In just a few short weeks, the political climate in Israel has drastically changed. One needs to look no further for proof than by scrutinizing the actions of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. Sharon recently released 500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody and won cabinet approval to withdraw Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, paving the way for the future establishment of a Palestinian state. Recently elected, Abbas ran a campaign based on non-violence and has managed to quell hostile activity perpetrated by terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Yet in light of these sanguine developments, anti-Israel rhetoric and activity continues to plague college campuses, including University of Wisconsin institutions.
Recently, a small but vocal group of students on this campus have visited UW-Whitewater and UW-Platteville hoping to convince faculty senate members to vote for a resolution that would force the UW System’s Board of Regents to divest from companies that conduct business with Israel.
This divestment plan specifically calls for the board to “divest from Caterpillar, General Dynamics, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Northrop-Grumman and Raytheon based on evidence of the active role these companies play in enabling Israeli forces to engage in practices that violate international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.”
While the resolution may have passed at UW-Platteville, a school of 5,800, it did so by the smallest of margins: 7-6.
And while there certainly is cause for concern that UW-Platteville’s faculty government could become the first in the nation to call for divestment of university funds from Israel, words from the UW Board of Regents president and action taken by UW-Whitewater faculty senate members make it very clear that divestment has no legitimate place in other UW institutions.
“We don’t divest on a political basis,” Board of Regents President Toby Marcovich recently said. “We do it if there are true human rights violations.” The divestment from Israel campaign “was not convincing” to the regents, according to Marcovich.
At UW-Whitewater, freshman Molly Fields, publicity chair of the Jewish Student Organization, courageously appeared before members of the faculty senate and flat-out told them that divestment was designed to “dehumanize, demoralize and delegitimize” the state of Israel. After listening to her message and the words of Jewish faculty members, the faculty senate voted to defeat the resolution plan.
At first glance, it is interesting to note that members of the Madison community who have initiated this divestment plan have traveled to institutions of higher learning with little Jewish representation. It is certainly quite feasible that they expected the embrace of liberal-minded professors and little, if any, dissent from members of the community because Jews are such a small minority on these campuses. Without any formal counter-representation, they could propagandize to their heart’s content.
At second glance, it is reassuring to note that the UW Board of Regents and the faculty senate of UW-Whitewater have realized what divestment really is: an inappropriate and outlandish campaign that wrongfully attacks and demonizes the state of Israel.
The divestment campaign in South Africa was appropriate and legitimate because it garnered international recognition of apartheid, an internal system of exploitation and segregation forced upon a black majority by a white minority. Divestment legitimately targeted corporations that profited from this egregious situation. While some have argued that Israel is conducting apartheid policies against the Palestinian people and Arab-Israeli citizens, this comparison is absurd. Arab-Israeli citizens retain the same civil and political rights that any Jew possesses in Israel, with the ability to vote in elections and serve their constituents as elected officials. And while many Palestinians have faced personal hardships since the second intifada began, many have also contributed to the recent cycle of violence that has destroyed the development and maturation of any peace negotiation.
While a select few in our student body have focused on directing their energies towards perpetuating anti-Israel rhetoric and sentiment throughout the state, it is reassuring to know that their fallacious claims have largely gone unheeded. With the implications for peace between Israelis and Palestinians gaining ground every day, now is the time to urge universities across the country to invest in peace.
Universities should begin to invest in joint Israeli-Palestinian business enterprises, spurring economic growth and participation in the region. Now is the time to focus on the positive and refrain from giving any credence to anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic movements.
Josh Moskowitz ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science and journalism.