I've gotten a letter from a reader who would like to know what I think about the on-going petitions at numerous elite universities about divesting in Israel. He informs me that, "At Columbia, for example, a student group gathered roughly 600 signatures supporting such a measure, and it was struck down by the administration as well as a counter-petition that gathered over 33,000 signatures from students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni. Similar controversies are happening at Harvard and MIT, Princeton, and Berkeley as well as a number of other institutions." These campaigns are petitioning for the universities to take their endowment investments out of Israeli companies, direct investment in Israel itself, and even American companies that supply arms and other products that are used by the IDF against Palestinians. This includes such companies as Lockheed-Martin which produces the F16 fighter jet.
This divestment campaign seems to miss the general purpose of opposition to Israel. Regardless of what side you see yourself on when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian debate, removing a means to Israeli power that is so far removed from the ends which are being protested seems pointless. If a group wants to protest Israeli aggression towards Palestinians, and there certainly seems to be plenty of evidence to support such a protest, there are much more effective ways to demonstrate it. For one, supporters of the Palestinian view can begin by attempting to reform the corrupt leadership that currently "rules" the West Bank and Gaza. They can also work towards stopping suicide bombings. No matter how much I dislike the tactics of Sharon's Likud government, in which the policy is that the IDF will retake the town that the suicide bomber is from, I do recognize that Israel is acting in its own self-defense. I firmly believe that if suicide bombings were to stop for good, you would quickly see Israel willing to come to the table for peace and would be more than willing to have a Palestinian state next door. Right now though, it seems as if the Palestinian cause is largely self-defeating. While I see Israel's incursions into Palestinian towns after a bombing often as excessive shows of force in which 18 year-old soldiers get trigger happy, I tend to agree with the need for a response for the sake of Israeli security. It is often just the means to that security that I find offensive.
However, if the goal is to stop Israeli brutality in these incursions, supporters of Palestinians should work to stop the roots of terror. Forcing an Ivy League University to divest in Israel will do nothing to largely harm Israel, and will likely do nothing more than put an obstacle in the way of the growth of the university endowment. Divestment seems to be an ineffective means of punishing Israel, for it does not address the main concerns.
Also, the petition for divestment argues that Israel will be forced into change by the removal of its financial support much the same way that South Africa was choked into abandoning Apartheid by an international divestment campaign. There are a few problems with this reasoning. First, South Africa's population is overwhelmingly black. This allowed for an easier means of boycott, for if consumers are unwilling to consume, producers are out of luck. Secondly, while it is true that much of the West Bank is carved up into enclaves of stagnated Palestinian economies, where economies of scale are absent, this "apartheid" is nothing like the South African variety. Like I said above, many of the Palestinian complaints can be solved with a little acceptance and a little sense of reality. Israel is here to stay. If Palestine would like to come to stay, Palestinians and their supporters need to recognize that violence against Israel is not the way. Unlike South African blacks, Palestinians are not seen as completely faultless in their struggle against Israel. As long as suicide bombings continue, the comparison to Apartheid is not applicable.
The situation in Palestine is indeed terrible and should be remedied as soon as possible. Peace can come, but both sides must see that aggression and absolute victory will not be the way for either one to acheive it. Divestment misses the boat when it comes to protesting Israel. Yes, Israel could use some lessons in controlled retaliation, but Palestinians are not innocent. The pro-Palestinian side should focus its manpower on correcting its own faults before it organizes to attack Israel in such a round-about way. Similarly, the IDF should take a hard look at its tactics and see if a policy of "shoot first, deny aggression later" is really the best road to lasting security. Both sides need a good change, and both could start with a meaningful internal review.