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May 17, 2022 10:46 am
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Harvard Crimson Editorial on BDS Repeats Baseless Lies and Accusations

avatar by Jeff Mendelsohn

Opinion

Matthews Hall, Harvard University. Photo: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons.

The Harvard Crimson editorial board’s decision to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is egregiously misplaced. BDS is not a movement to help Palestinians; rather, it seeks to undermine the legitimacy of Israel, isolate Israel on the world stage, and ultimately dismantle the world’s only Jewish state. It’s sad that the groupthink all too common on college campuses has infected Harvard journalism.

The editorial drips with misplaced, but ever so righteous, condemnation of Israel — repeating accusations lodged against Israel for decades, modified only to conform to current rhetoric. For decades, the PLO, the Soviet Union, the Arab League, and the United Nations condemned Israel for all sorts of supposed “crimes,” notwithstanding the hypocrisy of those making the claims. And while those accusations have been largely repudiated, sometimes by the very institutions that promoted them, they have now been taken up by non-state actors from Hamas to Amnesty International, to the editorial board of the Crimson. (Some international institutions, like the UN Human Rights Council, populated by some of the world’s most egregious human rights violators, continue the tradition of hyper-focusing on Israel with false and exaggerated claims.)

BDS seeks to reverse perhaps the most amazing national achievement of the modern era. The Jewish people, after centuries upon centuries of persecution and exile, finally returned to their ancient homeland and built a society, which later became the state of Israel, where Jews can determine their own future and no longer live at the capricious whim of others. They came with hard-won international approval and the desire to reinvent the Jewish condition. Unfortunately, their dream of peace remains unfulfilled.

As a Harvard College and Law School alum — and the former president of Harvard Hillel — I respect the Crimson’s concern for Palestinian freedom, but the road to that freedom starts in Gaza and Ramallah. To think otherwise denies Palestinians the very agency the Crimson claims to support. Like many who advocate against Israel, the Crimson conveniently forgets history and context, both of which matter.

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The Palestinian Authority is widely seen as corrupt and undemocratic, and Hamas is a terror organization that runs the Gaza Strip with an iron fist; both deny basic freedoms to their people. Moreover, Palestinians continue to refuse to accept the legitimacy of Israel, opting again and again for political violence while repeatedly passing up on opportunities for peace.

Palestinian rejectionism of Israel stems back 100 years, before the founding of Israel, to a time when Jews migrating to what was then British Palestine were defenseless refugees seeking a better life for themselves and their children. This rejectionism, not Israeli actions, is at the very root of this conflict’s longevity.

Despite the decades of terrorism and war leveled at Israel — glaringly left out of the Crimson’s thinking — Israel has built a modern, Western, pluralistic, democratic society, with all the benefits and challenges that entails. For a country that has not enjoyed a single day of peace since its founding, what it has achieved in just a few decades is beyond remarkable. The fact that opinion surveys show that Arab citizens of Israel would prefer to remain citizens of Israel even if a state of Palestine is established, speaks volumes.

Palestinian “liberation” won’t come by boycotting Israel. The Palestinian “cry for freedom” will not be answered by demonizing Israel. The only path forward requires new Palestinian leadership, an acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy as the national homeland of the Jewish people, and an openness to compromise. The recent normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain, and other formerly rejectionist states, not to mention Egypt and Jordan, demonstrate what’s possible when Israel is accepted as a legitimate neighbor and partner.

Jeff Mendelsohn is the executive director of Pro-Israel America. He is a Harvard College alum (’84), Harvard Law School alum (’87) and served as the former president of Harvard Hillel.

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