April 9, 2014

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Boycotting Israel Hurts Palestinians

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To the Editor:

Re: “GUEST ROOM: Why Cornell Shouldn’t Have Invited Ehud Olmert,” Opinion, April 8.

In a recent column, Emad Masroor ’17 used the canceled appearance of Ehud Olmert to give misleading accounts of Israel’s wars and criticize Cornell for its connections to Israeli institutions. Even more disappointing is Masroor’s outright rejection of any dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders or activists and his denial of the existence of a second narrative. Sadly, rather than advocating for the mutual recognition, Masroor allies himself with a boycott movement that tries hopelessly to make Israel disappear and hurts Palestinians along the way.

His charges of mass expulsion and apartheid were already addressed in previous response, but a few points are worth repeating. Arab states started the 1948 war that created the Palestinian refugee problem, and Israel does not practice racism or apartheid. In fact, Israeli citizens of diverse religions and race have full citizenship and equality. Most Palestinians in the West Bank are represented by the Palestinian authority, living under its full civil and security control.

Masroor cites casualty figures from the Lebanon and Gaza wars, but omits how those wars began in the first place. Roughly 3,000 rockets were fired by Hamas and other terror groups before Operation Cast Lead, killing over 30 Israeli civilians. The 2006 war began when Hezbollah, the Iranian terrorist group in Lebanon, ambushed Israel Defense Forces vehicles on the Israeli side of the border, killing five soldiers. Hezbollah then unleashed a barrage of rocket attacks at Israeli civilians. According to Col. Richard Kemp, a former British army commander who testified before the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding the gaza war, “during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare.” In both cases, Hamas and Hezbollah intentionally hid rockets and missiles in schools, hospitals and civilian homes, making it impossible to completely avoid civilian casualties.

The United States recognizes the legitimacy of both sides in this conflict, which is why it supports the Palestinians with $440 million of annual aid. America supports efforts to build mutual understanding because peace can help Palestinians and Israelis. In fact, Ehud Olmert is a passionate advocate for Palestinian statehood, frequently critical of the current government for not conceding enough to reach an agreement. He personally presented a two-state peace plan to Mahmoud Abbas at the end of his term, and he would have advocated strongly for Palestinian statehood at Cornell.

Cornell is associated with Israeli academia and businesses, both of which actually benefit Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians. Twenty percent of Technion’s students are Israeli Arabs, who are major contributors Israel’s high tech culture. Many Palestinians are employed by Israeli companies, and they almost always receive better wages than they would in Palestinian cities. Therefore, the boycott Masroor favors would only hurt the people he claims to be advocating for. In fact, improving dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and civilians, actually has the potential to improve Palestinian lives.

Adam Schlussel ’16