The Daily newspaper at the University of Washington recently ran an editorial titled “Why Israel?: The problems with ASUW Resolution 20-39.” In this article, Nathan Taft makes two arguments against a resolution brought before the Associated Students of the University of Washington which urges UW to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli government’s human rights abuses.
The first is that Israel’s innovations in science more than make up for the destructive colonial project which the Israeli government has spent the last half century pursuing.
“The blind hatred that some of the world bears for Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, is a deeply troubling conundrum. There are undoubtedly issues with certain policies of Israel’s government and particular facets of its society — such as the building of settlements — and these must be addressed. But this is only a small part of a much more complicated conflict that stretches back more than 2,000 years, and the solution lies not in misleading propaganda but in fair and open dialogue.
The truth is, the overwhelming majority of what Israel and its people contribute to the world is positive. This tiny nation publishes nearly ten times more scientific papers than its share of the world’s population and has more Nobel Prize winners than all the other countries in the Middle East put together. Israeli technological innovations brought us drip irrigation that revolutionized agriculture worldwide, pill-sized cameras that can be swallowed to diagnose internal conditions, portable flash drives, and instant messaging, to name just a few.”
Taft’s interpretation of the benefits and costs of the occupation completely silences the experiences of the Palestinian people. This familiar ends justify the means argument has long been used to justify colonial and imperial projects, especially those of western powers. In fact, on April 4th, 1968 the Daily published an opinion piece co-authored by journalists Richard Sanders and Larry Parr with strikingly similar arguments attempting to justify South African Apartheid.
In this passage, Sanders and Parr personify “the Facts” in a mock account of a court room proceeding; South Africa is standing trail, and “the Facts” take the stand:
Sanders and Parr argued similarly that UW students in 1968 simply had a “blind hatred” for South Africa, without the “nuanced” understanding of all the “good” apartheid was doing. The paternalistic position is clear: the benevolent occupier was simply not properly understood by the ungrateful occupied.
The second argument Taft outlines is also familiar. Why focus on Israel? The main point of this argument is that R-20-39 singles out Israel, while ignoring the crimes of surrounding countries. As though focusing on fighting against one oppression means that you are ignoring others. He states,
“Despite this, ASUW Resolution 20-39, entitled “A Resolution to Divest from Companies Profiting from Violations of International Law and Human Rights,” explicitly targets Israel and Israel alone. Not Russia, with its anti-gay laws and illegal annexation of Ukrainian and Georgian territory. Not Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed in public without a male companion and are treated as second class citizens. Not even Syria, where the government has massacred more than 100,000 of its own civilians. No, the Resolution targets only the Jewish of the state of Israel.
The argument for divestment from countries that practice clear-cut and straightforward violations of human rights is a legitimate one, but this resolution does not do that. There are many countries that do far more harm — and contribute far less good — than Israel, and they are not even mentioned, much less targeted by R-20-39.”
This statement suggests that Taft has likely not read the divestment bill R-20-39, which explicitly focuses on companies profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and not Israel itself, nor Israeli citizens. This defense of apartheid is also shared by Sanders and Parr, who attempt to distract from the issue being discussed by pointing the finger at other countries in the region. This passage references some of the exchange during an event on UW campus in 1968.
Perhaps the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which helped draw international attention to the barbaric and inhumane treatment of South Africans was misplaced. Perhaps the Black Student Union, who started organizing against South African apartheid as early as 1968, were not justified in doing so as long as any other oppression in the world persisted. Perhaps, as Sanders and Parr argue, what we really needed was a “Good Neighbor policy,” with the South African government.
Unfortunately for Sanders, Parr and Taft, history has taught us something quite different. In 1989, after over 20 years of dedicated organizing by students at UW, the University of Washington finally divested from South Africa, in response to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Today we are called upon by 171 Palestinian civil society organizations to engage in a similar nonviolent tactic to help bring about the end of Israeli apartheid. Pursuing divestment in companies who profit from the occupation, which R-20-39 does, is one way students at the UW have chosen to recognize that call. Not only does this resolution answer a call put out by Palestinians seeking an end to a decades long occupation, it helps create a space for an actual dialogue and discussion around Israel’s human rights abuses which goes beyond the oversimplified and inadequate AIPAC and StandWithUs talking points which Taft was so quick to regurgitate.
Students of conscience should vote yes on R-20-39. Defending apartheid today is no different from defending apartheid in 1968. As UW students we can do better. We must do better.
Find out more about #DawgsDivest, sign our petition in support, and read the letters to ASUW senators supporting R-20-39 which have come to us from all around the world at www.superuw.org/dawgsdivest.