Critics on campuses
|Subject: Fwd: Havard Divestment Campaign,|
Charges of Anti-Semitism against activists
> From Today's Boston Globe (This was on their website early today, now it is
>On campuses, critics of Israel fend off a label
>By Marcella Bombardieri, Globe Staff, 9/21/2002
>When Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nancy Kanwisher helped
>launch a spring petition calling on Harvard and MIT to cut their financial
>ties to Israel, she saw it as a political protest against Israel's alleged
>violation of Palestinians' human rights.
>But in the months since she helped gather signatures on the two campuses,
>her effort has become the target of a much larger counterpetition - and,
>this week, a high-profile denunciation by Harvard president Lawrence H.
>Summers, who declared her group's actions ''anti-Semitic in effect, if not
>After his stinging speech, divestment was once again in the spotlight, as
>students and faculty debated yesterday whether it is possible to protest
>Israel without evoking the grim legacy of anti-Semitism.
>''Harvard prides itself on academic freedom, but the question of punishment
>against Israel is tricky and divisive for people,'' said Rohit Chopra, a
>junior who chairs the student affairs committee of the Undergraduate
>Council. ''It's so super-sensitive because Israel is a home or a second home
>spiritually to so many people. So it's hard to criticize Israel delicately
>and avoid a tough label like anti-Semitism.''
>Kanwisher was direct in her reaction. Summers ''should be ashamed of
>himself,'' she said, ''casting these McCarthy-esque insinuations about our
>Summers declined to comment yesterday. But some Harvard professors who have
>asked him about his speech said Summers assured them he was not personally
>labeling the signers of the petition as anti-Semitic.
>The Israeli divestment idea was born two years ago in a speech by University
>of Illinois professor Francis A. Boyle, who says he hoped to influence
>Israeli policy in the same way the 1980s South African divestment campaign
>helped end apartheid.
>Boyle had studied human rights law at Harvard. At the time, he also joined
>calls for Harvard to withdraw its investments in South Africa - which the
>university eventually did.
>To Boyle, the divestment issue is exactly the same in both instances,
>legally and morally.
>''Israel clearly practices apartheid against Palestinians,'' he said. ''This
>isn't reinventing the wheel.''
>But a protest against Israel, a close ally of the United States whose modern
>roots are entwined with World War II atrocities against Jews, has proved a
>far more loaded issue on American campuses.
>''Why don't they say anything about Cuba's chilling of dissent or China's
>occupation of Tibet? Why don't they feel a personal stake in getting Jordan,
>Egypt, and the Philippines to stop torturing people?'' asked Harvard law
>professor Alan Dershowitz, who said he would resign if Harvard divested from
>Israel. ''The only reason they feel so strongly about Israel is because it
>is the Jewish nation.''
>But the divestment proponents point out that the US government sends more
>money to Israel than those other countries - about $3 billion a year. And
>their petitions assert that Harvard has some $600 million invested in US
>companies that do business in Israel.
>Mary C. Potter, a professor of cognitive sciences who started the MIT
>petition with Kanwisher, doesn't regret sparking debate. But she's aghast at
>the anti-Semitism charges. Although she still believes in the goals of
>divestment, she has begun to wonder what role non-Jews can play in the
>''Change will have to come from Jewish groups, because they cannot be
>accused of anti-Semitism,'' Potter said.
>At Princeton University, where a divestment petition began circulating last
>spring, a student leader of the campaign renounced the cause publicly.
>''I came to the realization not only that it was impractical but that it is
>divisive in that the tactic isolates one group - Jews and Israeli people,''
>said Taufiq Rahim, who is Muslim and hails from Vancouver. ''Many Jewish,
>Israeli, and Palestinian people are interested in the same things.''
>Rahim, who had gathered signatures for the campaign, wrote a letter to
>faculty members explaining his switch. He still opposes Israeli occupation
>of the West Bank and Gaza.
>The Princeton petition inspired the Cambridge activists. Potter and
>Kanwisher and some friends at Harvard were looking for a way to put into
>action their opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Kanwisher
>was ''desperately casting around on the Web one night to see what other
>people were doing,'' when she found a Web page for the Princeton divestment
>The petition said signers are ''appalled by the human rights abuses against
>Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government.'' It also called
>attacks on Israeli citizens ''abhorrent.''
>Circulated by e-mail, it garnered 69 signatures from Harvard faculty and 55
>from MIT faculty. But it also sparked a much larger countersalvo - a new
>petition calling the divestment campaign ''a one-sided attempt to
>delegitimize Israel,'' and saying it ''revives rhetoric long discredited by
>its use among extremists as code for the destruction of the Jewish state.''
>That counterpetition was signed by 439 Harvard faculty and 143 MIT faculty.
>The local divestment activists' next plan is to try to book some speakers on
>the topic. On a national level, a conference at the University of Michigan
>in October will discuss how to bring the issue to new campuses. Boyle, the
>Illinois professor, said he believes that minds can be changed.
>''I would hope there could be a dialogue between us and President Summers,''
>Patrick Healy of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.
>This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 9/21/2002.