Matt, from UC Berkeley's Tikvah: Students for Israel read this thoughtful essay at the ASUC hearing regarding Divestment on March 17. Reprinted here with permission and gratitude:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the ASUC. As much as I appreciate what you do for the student body, there are some bills that come up before you occasionally that are simply so ludicrous, hypocritical, and misguided that I must put my foot down. I come before you tonight to inform you that it is absolutely correct to say that Israel does not have the world’s most pristine human rights record. The Israeli government has made many poor decisions across its history, and even recently. When I make such statements, I critique Israel, but I do not cross the line into anti-Israel or anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Here’s where the picture gets more complicated. Some supporters of this bill claim that it is not anti-Israel, and that it is simply interested in human rights. Let me show you where you are wrong on this. I agree that we as students should not have investments in countries with abysmal human rights records. This goes against our core values, and it is our moral duty to stand up and decry human rights violations when they occur. If you agree with these statements, then you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. If you are going to divest funding from Israel in the name of human rights, you must divest funding from every single other country in the region, and then some. Let’s start with Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion does not exist. There are separate roads for different religions, and prohibition of public practise of other religions. I as a bisexual can be officially executed for who I am, and who I love, as can any other member of the LGBT community, in any country across the region. Foreigners with AIDS are deported. There are no laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Women cannot drive cars, cannot go out into public without a male relative guardian, and are essentially subjected to what may be accurately labelled “gender apartheid”. Human slavery, though outlawed on paper decades ago, still exists, particularly in a form where children as young as four are trafficked from South Asia to serve as camel race jockeys. Berkeley even has gone so far as to have a partnership with a university in Saudi Arabia.
Let’s move on to China. In the course of the brutal repression and occupation of Tibet, at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions (according to Tibetan estimates), have been killed, and tens if not hundreds of thousands have “disappeared”. China has been the largest investor in Sudan’s oil business, is Sudan’s biggest economic partner, and has in fact supplied the very fighter jets and military trucks used by the janjaweed to perpetrate the genocide in Darfur. The threat of a Chinese veto, among other things, has even stalled the UN Security Council from taking stronger action about Darfur.
In Iran, gays, lesbians, and Bahá’ís are murdered, men may even be killed for non-penetrative sexual acts, the government publishes the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion, there is a stranglehold on political freedom and freedom of speech, and the government sponsors terrorist organisations committed to the annihilation of Israel such as Hamas and Hizballah, the latter of which has wreaked internal havoc on the country of Lebanon. Turkey denies the genocide it perpetrated 95 years ago against the Armenians, as it simultaneously broadcasts cartoons portraying Jews as bloodthirsty baby-killers, and welcomes a UC study abroad program.
Israel is the only country in a region stretching from Morocco to Iran marked by the most recent Freedom in the World report as FREE. Not partly free, not “not free”, free. You repeatedly tout the number of dead in Gaza as evidence of war crimes. By this logic, in World War II, Germany should be seen as the victim of war crimes perpetrated by Britain and the USA, who specifically targeted civilian areas. Israel not only intended to avoid civilian casualties, but took special measures, quoted by some as the most stringent measures in human wartime history, to ensure that they would not happen. Are you sad that more Israelis didn’t die? So before you even consider removing funding from Israel, consider the vast swath of countries whose human rights abuses far outweigh those of Israel. The fact that this country is being brought up before any of these others singles out Israel, and the fact that to date no resolutions have been passed condemning any of these other countries nor removing investments in them, is indicative of the fact that Israel is held to a higher standard.
I don’t care if it’s one company being divested from, or a hundred, the rationale behind it is intensely hypocritical and flawed. The only time I should see this bill even coming up, and we can have a true debate about this issue, should be when we have condemned every single other country in the region for their mountain of human rights violations. Until that happens, I stand by my viewpoint that this bill is flagrantly anti-Israel, and absolutely takes a ‘side’ in the political web of the Arab-Israeli conflict by sidestepping the larger picture of a region filled with crimes against human dignity that you choose to ignore on this Senate floor. I do not yield my time to questions.