe indicate the existence of Israeli apartheid: racist statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, segregated roads, inaccessible land, inhumane working conditions and Palestinians deaths, especially in Gaza. None of these factors actually represent apartheid.

Netanyahu’s statements were reprehensible; they were instantly condemned by Israeli leaders. However, this is not a sign of apartheid. It’s the sign of a politician saying something stupid. Furthermore, Netanyahu apologized for his statements, a fact that escapes mention in their article.

In South Africa, segregation existed because of racism. In Israel, this is not the case. There are few roads in Israel that are segregated, and those ones are made that way exclusively for security reasons. The same is true with regard to inaccessible land. Ideally, there would be no checkpoints and everyone would travel freely around the West Bank. Unfortunately, there are serious security issues that need to be taken into account. Just since September 2015 there have been 206 stabbing attacks, 83 shootings and 42 vehicular ramming attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Palestinians in the West Bank are occasionally subject to inhumane working conditions and low wages. Yet this is not Israel’s fault. Palestinians in the West Bank are not Israeli citizens. They have their own government, the Palestinian Authority. Granted, their government hasn’t held an election since 2006 and is more concerned with criticizing Israel than with helping its own citizens. Nevertheless, people wouldn’t call America apartheid if their citizens weren’t paid the minimum wage of Australia. So how is Israel apartheid because Palestinians are not paid Israeli minimum wage?

Their final issue involves a great distortion of the current situation. Yes, many Palestinian civilians have been killed, especially in Gaza, and this is tremendously sad and distressing. But to argue that Israel is fully responsible for these deaths is a gross misrepresentation of the truth. Between 2005, when Israel unilaterally left Gaza and gave it to the Palestinians, and 2015, over 11,000 weaponized rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza with the purposeful intent of damaging Israel and killing Israelis. Israel had the right to respond to these acts of war. Furthermore, it is well documented that Hamas uses civilians as shields and purposely operates their military in civilian areas, both in clear violation of international law. This also contributes to civilian deaths.

In addition to their arguments about Israeli apartheid being tenuous, their claims that BDS is an appropriate solution to the problem are incorrect. In fact, it hurts those it purports to help. While the Israeli economy remains unaffected by such movements, Palestinian beneficiaries are hurt. The Palestinian Authority’s official daily newspaper published that Israeli companies offer higher wages to Palestinian employees than Palestinian companies and also provide benefits like medical insurance and transportation stipends.

Furthermore, it does not address the main underlying causes of the current conflict. Very recently, the Pew research group did a study on Israelis and Palestinians, and found that one of the major issues preventing peace in the region is a lack of trust. Less than half of Israelis and Palestinians believe peaceful co-existence is possible. This lack of trust must be repaired if there will ever be a solution to the conflict. And BDS does not repair distrust — it exacerbates it. Even Norman Finkelstein, who was once called by Al-Jazeera a “rock star of the Pro-Palestinian movement,” has come out against BDS. He claims the movement is filled with “disingenuousness — they don’t want Israel to exist.”

The article is right on one issue, though. Debate is needed. Sadly, in the past, BDS activists on campus have not been in favor of debate. In 2014, the Student Assembly voted down a BDS motion because they felt it was not their place to be making decisions on such topics. Yet, they strongly encouraged everyone to stay behind to debate the issues at the meeting. This debate did not occur. The supporters of BDS angrily stormed out of the room screaming and shouting.

More than debate being needed, conversation is needed. Debates have winners and losers, but no one gains new insight. Conversations don’t have winners and losers, but everybody learns something new. People in Cornell, whether “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestinian,” need to talk to each other. Learn the other side. Try to increase trust. Peace will be made through understanding, not boycotts.

Reut Baer ’17, Tamara Kahan ’17 & Yonatan Krakow ’18

17 thoughts on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR | BDS: A Reality Check

  1. Conversation is worthless when one party refuses to engage in a meaningful discussion as has been the case for the Palestinians. The Palestinians are not interested in conversation. They are like the Muslims who are brutalizing the Christians of Nigeria, who committed genocide against the Animists in Sudan, who are ethnically cleansing the last of the Hindus of Pakistan.

    One might as well try communicating with Goebbels and his acolytes.

  2. It is not quite accurate to refer to Israel as an apartheid state. A more accurate description of Israel would be to call it a state with Jim Crow-like aspects that runs an apartheid regime in the West Bank. I will provide several sources to back that statements and provide links in a separate post since it takes time for comments with links in them to be approved.

    1) Desmond Tutu won a Noble Peace Prize for his role in fighting apartheid in South Africa. He knows a thing or two more about apartheid. He might even know a bit more about it than South African Judge Richard Goldstone does. On March 10, 2014, The Jerusalem Post ran a column entitled “Desmond Tutu: Israel guilty of apartheid in treatment of Palestinians”. Though he didn’t flat out state Israel = apartheid state, it is very clear from this column that he implied it.

    2) On July 28, 2015, Middle East Monitor ran a column entitled, “Veteran South African activist Denis Goldberg: Israel ‘an apartheid state’” Goldberg, who is Jewish, explicitly called the occupation in the West Bank apartheid.

    3) On August 17, 2015, Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston wrote a column that everyone interested in this topic should read. (Haaretz is an Israeli newspaper). Here is the start of that column, entitled “It’s Time to Admit It. Israeli Policy Is What It Is: Apartheid”

    “What I’m about to write will not come easily for me.

    I used to be one of those people who took issue with the label of apartheid as applied to Israel. I was one of those people who could be counted on to argue that, while the country’s settlement and occupation policies were anti-democratic and brutal and slow-dose suicidal, the word apartheid did not apply.

    I’m not one of those people any more.  Not after the last few weeks.”

    I can’t encourage you enough to read the entire column.

    The evolution of Israel’s occupation in the West Bank into an apartheid regime could have been predicted. In fact, Yitzhak Rabin warned of this 40 years ago. The Times of Israel staff wrote a column on September 25, 2015 entitled “In 1976 interview, Rabin likens settler ideologues to ‘cancer,’ warns of ‘apartheid’ “. I encourage you to contemplate this warning written by the former Prime Minister who was assassinated by an extreme right-wing Jewish terrorist. (Incidentally, Rabin’s widow blamed Bibi Netanyahu and his fellow Likud colleagues for fostering an atmosphere of hatred that led to Rabin’s assassination, but that’s another story.)

  3. Reut Baer, Tamara Kahan & Yonatan Krakow write:

    “the Pew research group did a study on Israelis and Palestinians, and found that one of the major issues preventing peace in the region is a lack of trust. ”

    Why Israeli Jews don’t trust Palestinians is well-known to most Americans. We constantly hear about Hamas’ bloody charter, about the rockets coming into Israel from Gaza, and the all too frequent terrorist attacks against Israel. And if you are the 1 in a million Americans who aren’t familiar with Israeli Jewish grievances against the Palestinians, I’m sure Arafat will be dropping by any minute to fill you in–though I do encourage you to fact check him and learn some highly relevant context for his rather one-sided interpretation of history.

    What is less well known is how Israel has fanned, and continues to fan the flames of mistrust amongst Palestinians. I could easily write many columns about this, but here are a few highlights–

    1) Israel refused to allow roughly 750,000 Arabs return to their home after the wars in 1947/48. This the Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe.

    2) There is strong Nakba denial in Israel. Though it is not illegal to talk about the Nakba, it is illegal for teachers in Israel to teach their students about it.

    3) There is a concerted effort by Israel and its supporters to deny that what is happening in the West Bank is apartheid. There is a concerted effort to paint a happy face over an extremely brutal occupation. Witness this column. Though to be fair, some Israeli officials and former officials have acknowledged the brutality. Former Shin Bet leader, Avraham Shalom, was speaking of the IDF when he mournfully said,

    ” it’s a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II. Similar, not identical. And I’m not talking about their behavior toward the Jews. That was exceptional, with its own particular characteristics. I mean how they acted to the Poles, the Belgians, the Dutch. . . To all of them… The Czechs. It’s a very negative trait that we acquired, to be… I’m afraid to say it, so I won’t. We’ve become cruel, to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population, using the excuse of the war against terror. ”

    4) Israel appointed a flaming racist, MK Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, to oversee the Civil Administration of Palestinians in the West Bank. In 2013. Ben-Dahan said, “[Palestinians] are beasts, they are not human.” And if that wasn’t enough, he also said, “A Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile, even if he is a homosexual.”

    5) There is a concerted effort by Israel and its supporters to outlaw where possible speech in favor of boycotting Israel. It is now illegal to advocate BDS in France. Where speech is protected by the First Amendment, there is a concerted effort to either penalize those who support BDS or discredit and stigmatize such speech by mislabeling it as “anti-Semitic”. One bill was has passed the New York State and one bill is pending in a New York State Senate committee that would penalize those supporting BDS. And today, the University of California Board of Regents will be discussing a resolution that states “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” Now, declaring that anti-Semitism has no place at UC is well and good. I applaud this part of the resolution. But conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a bad-faith tactic use by Israel’s supporters to suppress legitimate free speech. It is bad enough that Israel stomps on Palestinian rights, especially in the West Bank. When SOME of Israel’s supporters try to stomp on the First Amendment in the U.S., they should be vigorously opposed.

    (Links supporting these arguments will be posted later)

    • I need to make a correction to what I wrote earlier. I wrote:

      “ There is strong Nakba denial in Israel. Though it is not illegal to talk about the Nakba, it is illegal for teachers in Israel to teach their students about it.”

      Actually, it is not illegal for teachers to teach about the Nakba in Israel, but it is strongly discouraged. According to an article in Haaretz, “The Nakba Law grants the finance minister the authority to impose harsh fines on government-funded organizations that budget expenses for (among other things ) marking Independence Day as a day of mourning.”

      http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/chilling-effect-of-the-nakba-law-on-israel-s-human-rights-1.430942

      According to the Israeli based online magazine, +972

      “the Israeli government initiated the Nakba law, authorizing the finance minister to withdraw funds from organizations commemorating the Nakba. One in every five Israelis is a Palestinian, and the law basically means that their public institutions are not allowed to deal with their own history. A petition against the law wasrejected by the Supreme Court, demonstrating how threatened Israelis feel – that even the institution which is considered, and certainly considers itself the guardian of civil liberties, was ready to put such a limit on free speech. Since 2009 Palestinian schools have not been allowed to discuss or even use the term Nakba as part of their curriculum.”

      http://972mag.com/despite-efforts-to-erase-it-the-nakbas-memory-is-more-present-than-ever-in-israel/71468/

      The law has worked well in discouraging most schools from teaching about the Nakba as a day of mourning for Palestinians. There are exceptions though.

      I regret the error.

    • Links documenting points in my 6:47 am post.

      Former Shin Bet leader, Avraham Shalom can be seen remarking on the cruel occupation in the Israeli-produced, Oscar nominated movie, “The Gatekeepers.” You can see the relevant clip here

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17ye3-GnztE

      The quotes from Eli Ben-Dahan can be seen at the following links

      http://972mag.com/nstt_feeditem/israeli-deputy-minister-jews-have-a-higher-soul-than-gentiles-even-if-theyre-gay/

      http://www.timesofisrael.com/new-deputy-defense-minister-called-palestinians-animals/

      http://972mag.com/next-head-of-civil-administration-said-palestinians-are-sub-human/106533/

      On Delegitimizing, penalizing, and criminalizing speech in favor of BDS:

      Glen Greenwald and Andrew Fishman wrote an article entitled, “Greatest Threat to Free Speech in the West: Criminalizing Activism Against Israeli Occupation”. It is a good overview of the movement to penalize pro-BDS speech

      https://theintercept.com/2016/02/16/greatest-threat-to-free-speech-in-the-west-criminalizing-activism-against-israeli-occupation

      Greenwald wrote a follow up article which stated—

      “In October [2015], France’s highest court upheld the criminal conviction of activists who advocate boycotts and sanctions against Israel as a means of ending the occupation. What did these criminals do? They “arrived at the supermarket wearing shirts emblazoned with the words: ‘Long live Palestine, boycott Israel’” and “also handed out fliers that said that ‘buying Israeli products means legitimizing crimes in Gaza.’” Because boycotts against Israel were deemed “anti-semitic” by the French court, it was a crime to advocate them.”

      https://theintercept.com/2016/01/08/where-were-the-post-hebdo-free-speech-crusaders-as-france-spent-the-last-year-crushing-free-speech/

      On the University of California resolution that threatens anti-BDS speech-

      “Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism: Someone please tell Hillary Clinton and the University of California” by David Palumbo-Liu. Highly recommended

      http://www.salon.com/2016/03/22/anti_zionism_does_not_equal_anti_semitism_someone_please_tell_hillary_clinton_and_the_university_of_california/

      My take on this University of California resolution

      http://themessinglink.com/UC_Anti_Free_Speech_Resolution

      My discussion of the anti-BDS bill that passed the New York State Senate
      http://themessinglink.com/A9036

    • At the end of WWI, the Ottoman Empire lost its Middle East possessions (which it had conquered in the 16th century) to the victorious Allies. The Allies, having taken possession as was customary under international law, then turned over those territories to the League of Nations for disposition under the newly created Mandate system. The Turks recognized their loss of these territories at Lausanne. All this is in conformity with international law. Mandates were then set up to deal with the former Ottoman and German colonies, all with a view to establishing states for the designated population.
      With respect to the Mandate for Palestine, the Jewish people were identified as the indigenous people who were granted the right under international law to re-establish their national homeland in a territory that the League formally called Palestine and gave that land, for the first time in history, a formal internationally recognized boundary. BTW the subsequent name change to Israel is unremarkable when you consider that the Mandate for Mesopotamia became Iraq. Palestine, as it existed in 1922, comprised about 0.75% of the former Ottoman holdings. All the rest became Arab ruled lands. However, in 1923, the British, as Mandatory power, closed off 78% of the territory to Jewish immigration and created the Emirate of Transjordan. That left a land comprising around 0.25% for Jewish settlement and eventual nationhood.
      What distinguished the Mandate for Palestine from the other dozen or so Mandates was that a majority of the indigenous population lived outside of Palestine – which was the very reason that the Jewish people were given a clearly expressed right of return and settlement. As an aside, you can compare the specific provisions in the Mandate with the fantasy basis for the Palesitinian Arabs’ “right” of return under the non-binding UNGA 194 (which, it goes without saying, was unanimously rejected by the Arab states at the time).
      In any event, moving forward, when the UN was created, Article 80 of its Charter prohibited diminishing the rights of, among others, the Jewish people that had been given under still-existing Mandates. The UN offer of compromise, non-binding resolution 181, was rejected by the Arab countries who invaded the new state.
      However, as a matter of international law – based on the 19th century doctrine of uti possidetis juris (developed to set the internationally recognized borders of the newly independent states of South America) – the sovereignty of the Israeli state extended to the last recognized borders of the Mandate territory, and this was true regardless of (1) who else may have been inhabiting the land or (2) whether or not Israel could in fact excercize its sovereignty, so long as it did not formally waive that soveriegnty (which it hasn’t except perhaps as to Gaza in 2005). If you want to see what an explicit waiver of rights to sovereignty looks like, coincidentally, the Palestinians point the way. You need only read article 24 of the 1964 PLO Charter. It couldn’t be more explicit, and, of course, in international law, a voluntary waiver of rights is binding.
      What this all means is that, as a matter of international law, the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, with the possible exclusion of Gaza, is Israeli. Having identified who has rights to the land, the next question is the political one: what is a fair settlement to achieve a lasting peace? That is not a function of law but of good will and compromise.
      I hope this background helps you in your continued thinking about the Israeli-Arab conflict. If you are going to respond, you would do well to try to point out flaws in either the history I have given or the legal reasoning I have explained. If your only response will be appeals to supposed authority, that is, as you know, a rhetorical device and not an answer – in fact, it is quite the opposite.

    • • There is no “Palestine”. There might have been, but they chose war instead- time and again:
      The would-have-been “Palestinians” would have had a state IN PEACE in 1937 with the Peel Plan, but they violently rejected it.
      They would have had a state IN PEACE in 1939 with the MacDonald White Paper, but they violently rejected it (and Jews would have even been restricted from BUYING land from Arabs).
      They would have had a state IN PEACE in 1948 with UN 181, but they violently rejected it (and actually claimed that the UN had no such mandate!).
      They could have had a state IN PEACE in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza from 1948-1967 without any Jews- because the Arabs had ethnically cleansed every last one; but they violently rejected it. In fact, that’s exactly when they established Fatah (1959) and the PLO (1964).
      They could have had a state IN PEACE after 1967, but instead, the entire Arab world issued the Khartoum Resolutions:
      A. No peace with Israel
      B. No recognition of Israel
      C. No negotiations with Israel
      They would have had a state IN PEACE in 2000 with the Oslo Accords, but they violently rejected it- as always.
      And as soon as Israel pulled every single Israeli out of Gaza, what did the would-have-been “Palestinians” do? They immediately started shooting thousands of missiles into Israeli population centers, they elected Hamas (whose official platform calls for jihad with no negotiations until Israel is destroyed) to rule them, and they have dug tunnels crossing into the Negev to kill and kidnap Israelis.
      And even afterwards, Ehud Olmert made his subsequent generous offer that went far beyond even that of Barak. The would-have-been “Palestinians” rejected it.
      They had many chances.
      They threw them all away because destroying Israel was higher on their priority list. It still is.
      Oh well. That’s their choice.

      • this person is the first to cry “but they don’t even recognize Israel”. Ask the UN. Have the leaders of Israel, the military ask the homeowners that have been evicted and had their homes bull-dozed for the land to be later #Occupied by “settlers”. Israel is a nation–but they shouldn’t force their religion on all who live there. This church/state thing is messed up with any nation. Give people free will.

  4. Pingback: Letter: BDS – A Reality Check | In Focus

  5. I wonder why the authors believe that a segregated road, for security, is a sign of apartheid under Israeli rule yet these same authors conveniently leave out the fact that in Saudi Arabia there are roads banned to non-Muslims on the way to the holy sites. These same holy sites are banned to non-Muslims, of course, because while anyone can go to the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, or the Churches of the Nativity or the Holy Sepulchre, Muslims cannot have us infidels on their holy sites. The mere presence of some Israeli Jews standing on the Temple Mount (where two Muslim mosques were built ON TOP of Judaism’s holiest site) is enough to cause the Muslim worshipers to threaten violence.

    Maybe the authors are too naive to know about what’s happening in Qatar in preparation for the World Cup. Qatar imported hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, most from SE Asia, and hundreds have died in horrible working conditions. SHOCKINGLY, they don’t earn anywhere near what Palestinians in the West Bank earn and their working conditions are clearly inhuman. Yet no call for BDS.

    Maybe the authors are too naive to know that Turkey, a Muslim so-called democracy (at least until Mr. Erdogan completely destroys its once free press), has been illegally occupying half of Cyprus for 40 years. Yet no call for BDS.

    Maybe the authors are too naive to know that Morocco, a Muslim non-democracy, has been occupying Western Sahara. Yet no call for BDS.

    Maybe the authors don’t know about what Russia is doing in Ukraine or Chechnya. Yet no call for BDS.

    Maybe the authors don’t know about Kashmir and the competing Pakistani and Indian claims to this conflicted land. Yet no call for BDS.

    So if you want to know why those who oppose BDS are sometimes wary that the REAL motive is to destroy Israel completely, mixed with just a tinge of anti-Semitism, this is why.

    If you REALLY cared about human rights and where your school was invested, you’d demand a BDS movement against ALL countries occupying land, including the Muslim-majority countries who amazingly escape any criticism of their abysmal human rights records.

  6. When Israel wants peace, they will give up the brutal manifest destiny of zionism and stop evicting people from their homes, then bulldozing them so they can then build “settlements” on stolen land.

    Great points the OP had about US wages and Australia, because that seems like such a great comparison.

    • Do you happen to know what happened to the homes of all the Jews who lived in Iraq, Yemen, and other Muslim majority countries, but had to flee in fear for their lives? Do you know where those Jews can go for their compensation?

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