Columns

Simon Liebling ’12: Student power for Palestine

By
Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Students at the New School withstood pepper spray attacks by police last week while trying to force the ouster of their controversial president, continuing the tradition of a year of occupations as part of a national campaign for accessible education. The beleaguered administrators they target could almost be forgiven for thinking that the goals of student power movements end where they begin — on campus.

Tucked away in the demands of another group of student occupiers, this time at New York University — alongside investment transparency and a tuition freeze — was a call for annual scholarships for 13 Palestinian students and NYU support for the reconstruction of the University of Gaza. A few weeks prior, students at Hampshire College won a two-year campaign for their university to divest from Israel. And at Brown, students galvanized by Israel’s winter assault on the Gaza Strip organized under the banner of Break the Siege.
These emerging movements reflect a rising consciousness among student activists that our universities are complicit in the Israeli apartheid. As long as American universities continue to energize the Israeli apartheid economy with their investments, our student power will mean that we retain leverage over the situation in Palestine. We can reprise the student role in ending the South African apartheid, working on our campuses to answer the grassroots call for BDS: boycott, divestment and sanctions.

BDS is designed to remove the international economic dynamo that permits the Israeli government to pursue policies of apartheid. The BDS campaign is not a Palestinian government initiative. “The call for BDS came directly from Palestinian society,” said Jesse Soodalter ’94 MD ’09, an organizer around Palestinian issues on campus.
BDS is designed in recognition of the fact that the powerful national governments sympathetic to Israel are not going to come to the aid of the Palestinian people. Combined with the systematic dismantling of the political and international leverage of the Palestinian people through the destruction of infrastructure and the exclusion of Palestinian labor from the Israeli economy, these political circumstances mean that only international grassroots initiatives can achieve change.

Students nationwide are ramping up their own efforts to support the BDS initiative, and historical precedent is on their side. Divestment has proved a popular, feasible and effective tool. The global movement for divestment from Darfur, a cause behind which Brown’s administration elected to throw its weight, is only the latest example. BDS programs were the international pressure that broke down apartheid in South Africa, and students and universities had a major role to play in those initiatives.

And within the present BDS movement, the student demands at NYU and divestment at Hampshire College are part of a much broader international campaign that is well underway. An Amnesty International leader has called on the United States government to end military aid to Israel. And the faculty members who have signed on to the academic and cultural boycott of Israel represent 143 American universities.

But unlike Darfur or South Africa, Israel is not a politically easy issue. There are a lot more Zionists on campus than there were pro-apartheid South African students. Universities take more in donations from Zionists than from the Janjaweed. And thus Brown, despite its historically progressive stance on similar situations in South Africa, East Timor and Darfur, remains resistant when it comes to Israel. President Ruth Simmons has publicly opposed the academic boycott and Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 served on the publication committee of Commentary, a magazine literally founded around the Zionist cause.

So while students on campus must work to prevent the University from throwing its economic weight behind apartheid (it all comes back to institutional transparency and accountability, doesn’t it?), BDS advocates at Brown must also work to refute the image that to be pro-Palestine is to hold a taboo position. The recent international coalescence around BDS is evidence that it is, in truth, mainstream.

At Brown, those efforts begin with refuting the idea, prevalent even on this campus, that anti-Zionism is the same thing as anti-Semitism, which reeks of the very ethnic purity the Jewish community should have learned to avoid. “Calling anti-Zionism or BDS activism anti-Semitism is itself an act of ethnic essentialism,” Soodalter said. “It presumes to define Jewish identity as Zionist. It attempts to erase the existence of anti-Zionist Jews.” Like me.

Simon Liebling ’12 is Jewish (he swears) and from New Jersey. He can be reached at
simon.liebling(at)gmail.com.

 

  • Lola Flores

    This is great news! Sure, Israel is a mighty oponent but if we all get together and keep the momentum, we can lick them too.

  • Jon Haber

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but not only has Hampshire College NOT divested from Israel, the fact that student activists at Hampshire have been so brazen in trying to manuipulate the college and then lie about the school’s actual decisions regarding Israel and divestment has sent a warning signal to every other university in the country about what they can expect from divestment champions who are all smiles when asking for what they want, and then snarling wolves when an institution refuses to play ball (see (http://www.divestthis.com/2009/03/hampshire.html).

    While the author of this letter seems to be trying to signal that anti-Israel BDS is something students should embrace to demonstrate their power, in fact the opposite is the case. Misleading campaigns like Hampshire’s faux divestment, disruptive tactics like the failed cafeteria takeover at NYU, or shouting pro-Israel speakers off the stage (as is happening in colleges across the country) demonstrate to the public that some students are not interested in real peace or progress (despite the number of times those words appear in the names of their orgnaizations) but would rather indulge themselves with fantasies of radical “direct action,” that seem to miss the point that Isreal – however impefect – is an island of democracy whose enemies represent the most racist, sexist, homophobic, reactionary regimes left on the face of the earth.

    While there is a tendency to dismiss the truisms in that last sentence with a scoffing laugh (or to pretend that all criticism of BDSers boils down to accusations of “anti-Semitism”), those who do not have a stake in the Arab-Israeli conflict recognize that the tactics used by BDSers (including manipulation, dishonesty and threats) do not inspire confidence that the BDS crew is what it presents itself to be.

  • Lola Flores

    “Misleading campaigns like Hampshire’s faux divestment, disruptive tactics like the failed cafeteria takeover at NYU, or shouting pro-Israel speakers off the stage (as is happening in colleges across the country) demonstrate to the public that some students are not interested in real peace or progress (despite the number of times those words appear in the names of their orgnaizations) but would rather indulge themselves with fantasies of radical “direct action,” that seem to miss the point that Isreal – however impefect – is an island of democracy whose enemies represent the most racist, sexist, homophobic, reactionary regimes left on the face of the earth.”

    Bravo! So, I guess that would be the reason why the bouncer turned Foreign Minster a/k/a Avigdor has said that the government of Israel is not bound by the agreement reached at the Annapolis conference in the US in 2007, which provides for a Palestinian state. Right?

    Or the reason why Tzipi Livni in an interview on Israeli radio said hardliners had avoided peace efforts in the past with the “pathetic excuse” that there had been no partner on the Palestinian side. “From today, Israel has announced that it is not a partner,” she said. Is that it?

    The Israeli government is rebuffing mild US calls for peace talks with Palestinians toward reaching a two-state settlement. On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” as a precondition for future talks. Palestinians have called the demand a non-starter, because it would mean not just acknowledging but legitimizing Israel’s takeover of their land and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who used to live there. Netanyahu announced the demand after meeting US envoy George Mitchell. Mitchell said the US will insist on pursuing a two-state solution. No, surely this must be the way to peace!

    Aaaaaaaaaaah! Hypocrisy…

    As for the “faux divestment campaig” – well, try to argue this one (again, this is what scares the life outta you, knowing that Israel’s days as a bully are numbered):

    Lookout By Naomi Klein
    (This article appeared in the January 26, 2009 edition of The Nation)
    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090126/klein

    Y’all are like fish out of water and gasping for breath in desperation because the end is near and y’all know it and here’s another good reason why:

    After Gaza, Israel Grapples With Crisis of Isolation By ETHAN BRONNER
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/world/middleeast/19israel.html?_r=5

    “Foreign Ministry has been granted an extra $2 million to improve Israel’s image through cultural and information diplomacy.” Yep. When in doubt, let’s call Berson Marsteller, they helped Hitler and they’ll help Israel too – as long as the money is green, they don’t care what side is paying them.

    As for Israel being an island of democracy and yaddah, yaddah, yaddah, mind-numbing Zionist rhetoric, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah, please, first and formost, let’s not forget that Israel is what it is thanks to the US and the fact that billions are robbed from the taxpayers every year so that Israel can have its precious toys of mass destruction:

    Council for the National Interest http://cnionline.org/

    If that weren’t enough, I’ve seen your prosperity and that of the Palestinians, thanks y’all Chosen People and here it is both, in all their glory:

    Reading The Videos: Israel’s Glamor v. Gaza’s Despair by Linda Milazzo
    http://www.opednews.com/articles/Reading-The-Videos-Israel-by-Linda-Milazzo-090309-880.html

    How could you ever live with your conscience? How could you ever defend that which is indefensable? Shame on you!

  • Jon Haber

    Lola – Before I begin, I do have to thank you. It’s many a time that I have to explain the tactics of the “Israel is Wrong About Everything Always Crowd” which consists of:

    • Befogging the air with the vocabulary of human rights, but turning stone silent when it’s brought up that it is Israel’s foes, not Israel, that represent the greatest human rights abusers on the face of the planet
    • Scrupulously avoiding answering any questions ever laid to them while hurling up one accusation after another after another and demanding answers, in hopes that someone will haplessly allow them to play the role they desire of prosecutor, judge, jury and (ideally) executioner
    • Linking each reference to a Web site of an fellow partisan (hoping that this will be confused with actually citing legitimate sources); and
    • Continually declaring victory, even in cases where (like Hampshire) movements like divestment actually lost (big)

    Thankfully, your cartoonish bombast provides me the perfect example to illustrate these points, a Schoolhouse Rock of anti-Israel invective that demonstrates the unique mix of invective, incoherence and boastful blathering that constitutes the Alpha and Omega of anti-Israel “dialog.”

    Now getting back to the actual subject of this discussion (Hampshire’s alleged “divestment” from Israel), as everyone knows individuals and organizations “invest” and “divest” in millions of stocks and mutual funds every day in a process otherwise known as “buying” and “selling.” And there is only one way to know that a buy or a sell has any reason behind it other than pure economics: the person doing the buying and selling says so.

    If someone sells a fund for political reasons (such as protest against countries that benefit from stocks in that fund), it would be ridiculous to take this action and refuse to tell anyone about why you did it. After all, divestment is not like a boycott in that one can only sell a stock if you find someone else to buy it (thus creating no real economic impact on the companies represented by the stock or fund). If there is no public statement, there has been no divestment, pure and simple. Otherwise, I (or anyone) would be free to characterize any investment decision based on our own political preferences (declaring a downturn in oil stocks, for example, as the world’s divestment in companies doing business with Apartheid Saudi Arabia, for example).

    This being the case, has Hampshire made a public statement that clearly says their investment decision was based on Israel in any way, shape or form? They have, but that statement has said unequivocally that their Israel-based investments got a “clean bill of health” (as opposed to other investment in which they highlighted Sudan, for example, as the target for political divestment activity). If the only way to tell that an institution has divested is when they say they did, and since Hampshire has said specifically that it DID NOT divest in Israel, then QED: Hampshire has not divested. Lola and her friends can pretend all they like that the opposite is true, but her wishful thinking will not turn Hampshire into “the first school in America to divest in Israel” anymore than mine will make the Tooth Fairy put Batman’s utility belt under my pillow tonight.

    Remember that divestment has one and only one purpose: to get an institution more well known and respected institution than the actual BDS groups (which pretty much leaves everyone) such as a university, church or union, to put its’ name behind the BDS message (that Israel is an Apartheid state worthy of economic punishment). Lola and Co. would like to rewrite the rules so that they get to declare when an institution has divested, even if the institution says nothing on the matter (or, like Hampshire, vehemently deny doing what SJP and Co. say they did). But, as stated earlier, wishful thinking will not turn night into day, nor will befogging the air with an endless onslaught of accusations mask the fact that BDS – like so many of those who support it – is a big, fat loser.

  • Jon Haber

    Lola – Before I begin, I do have to thank you. It’s many a time that I have to explain the tactics of the “Israel is Wrong About Everything Always Crowd” which consists of:

    • Befogging the air with the vocabulary of human rights, but turning stone silent when it’s brought up that it is Israel’s foes, not Israel, that represent the greatest human rights abusers on the face of the planet
    • Scrupulously avoiding answering any questions ever laid to them while hurling up one accusation after another after another and demanding answers, in hopes that someone will haplessly allow them to play the role they desire of prosecutor, judge, jury and (ideally) executioner
    • Linking each reference to a Web site of an fellow partisan (hoping that this will be confused with actually citing legitimate sources); and
    • Continually declaring victory, even in cases where (like Hampshire) movements like divestment actually lost (big)

    Thankfully, your cartoonish bombast provides me the perfect example to illustrate these points, a Schoolhouse Rock of anti-Israel invective that demonstrates the unique mix of invective, incoherence and boastful blathering that constitutes the Alpha and Omega of anti-Israel “dialog.”

    Now getting back to the actual subject of this discussion (Hampshire’s alleged “divestment” from Israel), as everyone knows individuals and organizations “invest” and “divest” in millions of stocks and mutual funds every day in a process otherwise known as “buying” and “selling.” And there is only one way to know that a buy or a sell has any reason behind it other than pure economics: the person doing the buying and selling says so.

    If someone sells a fund for political reasons (such as protest against countries that benefit from stocks in that fund), it would be ridiculous to take this action and refuse to tell anyone about why you did it. After all, divestment is not like a boycott in that one can only sell a stock if you find someone else to buy it (thus creating no real economic impact on the companies represented by the stock or fund). If there is no public statement, there has been no divestment, pure and simple. Otherwise, I (or anyone) would be free to characterize any investment decision based on our own political preferences (declaring a downturn in oil stocks, for example, as the world’s divestment in companies doing business with Apartheid Saudi Arabia, for example).

    This being the case, has Hampshire made a public statement that clearly says their investment decision was based on Israel in any way, shape or form? They have, but that statement has said unequivocally that their Israel-based investments got a “clean bill of health” (as opposed to other investment in which they highlighted Sudan, for example, as the target for political divestment activity). If the only way to tell that an institution has divested is when they say they did, and since Hampshire has said specifically that it DID NOT divest in Israel, then QED: Hampshire has not divested. Lola and her friends can pretend all they like that the opposite is true, but her wishful thinking will not turn Hampshire into “the first school in America to divest in Israel” anymore than mine will make the Tooth Fairy put Batman’s utility belt under my pillow tonight.

    Remember that divestment has one and only one purpose: to get an institution more well known and respected institution than the actual BDS groups (which pretty much leaves everyone) such as a university, church or union, to put its’ name behind the BDS message (that Israel is an Apartheid state worthy of economic punishment). Lola and Co. would like to rewrite the rules so that they get to declare when an institution has divested, even if the institution says nothing on the matter (or, like Hampshire, vehemently deny doing what SJP and Co. say they did). But, as stated earlier, wishful thinking will not turn night into day, nor will befogging the air with an endless onslaught of accusations mask the fact that BDS – like so many of those who support it – is a big, fat loser.

  • Lola Flores

    You know, I had a very long reply ready, addressing your Hasbara rhetoric point by point, then, I realize that you got me with my hands in the cookie jar! You are a pretty smart dude to realize that the UN, The Haaretz, The Guardian, The Daily Times, The New York Times and the rest of the world are my cronies. Wow! No, I won’t take offense to that nor will I bother to reply because mudding the arguments is what Israel apologists do best next to screaming “Jew hater,” “anti-Semitism” and Holocust. The bottom line is quite clear: You are scared! You’ve gone too far! The walls are closing in on Israel and the evil that it does and the world is finally taking notice! Israel has been committing genocide and Apartheid on the Palestinians for 61 years (not to mention the others it has attacked, including the US). Many of us Americans and many more throughout the world support the Palestinians. End of story. And this awareness, support and movement is growing daily across America and around the world.

    When your own biblical prophecy is realized- the part about how the nations of the world will unify and then surround Israel with the intent of utterly destroying Israel from the face of this planet, it will be because of all that they have put out will come back upon them and this is the law of the Universe. So Jon, get out of the way of god!”