Given how the Berkeley divestment vote is playing out almost day-by-day like one that first introduced me to the BDS issue in Somerville, MA, I thought I’d re-release something I wrote on the eve of that vote. It’s a bit more political than usual (and some references may seem dated), but it does represent my thinking as to why this issue is so much bigger than just divestment or just Israel. So take it for what it’s worth…
A close friend, whose opinion I respect on all matters, is having trouble figuring out my devotion to seeing the divestiture motion defeated this week.
Over beers, and between trading tips on raising young sons, he wondered why this issue raised such dander when there was so much else going on in the world. For example, we discussed at length the prisoners in Guantanamo and whether or not their nebulous status represented a slippery slope that would lead to the dismantling of the Geneva Conventions, the last century’s formal rules on war.
While our debate focused on prisoners, I’ve been reflecting more on the “slippery slope” part of our conversation since it seemed apparent to me that the slippery slope towards warfare unrestrained by rules actually began four decades ago.
That was the time that modern terrorism was born, represented by the persona of the recently deceased Yassir Arafat. Over the first twenty years of Palestinian war against the state of Israel, the new battlefield became airplanes hijacked from Europe, the Olympic Village in Munich, and a schoolyard in Maalot, in Northern Israel. Airline passengers, Olympic athletes and school children became the new targets for “military” action, contravening every known rule of war going back decades, if not centuries.
And with each Palestinian outrage, the rules of warfare were carefully rewritten or reinterpreted to allow murderous assaults against Israeli civilians to pose as something other than a war crime. The slippery slope became steeper over the next twenty years until now when we cannot even gain worldwide consensus that blowing up a pizzeria in Jerusalem represents an act of terror.
Point of fact, we are well past the slippery slope. Today, we are at the bottom of the hill, with the Geneva Convention and all known human rights conventions in tatters, the shredded remains burned and those that destroyed them laughing over the ashes. At the same time, those that declared a war against all as a national (if not divine) right are simultaneously demanding that the rules they just incinerated still apply, but only to preventing any defensive action being taken against them.
As in the last century, tyrants have demanded the rules of humane behavior be rewritten to make room for ruthlessness directed against the Jews. And just like the last century, these exceptions, meant originally for just the Jews, has allows us to define deviancy down to where anyone in the world is now a legitimate target in a war directed primarily against civilians, from disco dancers blown up in Bali, to Kurds gassed in Iraq, to a million Rwandans hacked to pieces, to 3000 dead in a cemetery that was once a high-rise building in Manhattan.
So by a strange twist of fate, this supposedly narrow goal of defending the honor of tiny Israel has universal implications. Similarly, those who use universal ideals like human rights and the rule of law as a smoke screen for their narrow attack on the Jewish state are the ones sacrificing global principle for provincial aims.
I at this word processor, we in this town do not have the wealth or the power to turn back the clock to when warfare had boundaries. We cannot, unaided, repair organizations like the UN and the recently debauched World Court that have been so corrupted by oil wealth and the power such wealth brings.
But we can do something. We can say NO to this odious assault on a small, beleaguered country, dressed clumsily as a humanitarian call for socially responsible investing. We can say it stops here. And with courage, and by example, we may be able to take back noble ideals like human rights from those who have stolen them in support of ruthless and intolerant ends.
It’s easy to talk about thinking globally and acting locally, but tonight Somerville [Berkeley] has a chance to do both. Let’s hope our leaders have the wisdom to make the right choice.