- Scholars and journalists who for years have studied,
written and talked about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict suddenly are
facing a potential brick wall. This wall, not unlike the concrete barrier
now being built by Israel to keep out the Palestinians, is designed to
silence all discussion of Middle East issues that involves any form of
criticism of Israel on any American university campus. The wall, if it
were built, would be created in law by senators Rick Santorum (Pa) and
Sam Brownback (Kan.) through an amendment to Title VI of the Higher Education
Act. Deceptively to be called an amendment to include "ideological
diversity and "sexual equality as prerequisites for federal funding,
the real purpose of the measure is to require denial of federal funds to
any university whose faculty or students, perhaps even guest lecturers,
make statements that are in any way critical of Israel. The argument is
that any action or statement critical of Israel is perforce anti-Semitic.
- Among hardliner supporters of Israel and the Zionists
this type of move has been brewing for some time. Critics of Israeli treatment
of the Palestinian people have been increasing in number and clarity. But
in human relations there are always several ways to deal with criticism.
One obviously is to ignore it. A second is to meet criticism head on with
superior proofs and arguments. A third is to kill the messenger. A fourth
is to assert that the critic is actually the problem. A fifth is to argue
that the critic or even everybody does the thing being criticized. A sixth
is to assert that the criticism falls within a broad class of statements
that are taboo, e.g., anti-Semitism. When all these essentially social
control options prove unworkable, as in the Israeli case they have, the
last ditch option is to suppress criticism by law.
- Note that the optimum choice is and always has been,
of course, to modify the behavior being criticized. However, anyone listening
and watching closely what Israeli leadership is doing under Sharon and
the Likud party knows that there is no intent whatsoever to modify behavior.
That would require acquiescence in creation of a Palestinian state as well
as acceptance of the Palestinian State as an equal in the family of nations.
This, in turn, would require once and for all determinations of the size
and shape of Israel. The Zionist dream of a Greater Israel would have to
remain just that.
- It may not be possible to persuade the Zionists and their
supporters, Israelis, fundamentalist Christians, or well-wishers in general
that the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies through
recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people. It may not be possible
for Israelis and their supporters to face the fact that denial of Palestinian
rights and repression of their freedom are the taproots of Palestinian
terrorism. Nor may it be possible to persuade the White House and the Congress,
as well as the Democratic candidate for President that unconditional support
for Israel is not and never has been a winning strategy for the United
States. But they all must understand that continued insistence on this
posture is courting a national disaster.
- This proposed amendment is an echo of Nazi, Communist
and other totalitarian forms of censorship. If enacted it would provide
cover for increasing Israeli excesses against the Palestinians. That will
surely provoke more Palestinian resistance, including more terrorism. Every
member of the Senate and House of Representatives who is worth the confidence
we placed in them and the salary we pay them should vote against this amendment.
Their best strategy would be to prevent it from coming to the floor. To
do otherwise would be to pervert our national laws, to willfully corrupt
our diplomatic relations with other countries, and to undermine the intellectual
freedom of our higher educational system.
- George Washington saw the problem clearly, as outlined
in his farewell address more than 200 years ago: " . . . a passionate
attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy
for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common
interest.. and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the
former into a participation in the quarrels and the wars of the latter
without adequate inducements or justification.. It leads, also, to concessions
to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which are apt doubly
to injure the nation making the concessions, by unnecessarily parting with
what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill will and
a disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are
- The definition of national interest as Washington saw
it has not changed. Nor has the stickiness of the flypaper wrapped around
the proposed amendment. We have conceded to no other nation such a license
to interfere in our internal affairs. The way for Israel to reduce or eliminate
most of the criticism that is abroad today is to clean up its own act.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He will welcome comments at firstname.lastname@example.org