To the Editor:
In response to “A Jewish case for Brown Divest,” we, a group of Jewish students at Brown, would like to offer a different Jewish perspective and articulate why opposing divestment is in line with Jewish values. The authors contend that their Jewish identity “compels (them) to speak up for two primary reasons: Jewish religious and political history and Israel’s claim to speak for all Jews.” We seek to unpack both of these justifications and propose a better alternative to divestment.
On the point of Jewish religious and political history, they cite the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place, as a reason to support Brown Divest. This forces us to confront the question: Does Brown Divest realize its ultimate goal of enhancing the wellbeing of those affected by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? The answer, unfortunately, is no.
Brown Divest distorts the complexity of the conflict, fuels militancy and extremism on both sides and hinders the prospect of peace. We acknowledge the suffering of Palestinians, but Brown Divest ignores the fact that innocent Israeli citizens feel the pain of the conflict in the form of countless suicide bombings, stabbings, kidnappings and other terror attacks. The divestment referendum places the blame for the current conflict on Israel, but in reality both sides share blame.
The divestment movement divides the Brown community and widens the chasm between Israelis and Palestinians. A solution that is truly based in Tikkun Olam would promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians through constructive measures, such as group meetings in which Israelis and Palestinians can share their historical and lived experiences in order to increase mutual understanding and promote open dialogue.
Second, the authors assume the responsibility to condemn Israel because “Israel claims to speak for us (the Jewish people).” The authors point to Netanyahu’s recent deplorable comments as a reason to support divestment. However, this wrongly conflates rhetoric of contemporary leadership with the situation on the ground. Just as the words of Donald Trump certainly do not represent the views of all Americans, we should not take the word of an indicted prime minister in an election season to represent Israel. Israel is a democratic state with a multiplicity of views. Let us be clear: there is nothing wrong with criticizing or condemning Israeli leaders; in fact, doing so is part of a democracy — and it is what Israelis do regularly. But if it were really about denouncing Netanyahu or reforming Israeli policies, the divestment would not be focused on crippling Israel’s economy, which Brown Divest aims to do. That is an unwarranted response that sets aims on taking down the one Jewish state, not a government policy, and it is unacceptable.
Many Israelis and Palestinians want peace, as is evidenced by the numerous movements to promote peaceful coexistence, according to a 2018 study. Pledging to divest from these companies only stands to push Israeli voters to the right. It undermines the efforts of more moderate and left-wing Israeli political parties that blast settlement movements and call for human rights, anti-racism, Palestinian statehood and above all, peace. It only makes the work of those working on the ground toward a peaceful solution that much harder.
Today, we celebrate Purim, a holiday whose central theme is “achdut” — unity. As Jews who stand against Brown Divest, we stand for bringing people together rather than driving them apart, as Divest has by seeking to dichotomize one of the modern world’s most complex and deeply rooted historical conflicts into a simple “yes” or “no” checkbox decision. In the spirit of this holiday, we urge you to vote no to divestment and instead use your voices to foster unity and, ultimately, peace. We pray that everyone will join us on our quest for Tikkun Olam.
Tess Geri ’20, Ethan Shire ’19, Alexandra Paul ’19, Benjamin Shteinfeld ’19, Laurie Finkielsztein ’20, Emma Silverman ’20