At Yale, along with other American college campuses, students have launched a campaign to divest university shares from companies that invest in Israel. Modeled after a similar 1980s effort aimed at the racist apartheid South African regime, this movement is similar in name only. At that time, the students who protested were venerable political activists who fought to promote the cause of South Africa’s oppressed black population. Today, the leaders of the divestment campaign fall into two categories. There are the well-intentioned but misguided advocates who truly have the Palestinian people’s best interests at heart; and there are the anti-Semites who have singled Israel out of the world community (especially countries like China, Cuba, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who all have far worse records of human rights violations) as a guise for their hatred. Unfortunately, both of these groups are destroying the remnants of the Palestinians’ best chance for an independent, economically stable, and democratic state of Palestine.
Israel is the only country ever to offer the Palestinians the opportunity for statehood. Before 1967, when Jordan and Egypt controlled the West Bank and Gaza Strip respectively, Palestinians living in the territories were either subsumed by Jordan or condemned to squalid refugee camps by the Egyptians. It was only in 1967, when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip in its war of self-defense and consciously decided not to annex those lands, that the Palestinians saw their first glimpse of independence. For over 20 years, Israel tried to find a competent Palestinian leadership to govern those areas. When the PLO abandoned terror as a political tactic and sat at the negotiating table, the implementation of Palestinian autonomy began. It progressed through the Oslo and Wye Accords until its collapse at Camp David when Yasir Arafat rejected Israel’s most far-reaching proposal. Despite the current escalation of militant Palestinian violence, the current Israeli government, led by Ariel Sharon, still maintains a firm commitment to the realization of Palestinian statehood upon the cessation of the terror campaign.
When the violence ends and peace talks resume, the economic viability of any future Palestinian state, as well as all interim phases, depends heavily on the stability of the Israeli economy. Before the outbreak of violence over two years ago, the Palestinian economy was rooted in Israel. Over 60 percent of the Palestinian Authority’s budget came from Israeli funds, 30 to 40 percent of the labor force was employed within Israel, and the Karni Industrial Zone, a joint operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, was in its final stages of production. The growing Palestinian economy collapsed when the militants sabotaged the joint efforts of the two peoples. Israel, however, is eagerly waiting to resume economic ties.
Most importantly, a condemnation of Israel’s political system through divestment could make clear that despotic regimes, like those in Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are preferable models for a future Palestinian state. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Its one million Arab citizens, who comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population, are the only ones in the Middle East who appreciate freedoms of speech, religion and sexual orientation. Currently, Israeli Arabs control 10 seats out of the Israeli parliament’s 120. They also take part in the only regional political system that grants women equal rights and opportunities.
Those who are using the Palestinians as pawns in their hate-ridden drive to eradicate the State of Israel should be exposed as the exploitative anti-Semites that they are. However, those whose ignorance and misguidance have led them to believe that their divestment campaign is in the Palestinians’ best interests must correct their mistakes before further damaging the Palestinian cause. A call to divest from Israel is a call to divest from the dreams and aspirations of the Palestinian people.
Ayalon Eliach is a freshman in Trumbull College.