of Israel strikes an alien note
(Alan M. Dershowitz, National Post November 5, 2002)
If a visitor
from a far away galaxy were to land at an American or Canadian university
and peruse some of the petitions that were circulating around the
campus, he would probably come away with the conclusion that the
Earth is a peaceful and fair planet with only one villainous nation
determined to destroy
the peace and to violate human rights.
would not be Iraq, Libya, Serbia, Russia or Iran. It would be Israel.
There are currently petitions circulating on most North American
university campuses that would seek to have universities terminate
all investments in companies that do business in or with Israel.
There are also petitions asking individual faculty members to boycott
scientists and scholars who happen to be Israeli Jews, regardless
of their personal views on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
There have been
efforts, some successful, to prevent Israeli speakers from appearing
on college campuses, as recently ccurred at Concordia University.
There are no comparable petitions seeking any action against other
countries that enslave minorities, imprison dissidents, murder political
opponents and torture suspected terrorists. Nor are
there any comparable efforts to silence speakers from other countries.
visitor would wonder what this pariah nation, Israel, must have
done to deserve this unique form of economic capital punishment.
If he then went
to the library and began to read books and articles about this planet,
he would discover that Israel was a vibrant democracy, with freedom
press and religion, that was surrounded by a group of tyrannical
and undemocratic regimes, many of which are actively seeking its
He would learn
that in Egypt, homosexuals are routinely imprisoned and threatened
with execution; that in Jordan suspected terrorists and other opponents
of the government are tortured, and that if individualized torture
does not work, their relatives are called in and threatened with
torture as well; that in Saudi Arabia, women who engage in sex outside
of marriage are beheaded; that in Iraq, political opponents are
routinely murdered en masse and no dissent is permitted; that in
Iran members of religious minorities, such as Baha'is and Jews,
are imprisoned and sometimes executed; that in all of these surrounding
nations, anti-Semitic material is frequently broadcast on state-sponsored
television and radio programs; in Saudi Arabia apartheid is practised
against non-Muslims, with signs indicating that Muslims must go
to certain areas and non-Muslims to others; that China has occupied
Tibet for half a century; that
in several African
countries women are stoned to death for violating sexual mores;
that slavery still exists in some parts of the world; and that genocide
has been committed by a number of countries in recent memory.
visitor would wonder why there are no petitions circulating with
regard to these human rights violators. Is Israel's occupation of
the West Bank and Gaza -- an occupation it has offered to end in
exchange for peace -- worse than the Chinese occupation of Tibet?
Are the tactics used to combat terrorism by Israel worse than those
used by the Russians against Chechen terrorists? Are Arab and Muslim
states more democratic than Israel? Is there any comparable institution
in any Arab or Muslim state to the Israeli Supreme Court, which
frequently rules in favour of Palestinian claims against the Israeli
government and military? Does the absence of the death penalty in
Israel alone, among Middle East nations, make it more barbaric than
which behead, hang and shoot political dissidents?
settlement policy, which 78% of Israelis want to end in exchange
for peace, worse than the Chinese attempt at cultural genocide in
Tibet? Is Israel's policy of full equality for openly gay soldiers
and members of the Knesset somehow worse than the policy of Muslim
states to persecute those who have a different sexual orientation
than the majority? Is Israel's commitment to equality for women
worse than the gender apartheid practised in Saudi Arabia?
would be perplexed to hear the excuses made by university professors
and students for why they are prepared to delegitimate Israel while
remaining silent about the far worse abuses committed by other countries.
If he were to
ask a student about the abuses committed by other countries, he
would be told (as I have been): "You're changing the subject.
talking about Israel now."
me of an incident from the 1920s involving then-Harvard president
A. Lawrence Lowell. Lowell decided that the number of Jews admitted
to Harvard should be reduced because "Jews cheat." When
a distinguished alumnus, Judge Learned Hand, pointed
out that Protestants also cheat, Lowell responded, "You're
subject; we're talking about Jews."
It is not surprising,
therefore, that as responsible and cautious a writer as Andrew Sullivan,
formerly editor of The New Republic and now a writer for The New
York Times Magazine, has concluded that "fanatical anti-Semitism,
as bad or even worse than Hitler's, is now a cultural norm across
much of the Middle East and beyond. It's the acrid glue that unites
Saddam, Arafat, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran and the Saudis. They all
hate the Jews and want to see them destroyed."
traveller, after learning all of these facts, would wonder what
kind of a planet he had landed on. Do we have everything backwards?
Do we know the difference between right and wrong? Do our universities
teach the truth?
These are questions
that need asking, lest we become the kind of world the visitor would
have experienced had he arrived in Europe during the late 1930s
Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard and author of Why Terrorism