Testimony to the U of Michigan Student Government Ahead of Its Vote on BDS, Part I
On Nov. 15, 2016, as The Algemeiner reported, the University of Michigan student government considered a resolution endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. After hearing testimony from both sides, the student government resoundingly defeated the resolution, 33-14. The following is an excerpt of Prof. Victor Lieberman’s remarks prior to the vote:
University Divestment Policy says that divestment is possible only when all three of the following conditions are met:
I. The entity singled out for divestment must be uniquely responsible for the problem.
II. The behavior warranting divestment must violate moral and ethical norms such as those upheld by the university.
III. Support for divestment must express the broadly and consistently held position of the campus community.
None of these three conditions is met by this resolution.
(1) To claim that Israel is even primarily, let alone exclusively, at fault is to ignore key historic transitions.
(2) Palestinians and Jews both had claims to what is now Israel/Palestine. In 1947, the UN decided that both claims were valid, and the only solution was to divide the land into a Jewish and an Arab state.
Jews accepted the UN decision. Palestinians rejected it. Along with the surrounding Arab states, they launched a war whose express purpose was to destroy Israel.
If Palestinians had accepted the UN partition, if they hadn’t gone to war and lost, a Palestinian state would have arisen in 1947 and the conflict would have ended almost 70 years ago.
We wouldn’t be here tonight.
(3) In 1967, Egypt sought a second time to destroy Israel. In his official report after the 1967 war, the Egyptian chief justice wrote, “I can state that Egypt’s leadership called Israel to war. It clearly provoked Israel and forced it into a confrontation.”
As soon as the war with Egypt started in 1967, Israel begged Jordan to stay out of the fighting.
But Jordan — responding to the demands of its Palestinian population — attacked Israel from its West Bank territory…which Israel then seized in defense, along with Gaza, to prevent future attacks.
Without that second attempt to destroy Israel, today there would be no occupation of the West Bank and no settlements for Palestinians to lament.
(4) In the 1990s, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization entered negotiations to try finally to settle their dispute.
At the climax to those talks in 2000, Israel agreed to recognize a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank. Jerusalem would be divided. All settlements east of an agreed border would disappear.
But the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, not only rejected that offer, he started an intifada, an armed uprising that sent suicide bombers to blow up pizza parlors, public buses, discos and hotels all across Israel. The suicide bombers claimed the lives of almost 900 Israeli civilians.
Those attacks immediately killed negotiations. President Clinton squarely blamed Arafat — not Israel — for the collapse of the entire peace process and the renewal of violence.
Once again, the situation the Palestinians lament today grew directly from their own actions.
(5) To make a long story short, this same rejectionist stance continues to the present moment.
The Islamist group Hamas — which the US, EU, Egypt and other countries call a terrorist organization– is now the most popular Palestinian group, according to some polls.
Hamas calls openly and unequivocally for Israel’s destruction. Its leaders have declared, “Palestine is ours from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea,” and, “We will rid this land of the Jews…By God, we will not leave one Jew in Palestine.”
Israel pulled all its troops and people from Gaza in an effort to reduce tensions.
But Hamas soon took control of Gaza in a violent coup and launched thousands of rockets against Israeli civilians. It also dug attack tunnels into Israel to kill and kidnap Israelis.
Three wars have ensued since then.
If Hamas were to accept Israel’s existence and renounce violence, Israel would end its current blockade on Gaza. But Hamas refuses.
(6) Fear that Hamas will repeat its behavior in Gaza is the chief reason most Israelis now believe they can’t leave the West Bank.
Gaza is a small enclave far from major population centers. The West Bank is 16 times larger than Gaza and lies right next to Israel’s heartland. If Hamas took over the West Bank, instead of 10,000 rockets along Israel’s southwestern frontier, you’d soon have 200,000 rockets only 3-10 miles from Israel’s chief airport and main cities.
And, like Syria, Hamas could invite Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who could help launch an invasion of Israel.
No government in the world could tolerate that threat to its citizens.
Most Israelis would love to get rid of the West Bank as well as Gaza if militants in those areas would only agree to stop attacking Israel.
In repeated polls, 70-75% of Jewish Israelis say they’d gladly recognize a Palestinian state that was willing to live in peace alongside Israel.
But Palestinians don’t reciprocate: in poll after poll some two-thirds say that their ultimate goal remains Israel’s disappearance.
(7) It’s that outlook — and constant threats by Hamas — which oblige Israel to continue the West Bank occupation, the Gaza blockade, the security wall, the check points, the arrests — everything the sponsors of this BDS resolution complain about.
One can understand Palestinian feelings of injustice and humiliation, going back to the 1930s.
One can also fault Israeli excesses and provocations.
But one simply cannot portray Palestinians as innocent victims of unprovoked gratuitous repression, a people with no responsibility for their own fate .
(8) Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, a lifelong supporter of the Palestinians, diagnosed the fundamental reason for the conflict when he begged Arafat to accept Clinton’s peace proposals in 2000:
Since 1948, every time we’ve had something on the table, we say no. Then we say yes. [But] it’s not on the table any more….Isn’t it about time we finally said yes?…I hope you remember, sir, what I told you: If we lose this opportunity, it’s not going to be a tragedy, it’s going to be a crime.
But Arafat refused.
(9) It is clear: this BDS resolution does not remotely fulfill the first requirement of divestment.
See Part II of Prof. Lieberman’s presentation here.