Conference a chance to condemn violence

This is a republication of an original article written by David DeBartolo in the Hoya on Friday, February 17, 2006 and in the Israel Campus Beat on Sunday, February 19, 2006.

In the wake of the Palestinian Legislative Council elections less than a month ago, in which Hamas won a majority of parliamentary seats, the Palestine Solidarity Movement convenes its annual conference this evening at Georgetown.

Hamas’s victory is relevant in light of one of the PSM’s former “Guiding Principles.” Before the PSM abolished the principles late last year, the group endorsed the idea that, “As a solidarity movement, it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation.”

For a movement that purports to be grounded in international law, human rights and basic standards of justice, such a statement — explicitly indicating the PSM’s refusal to condemn even terrorist attacks against innocent civilians like those perpetrated by Hamas — was patently offensive and morally bankrupt.

The specious arguments in support of the principles that one cannot denounce extremists’ tactics without having walked in the Palestinians’ shoes and that Palestinians have the legal right to resist occupation by any means necessary create a dangerous double standard in which Israeli tactics can be condemned while Palestinian tactics cannot.

“The discussion of violence has been crippling to the movement,” PSM spokesman Nadeem Muaddi said in an interview.

While both Muaddi and Bayann Hamid (SFS ’07), one of the conference organizers, stressed a variety of factors besides external criticism, ultimately the PSM’s leadership committee decided by unanimous vote (with one abstention) this winter to scrap the guiding principles and rely instead on five brief “points of unity.”

The points of unity, available on the PSM’s Web site, do not contain anything resembling the aforementioned guiding principle — but neither do they include any statements explicitly condemning violence. Even conference organizers seem divided on how to interpret the points.

“We condemn violence in all its forms, whoever commits it,” Muaddi said, and he argued that the fourth point of unity, which rejects “all forms of oppression (Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, etc.),” implicitly rejects violence because “oppression is violence and violence is oppression.”

Other organizers were reluctant to endorse that rather indirect proposition. Hamid clung to the old rhetoric that while the PSM itself was committed to nonviolence, as demonstrated through its choice of divestment as a strategy, as a solidarity movement it does not “feel that it’s appropriate for us to condemn any means of resistance to the … occupation of [Palestine].”

A clear and unambiguous statement from the PSM at its conference this weekend denouncing violence by all parties would be a worthwhile step in presenting to Hamas a united front in America against violence as a means of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Genuine solidarity with Palestinians need not mean unquestioning acceptance of every decision that extremists make.

Regardless of whether the PSM takes a stand against violence or not, its divestment agenda remains morally repugnant.

The analogy with South African apartheid is fundamentally flawed. Furthermore, divestment is ill-equipped to target specific objectionable policies; it is a blunt instrument that targets society as a whole. Recognizing as much, the PSM endorses not only divestment from companies directly complicit in the occupation, but “from Israel and institutions and corporations with financial connections to Israel” — a list that, in a divestment petition at Harvard University several years ago, included companies like McDonald’s, IBM, International Paper and Lehman Brothers.

At this time when Hamas’ victory presents new challenges both for Israel and for the Palestinians, calls for divestment are particularly detrimental to whatever slim hopes remain for peace.

If the two sides are ever to reach a just and lasting resolution to the conflict allowing both to live in peace and security, Israel is going to need to make major concessions on issues like borders, Jerusalem and even perhaps a symbolic right of return. The divestment campaign, by fostering Israeli perceptions of insecurity, is likely to retard rather than elicit those concessions.

In light of some misleading attacks on PSM (and on Georgetown for hosting the conference), it is worth reaffirming PSM’s right to speak here at the invitation of a student group.

President DeGioia has set a positive example by explicitly disagreeing with divestment but simultaneously allowing the PSM conference to go forward. At the same time, it is incumbent upon those who disagree with the PSM’s message — and those within the PSM who may want to moderate it — to speak out.