The word “peace” does not appear in divestment petitions, which makes clear the intent is not to resolve the conflict but to delegitimize Israel. Petitioners blame Israel for the lack of peace and demand that it make unilateral concessions without requiring anything of the Palestinians, not even the cessation of terrorism.
Peace in the Middle East will come only from direct negotiations between the parties, and only after the Arab states recognize Israel’s right to exist, and the Palestinians and other Arabs cease their support of terror. American universities cannot help through misguided divestment campaigns that unfairly single out Israel as the source of conflict in the region.
Harvard University President Lawrence Summers observed that the divestment efforts are anti-Semitic. “Profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities," said Summers. "Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent.”
One clear indication that the divestment campaign is anti-Semitic is that it singles out the Jewish state alone, among all the nations of the world, for special treatment. If the divestment proponents were concerned about human rights they would be focusing on the world’s principal human rights violators, such as China, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
It is especially ironic that the divestment campaign is allegedly designed to benefit the Palestinians whose own rulers in the Palestinian Authority, have been documented to be among the world’s worst abusers of human rights, suppressing the freedom of speech, press, and assembly, and discriminating against women.
Divestment advocates ignore Israel’s efforts during the Oslo peace process, and at the summit meetings with President Clinton, to reach historic compromises with the Palestinians that would have created a Palestinian state, compromises rejected out of hand by Yasser Arafat.
Divestment proponents hope to tar Israel with an association with apartheid South Africa, an offensive comparison that ignores the fact that all Israeli citizens are equal under the law. “The Israeli regime is not apartheid,” South African Interior Minister Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi said. “It is a unique case of democracy.”
Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights; in fact, it is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab women may vote. Arabs currently hold 10 seats in the 120-seat Knesset; they have served in the Cabinet, high-level foreign ministry posts (e.g., Ambassador to Finland), and on the Supreme Court.
Arabic, like Hebrew, is an official language in Israel. More than 300,000 Arab children attend Israeli schools. At the time of Israel’s founding, there was one Arab high school in the country. Today, there are hundreds of Arab schools
Under apartheid, black South Africans could not vote and were not citizens of the country in which they formed the overwhelming majority of the population. Laws dictated where they could live, work and travel. And, in South Africa, the government killed blacks who protested against its policies. By contrast Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech. Some of the government’s harshest critics are Israeli Arabs who are members of the Knesset.
The divestment campaign against South Africa was specifically directed at companies that were using that country’s racist laws to their advantage. In Israel no such racist laws exist; moreover, companies doing business there adhere to the same standards of equal working rights that are applied in the United States.
The situation of Palestinians in the territories is different. The security requirements of the nation, and a violent insurrection in the territories, forced Israel to impose restrictions on Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that are not necessary inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders. The Palestinians in the territories, typically, dispute Israel’s right to exist whereas blacks did not seek the destruction of South Africa, only the apartheid regime.
If Israel were to give Palestinians full citizenship, it would mean the territories had been annexed. No Israeli government has been prepared to take that step. Instead, through negotiations, Israel agreed to give the Palestinians increasing authority over their own affairs. It is likely that a final settlement will allow most Palestinians to become citizens of their own state.
Despite all their criticism, when asked what governments they admire most, more than 80 percent of Palestinians consistently choose Israel because they can see up close the thriving democracy in Israel, and the rights the Arab citizens enjoy there.
Even before the State of Israel was established, Jewish leaders consciously sought to avoid the situation that prevailed in South Africa. David Ben-Gurion said in 1934:
We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland.