UVM overstepping its role

Educating oneself on the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict means sorting through pages and pages of misinformation, exaggeration and propaganda. Perhaps the most dangerous are the sources that attempt to simplify the issue to black and white, good versus bad. These are the sources that are informing the misguided divestiture campaign that the Socially Responsible Investment Work Group (SRIWG) is currently entertaining. We would be the first university in the United States to actually divest from businesses profiting from the conflict in Israel. Regardless of whether you support or oppose the action, it would send a loud, clear message about the University’s principles that would draw the attention of people around the country. It is unnecessary and inappropriate for the University to weigh in on the issue in this way. Professor Jan Feldman of the Political Science department has called the proposal, “vague, vacuous [and] totally out of sync with popular opinion,” and warns against demonizing one party and sanctifying another, because “every charge that is leveled against Israelis can certainly be leveled against Palestinians…[who] have driven Christian Palestinians out of traditionally Christian towns like Nazareth and Bethlehem.” Simplifying the issue to a matter of Israeli occupation of Palestine neglects many important facts, such as the fact that both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the supposedly democratic Palestinian leadership of Gaza and the West Bank, respectively, have repeatedly delayed promised elections. There is no need to place Hamas, which launched a mortar attack on unarmed student protesters on March 15,on a fictitious moral high ground. The faculty, staff and student body of this university have a legitimate interest in seeing improvements to human rights around the world, but the focus on Israel distracts us from a long list of additional offenders. Israel, Feldman reminds us, is the only country in the Middle East where there is a multi-party democracy, a peace movement and be a place where Arab women can attend university, drive a car and vote. A variety of markers of development reveal that Palestinians in Gaza are considerably more prosperous than Arabs in other regions of the Middle East. They have many of the advantages that opposition movements are fighting for in many Middle Eastern countries right now. The University exists to educate, not to correct or counter the decisions of the State Department. Efforts to bring peace to the Middle East should begin in the classroom and culminate in the actions of students as we go on to save the world using the tools we acquired in the hallowed halls of Old Mill, Votey and Marsh Life. If we divest from Israel, we will be contributing to the hostility, putting yet another barrier in the way of the thoughtful, deliberative negotiations that will eventually bring peace to the region. The SRIWG held an open comment session on March 17to allow members of the community to respond to the proposal. They heard comments from 24 people opposed to the proposal and 14 in support. There was no public discussion, and, as Claire Burlingham, a member of the Division of Finance & Enterprise Services informed me, “at this point there is no set date as to when a decision or announcement will be made.” Notes from the open comment session have not been made available to the public yet. The proposal rests on misinformation and simplistic perspectives, the process through which it has been examined has allowed no room for democratic deliberation and the end result will be to deepen the political divisions in an already volatile geopolitical conflict. Our interest should be in lasting peace, not choosing a side based on a simple-minded analysis of a complex issue.