Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Thursday, October 17, 2002
Divestment and Double Standards

DSquared is critical of a recent Friedman column in the divestment movement. Friedman wrote:

Memo to professors and students leading the divestiture campaign: Your campaign for divestiture from Israel is deeply dishonest and hypocritical, and any university that goes along with it does not deserve the title of institution of higher learning.

You are dishonest because to single out Israel as the only party to blame for the current impasse is to perpetrate a lie. Historians can debate whether the Camp David and Clinton peace proposals for a Palestinian state were for 85, 90, or 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. But what is not debatable is what the proper Palestinian response should have been. It should have been to tell Israel and America that their peace proposals were the first fair offer they had ever put forth, and although they still fell short of what Palestinians feel is a just two-state solution, Palestinians were now prepared to work with Israel and America to achieve that end. The proper response was not a Palestinian intifada and 100 suicide bombers, which are what brought Ariel Sharon to power....

You are also hypocrites. How is it that Egypt imprisons the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world, after a phony trial, and not a single student group in America calls for divestiture from Egypt? (I'm not calling for it, but the silence is telling.) How is it that Syria occupies Lebanon for 25 years, chokes the life out of its democracy, and not a single student group calls for divestiture from Syria? How is it that Saudi Arabia denies its women the most basic human rights, and bans any other religion from being practiced publicly on its soil, and not a single student group calls for divestiture from Saudi Arabia?

Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction — out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East — is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.

Dsquared in response:

I would guess that the reason that there is no campaign for divestiture from Syria is that it doesn't have a stock exchange.

[Snipped paragraph describing the lack of major publicly traded companies in Arab states in detail.]

In fact, on the basis of the above research, I would hazard a guess (and perhaps award a small prize to anyone who can gainsay me with proof), that the major American university endowments have no investments at all in Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia, making it rather fucking pointless to campaign for them to "divest".

It is considered traditional at this point to fulminate about the kind of individual who makes this sort of pig-ignorant blanket assertion without bothering to spend five minutes on google to check the facts, but I'm scared of the blowback from that one.

Dsquared's argument is based entirely on the claim that divestment is aimed at companies based in Israel. If Dsquared him/herself had bother to spend five minutes checking the facts, it would have become clear that this isn't true, and that Friedman is completely correct in saying that the divestment campaign singles out Israel while ignoring other countries with far greater violations of human rights.

There isn't a single national divestment petition, but this one being circulated at what are arguably America's two most prestigious universities, can be taken as a fair instance.

As members of the MIT and Harvard University communities, we believe that our universities ought to use their influence - political and financial - to encourage the United States government and the government of Israel to respect the human rights of the Palestinians. We therefore call on the US government to make military aid and arms sales to Israel conditional on immediate initiation and rapid progress in implementing the conditions listed below. We also call on MIT and Harvard to divest from Israel, and from US companies that sell arms to Israel, until these conditions are met:

Already Dsquared's argument is falling apart. Egypt is a major recipient of US military aid. In addition to arresting political dissidents and homosexuals, Egypt heavily persecutes its minority population of Coptic Christians. Copts have been murdered by Muslims with impunity (the police arrested other Copts and tortured them into signing confessions) and children have been forcibly taken from their parents to be raised as Muslims. American weapons are sold in large quantities to Saudi Arabia, and to Bahrain, which has no elections or legal political parties.

Pakistan also receives American weapons and has a notably poor human rights record. By law, Pakistanis who are members of the Ahmadiyya sect, regarded by most Muslims as heretical, are not Muslims, therefore not permitted to own Korans or be buried in Muslim cemeteries. They are barred from holding public assemblies. They can even be arrested for saying the traditional Muslim greeting when they meet each other. Numerous Pakistanis are serving prison terms for blasphemy, and members of the Shia, Ahmadiyya, and Christian minorities have been murdered. There are also arms sales, much smaller, to Lebanon, which is largely a puppet government under Syrian occupation. The circulators and signers of the petition don't seem to see any problem with these human rights abuses.

Israel is in compliance with United Nations Resolution 242 which notes the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, and which calls for withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from occupied territories.

Resolution 242 doesn't call for unilateral withdrawal, but for withdrawal in a context of "termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force". Israel is not in violation of the resolution more than other parties, including the PA. In fact, since Israel has withdrawn from most of the territories occupied in June 1967, and offered withdrawal from almost all of them, it is arguably the only state in the area in compliance with 242.

Israel is in compliance with the United Nations Committee Against Torture 2001 Report which recommends that Israel's use of legal torture be ended.

Israel does use torture, as does every other Middle East state. Unlike other states, Israel doesn't torture (or even hold) nonviolent political prisoners, nor does it use torture to obtain phony confessions.

In compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention ("The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies"; Article 49, paragraph 6), Israel ceases building new settlements, and vacates existing settlements, in the Occupied Territories.

Israel is in violation of international law in the sattlements, and I have long felt that most West Bank settlements and all Gaza settlements should be removed. However, China has violated this rule far more extensively than Israel.

Israel acknowledges in principle the applicability of United Nations Resolution 194 with respect to the rights of refugees, and accepts that refugees should either be allowed to return to their former lands or else be compensated for their losses, as agreed by the Palestinians and Israelis in bilateral negotiations.

Reslution 194 was a non-binding resolution which has long been obsolete. The petition cites it for one paragraph on return of refugees, while ignoring other provisions in it such as access to holy sites in Jerusalem (which was denied until Israel captured Jerusalem in 1967) and placing a significant portion of the West Bank under UN control.

This resolution, like the divestment movement, fantasizes that the situation of Palestinian refugees is unique. Jews were driven out of Arab countries after 1948, and have never been offered compensation for the destruction of their communities and the theft of their property. Non-Muslim refugees fled what became Pakistan in 1948 and their former homes have been destroyed or occupied. Several Central Asian nations are deliberately making life harder for Russian nationals to encourage them to return to the Russian Republic. There are refugees from many other conflicts all over the world - Korea, Indochina, Rwanda, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Algeria, and more who haven't excited the interest of the United Nations or the divestment movement.

Although the petition calls explicitly for divestment only from companies that sell weapons to Israel, the web site shows that "divestment from Israel" is intended to be understood much more broadly. The Harvard list includes companies that own shares of Israeli companies, companies that have Israeli subsidiaries, companies that have plants in Israel, and even McDonalds, for opening restaurants in Israel. The MIT list is described as "companies that have investments in Israel" and includes Pepsico, McDonald's, Weyerhauser, Pfizer, and Manpower, Inc. By the standards that the divestiture movement itself uses, every major American university almost certainly has investments in Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

Update: Meryl Yourish ran into the same post and had some similar responses. Matthew Yglesias also has some sharp words on the Harvard divestment campaign.