Palestinian conference is illegitimate and divisive

This is a republication of an original article written by Oren Lazar in the Georgetown Law Weekly on Tuesday, February 14, 2006 and in the Israel Campus Beat on Sunday, February 19, 2006.

If Students for Justice in Palestine want to hold an anti-Semitic, terrorist-encouraging conference on main campus, don’t try and sell it to me as something that is going to help the Palestinian people. By touting their event as an “academic” conference, the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) has managed to escape the University’s restrictions on hate speech and decency. Even a quick glance at the proposed conference schedule reveals no “academic” speakers lined up and instead it is mostly made up of strategy and planning sessions. With many spots unfilled (according to the group’s website), I’m not surprised serious historians or political scientists wouldn’t come near this sham of a conference.

The anti-Semitic nature of the conference should be clear to anyone familiar with the groups sponsoring the event or the views espoused by its members. The policies advocated by this group of radicals would result in nothing less than the destruction of Israel. The conference sponsors have never accepted the right of Israel to exist and have never condemned suicide bombing. I’m sure an answer the sponsors would give is that they are “anti-Israel” not anti-Semitic. That’s like not being anti-Muslim, but only anti-Haj, or not anti-Catholic but anti-communion. Zionism is as inextricably linked to Judaism as any of the pillars of Islam are to Muslims or Catholic rites are to its adherents. By not accepting a safe place for Jews to live in the Middle East, and by not condemning those who want to blow themselves up for their beliefs contrary to that dream, the PSM conference has decidedly taken an anti-Jewish stance.

One of the policies advocated at this conference is complete divestment of Israel. The divestment movement was stillborn from its start. The brain-child of Prof. Noam Chomsky of MIT, even he has since abandoned this fruitless campaign. President DeGioia has unequivocally stated his opposition to this campaign.

To date, no universities have caved to these demands. This campaign calls for a complete boycott of any company that does business in Israel, without regard to what these companies sell or buy in Israel. It is important to mention this also includes those corporations that provide water, electricity and other basic services to Palestinians as well as Israelis. Included in the list of oppressors targeted for divestment are such evil empires as A&W Root Beer, Nokia, Intel, Taco Bell, General Electric, and Blockbuster Video. This is not an attempt to deny military funding to Israel; this is an attempt to choke the very life out of the embattled country.

Hopefully the hypocrisy of the divestment supporters won’t be lost on the campus community. Launched several years ago at my alma-mater, UC Berkeley, the campaign’s supporters are reminiscent of the confused armchair liberals I used to call my neighbors.

There is nothing quite as heart-warming as a misguided activist trying to sell you his Socialist Worker newspaper for $3 in his $20 Che t-shirt and Nikes. Nothing, except a divestment activist using their Nokia cellphone to organize other phonies, their Intel chip to print their flyers, the GE generators to power the whole endeavor, washed down by a nice cup of Starbucks. If these people were serious about the effort, and not merely concerned with the negative public relations effect it could have on Israel, they might start with themselves.

It’s not surprising that when a situation as complex as this is painted with a propaganda brush as wide as the one the PSM has chosen, many of the finer points are missed. One such point is how efforts like this cause terrorist groups in the region to take heart.

Groups like Islamic Jihad or Hamas view campaigns like this as a sign that the international community supports their efforts and that if they continue to wage war for long enough Israel will be forced to concede to their stated demand for an Islamic theocracy in place of Israel.

Response to the conference has been fairly restrained from both the administration and Jewish student groups on main campus. President DeGioia made an admirable statement in which he explained the University’s stance. Despite the objectionable and dangerous views of the PSM activists, silencing their speech is even more dangerous. Coupled with a statement completely rejecting divestment, I feel this was a commendable position that refuses to let the university’s values of justice and liberty be high-jacked. Jewish students have responded responsibly as well.

Instead of pushing for the conference to be cancelled, they have expressed their concern with its un-academic nature and have called for attention to their own events. The events the Georgetown Israel Alliance has planned include a visit from Mothers for Peace, a speaking tour of Israeli and Palestinian mothers committed to a peaceful solution. The positions of the administration and the pro-Israel students stand in drastic contrast to the absolutist demands and contentions of the PSM supporters.

While it may seem there is little a university student can do to influence world peace, there is definitely an important role that can be played with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ultimately, painful compromises and concessions need to be made by those who live in the region, but they can only do so with the proper support from the international community. Palestinians and Israelis both need to know the world won’t abandon them, and at the same time won’t let one side wipe the other off the map. On American college campuses there exists a unique opportunity to encourage dialogue between the two sides and to explore ways of bringing people who might have been enemies elsewhere, together in a civilized way. A divestment campaign and divisive conference, like the one planned, do not serve this purpose at all. This conference is sure only to radicalize the debate on campus and drive students apart. By taking such extreme stances, the conference supporters have eschewed any attempts for dialogue or understanding and instead have chosen to do everything they can to de-legitimize Israel.

The most ironic truth of this situation is that even if all the PSM’s demands were met it would do absolutely nothing to help the Palestinian people. Surely Israelis and Palestinians both would be hurt by divestment and similarly nobody can be helped by discouraging dialogue.

Golda Meir, famously said the only chance Israel has of making peace with her enemies is if those enemies start loving their own children more than they hate Israel. I would say the same is true about the so-called PSM movement.

Only when they start putting more effort into helping Palestinians than they do into demonizing Israel will they begin to aid, rather than impede the peace process. How much money has PSM raised for Palestinian children? None. How many collection boxes will be placed around campus to collect money for those hurt in the violence? None. This conference has one aim, to hurt Jews and Israel. True, even people who want to hurt me have a right to free speech, but I don’t have to like it.