Divesting from Morality

 

Israel has a better human rights record than many other countries in the world. So why is the Jewish state being singled out?

 

By Alan M. Dershowitz                                                                                                          

 

The campaign currently being waged against Israel on college and university campuses throughout the world is fueled by ignorance and bigotry. Led by efforts at Harvard, MIT, and other schools to end university investment in Israel and to boycott Israeli speakers and academics, this campaign seeks to delegitimate and isolate Israel as a pariah state. The campaign also conveys to impressionable college students the notion that Israel is among the worst human rights violators in the world.

 

Though it is unlikely that divestiture will be implemented on these campuses, the goal of the campaign is similar to, and grows out of, previous attempts to single out Israel by equating Zionism with racism and by complying with the now discredited Arab boycott of Israel of years past.

 

The ignorance implicit in the Harvard/MIT divestiture petition, which first began circulating around those schools last spring, is best reflected by its own words, which demand that Israel comply with four conditions if university investment in the country is to continue. The petition calls on Israel to comply with United Nations Resolution 242, the United Nations Committee Against Torture 2001 Report, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and says Israel should acknowledge in principle the applicability of United Nations Resolution 194 with respect to the rights of refugees. Apparently, most of the signatories of this petition, which included 130 Harvard and MIT faculty members at last count, are unaware of the fact that Israel has already complied with or has offered to comply with each of these conditions.

 

U.N. Resolution 242, drafted by U.N. Justice Arthur Goldberg (for whom I had served as a law clerk), does not call on Israel to give back all of the territories captured during the defensive war of 1967.  The compromise agreed to by the Security Council was that Israel would give back "territories"--meaning most but not all--in exchange for complete termination of all claims or states of belligerency by Arab countries. The only two countries that have met that condition are Egypt and Jordan.  Israel returned every inch of land captured from Egypt as soon as Egypt renounced belligerency, and Jordan has abandoned all claims to land now occupied by Israel.

 

Moreover, in the year 2000, at Camp David and Taba, Israel offered to give up 97% of the disputed land on the West Bank and to accept a Palestinian state.  That offer constituted full compliance with the language of Resolution 242.  Ironically, other Arab states and the Palestinian Authority continue to hold states of belligerency against Israel--these countries are out of compliance with Resolution 242.  Yet, the divestiture petition imposes no conditions on these states, many of which also receive American foreign aid and investments from Harvard and other universities.

 

The second condition is that Israel end the use of "legal torture," as outlined in the United Nations Committee Against Torture 2001 Report. The writers of this condition are either ignorant or mendacious.  The Israeli Supreme Court recently outlawed the use of all physical pressure in eliciting information from potential terrorists. Israel is the only country in the Middle East to have abolished torture, in fact as well as in law.

 

Jordan and Egypt, both of which receive substantial American aid and investment, openly practice torture of the most violent and lethal nature. Indeed it is well known that other intelligence agencies, including that of the United States, sub-contract torture to these allies (along with the Philippines).  Yet the divestiture petition demands that only Israel stop doing something that it has already stopped doing, without making any demands on countries that continue to engage in torture. There are scores of countries with worse records. Why single out Israel?

 

Another condition laid out in the divestiture petition is that Israel acknowledge in principle that refugees be allowed to return to their former lands, or else be compensated for their losses, to comply with United Nations Resolution 194. At both Camp David and Taba, Israel offered the option for Palestinians to be compensated for their losses, and the Palestinians rejected it. Moreover, no Arab state has yet offered compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees that were forced to flee countries they and their families have lived in for hundreds of years after Arab countries declared war on Israel in 1948.  Yet the petition demands nothing of these Arab countries.

 

The final condition, the cessation of building new settlements and the dismantling of existing settlements, is an issue that deeply divides Israelis.  A majority of Israelis agree that no new settlements should be built and that most of the existing settlements should be vacated as part of an overall peace in the area.  Even a significant number of the settlers have now expressed a willingness to leave their homes in exchange for peace. But the Palestinians have refused to accept peace offers made by the Israeli government.  Many moderate Palestinians agree that Arafat's rejection of the peace offer made at Camp David and at Taba was a tactical mistake and that the resumption of terrorism against Israel is morally indefensible.  Yet the one-sided divestiture petition faults only Israel.

 

When I recently spoke to a group of several hundred students at Harvard's Winthrop House - - a House whose Master had signed the Harvard/MIT divestiture petition - - many of the students seemed unaware of these facts about Israel's compliance.  I suspect that many of the signatories of the petition are also ignorant of the complex realities underlying the continuing hostilities in the Middle East.

 

Many also seem to be unaware of the fact that Israel's record on human rights and freedoms is among the best in the world, and certainly the best in the region. Israel has a completely free press, which is generally highly critical of the Israeli government.  No Arab country has a free press, nor does the Palestinian Authority. Israel has a completely independent judiciary, the only one in the entire area. Its Supreme Court, one of the best in the world, is the only court in which an Arab in the Middle East can expect to get justice in lawsuits brought against any government.  Palestinians have won many lawsuits against the Israeli government and the Israeli military. The rights of women, gays and others are far more fully recognized and implemented in Israel than anywhere in the Arab world.  The Israeli army does not discriminate against gays, as even the American army does, and the Israeli Knesset now includes an openly gay member.  Israeli Arabs sit in the Knesset, serve on the Israeli Supreme Court and have their own newspapers.

 

Some supporters of the divestment effort have said that they should be free to criticize Israel, and that this criticism is not the same as anti-Semitism. But no one - - including Harvard University’s President Lawrence Summers - - has equated anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel. Indeed, many American Jews and Israelis do not hesitate to criticize Israel on a wide range of matters.  But the divestment effort isn't just criticizing Israel. It is singling out Israel for behavior that is actually better than that of other countries.

 

One good definition of anti-Semitism is taking a trait that is universal and singling out only the Jews for criticism in relation to that trait.  For example, in the 1920's, then Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell decided that the number of Jews admitted to Harvard should be substantially reduced because "Jews cheat."  When a distinguished alumnus of Harvard, Judge Learned Hand, pointed out to President Lowell that Protestants also cheat, Lowell responded, "You're changing the subject, we're talking about Jews." The same thing occurs in the debate over divestiture.  When opponents of the divestment effort point out that other countries in the Middle East have far worse human rights records, proponents of divestiture respond, "You're changing the subject; we're talking about the Jewish state." That is international anti-Semitism writ large.

 

Any moral person who is aware of the true facts would not sign a petition singling out Israel for divestiture.  Those who signed it are either immoral bigots or ignoramuses.  There is no third alternative.

 

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University. His most recent book is 'Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge.'