Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

The divestment crusaders

On at least 40 campuses nationwide, professors and students have mounted campaigns to force colleges and universities to divest themselves from their holdings in any corporations or firms that do business with Israel.

In October, hundreds of these crusaders _ including many from campuses not yet involved in the campaign _ gathered at the University of Michigan for the Second National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement. Addressing the throng was Eric Reichenberger, spokesman for Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, the University of Michigan group that hosted this jeremiad against Israel.

Reichenberger proclaimed that "Israel is the prime example of human rights violators in the world." There were no objections in the crowd. The tyrannical crushers of human rights in Zambia, Liberia, Kazakstan and China would have been relieved at getting a pass from these paladins of freedom and equality.

In case some independent human-rights activists might have asked about the relationship of Palestinian suicide bombers to the shining principles of this human-rights conference, there was this revealing section of the divestment's guiding principles (included in the event's promotional material):

"As a solidarity movement, it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation."

It's a pity no one there quoted Hanan Ashrawi, one of the most visible and persistent advocates of Palestinian liberation, from what she repeatedly describes as "the occupation." As quoted in the Village Voice, Ashrawi has called the suicide bombings "morally reprehensible." And in The Progressive magazine, she denounced those Palestinians who interpreted "Israeli military attacks on innocent Palestinian lives as license to do the same to their civilians. Where are those (Palestinian) voices and forces that should have stood up for the sanctity of human lives (ours and theirs) instead of allowing the horror of our own suffering to silence us?"

Those voices were absent at the Second National Student Conference on the Palestine Solidarity Movement.

I'm puzzled by the hordes of faculty members at distinguished universities around the country who have enthusiastically signed these divestment petitions in the name of human rights. For many years, in Sudan, southern black Christians and traditionalists have been subjected to slavery, women have been gang raped, and genocide has persisted (however, President Bush and Congress have now officially condemned it).

Yet, there have been few rallies, demonstrations or urgent antislavery petitions at America's institutions of higher learning. On the other hand, schoolchildren around the country sold their toys and held bake sales to raise money to redeem slaves in Sudan.

Charles Jacobs, president of the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group _ a group instrumental in awakening thousands of Americans, most of them without Ph.D.s, to join the New Abolitionist Campaign _ attempted to dissect, in an Oct. 5 Boston Globe article, this selective targeting of Israel on so many nation's campuses. He describes "a human rights complex" on the part of some in "the human rights community, composed mostly of compassionate white people, (which) feels a special duty to protest evil done by those who are like "us.' . . . But when we see evil done by "others,' we tend to shy away.

"Though we claim to have a single standard for all human conduct," Jacobs continues, "we don't. We fear the charge of hypocrisy: We Westerners, after all, had slaves. We napalmed Vietnam. We live on Native American land. Who are we to judge "others?' . . . The biggest victims of this complex are not the Jews who are obsessively criticized but the victims of genocide, enslavement, religious persecution and ethnic cleansing who are murderously ignored: the Christian slaves of Sudan, the Muslim slaves of Mauritania, the Tibetans, the Kurds, the Christians in Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt."

Jacobs notes that the singling out of Israel for condemnation on these campuses is not predominantly anti-Semitism. It is the "abandonment of those around the world . . . whose oppressions we find beside the point."

But in some of the anti-Israel demonstrations on campuses, copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are being circulated. Swastikas appear on places where Jewish students gather. The great majority of the divestment crusaders are not anti-Semites. There are Jews among them. But there are also Jew-haters among them, gathering sustenance from this demonization of a country as if it were not trying to defend its very existence from those who send suicide bombers, a weapon that destroys any claim of moral equivalency in this deadly conflict.

+ Syndicated columnist Nat Hentoff is an authority on the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights. +

Newspaper Enterprise Association