The Hypocrisy of Penn Divestment

The University of Pennsylvania has a new divestment movement called Penn Divest from Displacement. It is a newly contrived “action” group uniting the same fellow travellers, including Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Penn Arab Student Society, and other like-minded groups. They propose that the university divest from corporations “that profit through practices that displace people.” The companies Penn Divest from Displacement is charging with human rights abuses are involved in displacement of people. The targeted companies are those related to private prison industry, drone manufacturing, and bulldozers used against Palestinian homes in the West Bank.

Notice the hypocrisy. The Assad regime has displaced almost 4 million Syrians including tens of thousands of Palestinians, but the Assad regime isn’t on the Penn Divest from Displacement radar. Iran displaced hundreds of thousands of Ahwazi Arabs in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, but it too is not a target for Penn Divest from Displacement. Who is? You can guess: Israel. In heinous cases of Palestinian terrorists murdering innocent Israeli civilians, particularly if children are involved, demolishes the terrorist’s home as a preventive measure to discourage other would be terrorists. This sort of action was used by the British Mandatory government as a measure against terrorism. Israel applies the same rules. 

As a student majoring in history, I too was outraged by injustices around the world. Although, at the time, in the 1970s we did not call for boycotts, divestments, or sanctions (BDS) against major perpetrators of human rights abuses. We knew exactly who the bad guys were. We knew for instance, that China occupied Tibet, that the Tibetans were oppressed by the Chinese Communist regime, and that their freedom of religion and civil rights were severely curtailed. We also knew that 30 million Kurds were denied a homeland. The Kurds were oppressed by the Arab regimes in Iraq and Syria, and non-Arab Iran and Turkey. In Syria, under the Assad regime and even earlier, 300,000 Kurds were displaced from their native homes in Syria’s northeastern Al-Hasakah province, and denied Syrian citizenship as well as access to passports, hospitals, and schools. The Damascus regime settled Arabs in the province instead. The world was silent because the Kurds, unlike the Arabs, did not have oil, nor were they confronting the world’s historical scapegoats, the Jews.

The Penn Arab Society signatories of the Penn Divest from Displacement wrote, “As students of this university, we believe in complete equality and justice around the world…” If that is the case, why not condemn, let alone divest from the Arab Middle Eastern countries who butcher their own people or the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza that murders political opponents on the pretext of collaboration with Israel? How about the injustices committed against Christians and Jews in the Muslim Middle East? Why does SJP have one standard for Israel, and another for the rest of the world?

It is disturbing to witness today’s students ignorantly singling out a democratic nation like Israel for BDS campaigns. Israel, uniquely in the region, grants religious freedom, human rights, and civil rights to all, including Arab citizens. Groups like SJP are not about human rights as much as they are about anti-Semitism under the guise of being concerned about the Palestinians. They have maliciously sought to equate Israel to “Apartheid” South Africa. Visible facts for all who visit Israel are conveniently ignored.  Israel, not Egypt or any other Arab state, provided shelter and sustenance to African Muslim refugees. Israel has also absorbed over 135,000 black Ethiopian Jews as equal citizens. Before the intifada and the onset of Palestinian homicide-bombers, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians worked in Israel and acquired a standard of living not seen anywhere else in the region. Israel moreover, absorbed Bosnian and Albanian Muslim refugees, and Vietnamese boat people.

The SJP-orchestrated campaign against Israel is so contrived and out of proportion that one can only conclude that anti-Semitism, not justice, motivates such a group. What has the SJP done to improve the Palestinians lives? Nothing. Other than using the Palestinian cause to promote their anti-Israel agenda, they have not bettered a single Palestinian’s life. Israel, on the other hand, has provided lucrative jobs for peaceful Palestinians seeking to improve their lives. SodaStream is an example of an Israeli company providing great working conditions for Palestinian Arabs only to have SJP and their fellow travellers campaigning to boycott the firm. Now the firm has moved to southern Israel, employing Israeli-Muslim Bedouins.

If SJP had an ounce of compassion for the Palestinians, they would demonstrate against the atrocities committed in Syria and Iraq against Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and Palestinians. They would express their sympathy for the persecuted Baha’is, Christians, and Jews in Iran. Most particularly, they would demand that the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority (PA), with billions of dollars in western donations, settle their refugees after 67 years in dilapidated camps. In Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere in the Arab world, Palestinians are denied citizenship and a chance to live a normal life. Has the SJP protested against these Arab governments? Or cried out against the not so secret expulsion of Christians from the Arab Middle East, including the PA-governed “Christian” town of Bethlehem?

Israel absorbed and settled a far greater number of Jewish refugees from the Arab states than the number of Palestinians made into refugees. Moreover, Israel accomplished this in the early 1950s with meager resources. There is no reason why much larger worldwide refugee problems (India and Pakistan 1947, German refugees from Eastern Europe returning to Germany after WWII) that were solved through resettlement in their countries of co-religionist, ethnic, or national origin cannot be applied to the Palestinians. After 67 years, there is no justification for a separate refugee agency for Palestinians only. This is precisely what the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) does. UNRWA however, has not settled the Palestinian refugees as the High Commission for Refugees has done with tens of millions of refugees elsewhere. Instead, it has deliberately perpetuated the refugee problem of the Palestinians. If the Penn Divest from Displacement is seeking a just cause to exercise their zeal, they should campaign to divest America from funding an agency that deliberately prolongs the misery of Palestinians, and wage a campaign to defund the PA unless it provides housing, jobs, and decent education for the refugees.  

SJP and their ilk go beyond being anti-Israel (by singling out Israel they are qualified to be labeled anti-Semitic, even if some self-hating and misguided Jews fill their ranks), they are anti-American as well. Seeking divestment from drone manufacturers which the U.S. uses to target notorious terrorists who seek to kill Americans exposes the misguided nature of these students. Next, they will seek divestment from the Pentagon, because it uses weapons against America’s enemies.

The time has come for the American people and institutions to denounce and expel these nihilist students and the professors who encourage them to single out civilized and democratic nations. Targeting Israel for BDS campaigns turns justice upside down, especially when the true perpetrators of cruelty and injustice are given a pass. Israel, on the other hand, albeit imperfect, has contributed richly to the betterment of mankind.