Monday, November 5, 2007

"...we focus on Israel because it is the number one recipient of US foreign aid, most of which is in the form of military grants...."

"Op-Ed: Israeli occupation: Injustice in our name"

November 5, 2007
By Amanda Gelender

Article on the Web at:

I am Jewish. I state that at the beginning of this op-ed so that when you read it, you will not immediately discount me as anti-Semitic. For those of you unfamiliar with the rhetoric of Middle Eastern affairs, this frightening and overtly racist phenomenon occurs whenever human rights activists like myself hold Israel to the same international standards as we hold all other nations; non-Jews are delegitimized as having an innate prejudice against Jewish people. But you don’t have to worry about that, because, as I previously stated, I am Jewish.

In fact, I write this op-ed on behalf of the Jewish Committee on Human Rights (J-COHR), formerly Jews for Justice in Palestine. We are socially conscious Jews who have joined Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI) to create a united front of students, alumni, staff, faculty and community members to persuade Stanford’s Board of Trustees to divest from corporations violating international law and supporting human rights abuses in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Some of you may wonder, “Why do you focus on Israel? Aren’t there lots of human rights abuses that deserve our attention?” It’s true, there are many human rights abuses occurring across the world, including violations in our own country. All of these injustices merit recognition, and Israel is no exception. We single out Israel for the same reason that others single out Darfur or Burma: because there are atrocious human rights abuses occurring in a specific socio-political context. But more importantly, we focus on Israel because it is the number one recipient of US foreign aid, most of which is in the form of military grants. As American citizens and taxpayers, a better question might be: “Why not focus on Israel?”

Americans have a unique culpability for Israeli injustices, as the U.S. supports Israel’s occupation of Palestine with more than $7 million in foreign aid per day, totaling $108 billion over the last 50 years (Source: “Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,” 2006). While Israel comprises one tenth of one percent of the world’s population, the U.S. gives Israel approximately one-third of our foreign aid budget, totaling more aid for Israel than Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean combined if aid to Egypt and Colombia is extracted from the total (Source: “Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,” 2002).

Given this tremendous sum of U.S. aid coupled with its appalling human rights record, Israel deserves our criticism and consideration just as much as other nations; subjugation in other countries does not negate that which occurs in Israel. As Desmond Tutu has said, “Divestment from apartheid South Africa was certainly no less justified because there was repression elsewhere on the African continent.”

But what is Israel doing that is so wrong?” you may wonder. According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, since September 2000 the Israeli military has killed 4,267 Palestinians (861 of whom were children) and demolished 4,170 Palestinian homes. The Israeli military subjects Palestinians to hundreds of military checkpoints within the Palestinian territories, effectively obstructing their ability to access employment, education and medical care. Israel has detained more than 15 percent of the total Palestinian population in the territories since 1967 (Source: Palestine Monitor). Israel confiscates Palestinian land to build Jewish-only settlements which strategically annex agricultural and water resources from Palestinian civilians.

As Shulamit Aloni, the former Israeli Minister of Education, stated, “...through its army, the government of Israel practices a brutal form of apartheid in the territory it occupies. Its army has turned every Palestinian village and town into a fenced-in, or blocked-in, detention camp.”

There are people on this campus who want you to believe that this criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. There are people on this campus who want to shut down debate on these issues by claiming that it is offensive to the Jewish community. As rational individuals, we must reject and surpass this empty rhetoric, demanding serious examination of Israel’s human rights abuses and our own culpability in sustaining them.

Our group, J-COHR, emerges from a rich history of solidarity in social justice movements: men who stood by women in their demand for reproductive freedom; white people who fought with African-Americans against segregation; straight people helping the queer community oppose institutional heterosexism. We are Jews standing with Palestinians in their demand for education, healthcare, economic opportunity and basic human rights.

To learn more about the occupation of Palestine, hear Hanan Ashwari speak tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. To take action against these human rights abuses, sign SCAI’s petition at

--Amanda Gelender is a junior double-majoring in political science and drama.