March 22, 2016


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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