History of the Anti-Israel Boycott
The Arab nations started boycotting Jewish products even before the modern State of Israel was established. On December 2, 1945 the Arab league officially declared that “Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable to the Arab countries.” Once Israel was established, the Arab boycott became more elaborate with a multi-front approach:
- Direct trade between Israel and the Arab nations was prohibited..
- The boycott was aimed, as well, at companies doing business with Israel.
- Arab nations also blacklisted companies that traded with companies doing business with Israel.
The objective of the campaign was to isolate Israel and cripple the country's economy. Since the Arab boycott preceded the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and Israel's acquisition of the disputed territories, it cannot be argued that the Arab campaign was initiated to end the "occupation."
The United States strongly objected to these tactics, leading Congress in 1977 to pass a law prohibiting U.S. companies from participating in the Arab ban. President Carter, at the time, protested the boycott signing the law passed by Congress and stating that the “issue goes to the very heart of free trade among nations.” Over the last decade, several Arab nations have initiated trade with Israel and many countries and companies have ignored the Arabs' call to boycott. However, at the end of October 2002, members of the boycott office of the Arab League met for the first time in eight years and voted to "reactivate" the boycott against Israel and "combat the importation of Israeli products to Arab countries." The ban did and continues to prevent Israel's economy from reaching its full potential.
A new incarnation of the anti-Israel boycott is the university divestment campaign conceived by University of Illinois law professor, Francis A. Boyle. Boyle initiated a campaign, similar to the one directed at the apartheid regime in South Africa, demanding that universities divest from companies that do business with Israel. His idea circulated over the internet where it found support among certain campus groups.
Divestment on Campus
The University of California student group, “Students for Justice in Palestine” was the first to launch an organized divestment campaign . Since then, over 50 campuses have followed suit.
Two universities — University of California and University of Michigan — have hosted divestment conferences, as well. The most recent organized forum was held at the University of Michigan from October 12-14, 2002. The event received considerable publicity and presented a number of speakers well-known as extreme detractors of Israel, including Adam Shapiro, Hussein Ibish and Sami al-Arian. Al-Arian gained particular notoriety for bringing Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdullah Shallah to teach at the University of South Florida (see transcript of FoxNews's O'Reilly interview with Al-Arian in September 2001). But despite the publicity and roster of speakers, the conference attracted only a few hundred attendees. Just prior to the conference, college President Mary Sue Coleman publicly spoke out against divestment .
Faculty at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched an ongoing divestment campaign in the spring of 2002. However the number of signatories seems to have leveled off at about 600. By contrast, a temporary, online anti-divestment campaign started by a group of Harvard and MIT students and staff in response to the original anti-Israel campaign quickly attracted 10 times as many signatures as did the original divestment petition. Moreover, in September 2002, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers unequivocally denounced divestment. The speech he delivered criticized the actions of divestment proponents as “anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent.” The Harvard-MIT divestment campaign seems to have stagnated in the face of the strong counter-effort by a group of Harvard and MIT faculty, staff and students, and the courageous stance taken by the Harvard president.
While divestiture petitions receive more attention in the media, pro-Israel, anti-divestment petitions have garned many more signatories. For example, fewer than 1000 people have signed Columbia's divestment petition as compared to more than 33,000 who have signed Columbia's anti-divestment petition .
It is clear that, despite the disproportionate attention given the divestment movement, the vast majority of university staff, faculty and alumni do not support these campaigns. So far divestment petitions have attracted fewer than 10,000 signatures while anti-divestment petitions ones have garnered nearly 100,000. Below are links to divestment and anti-divestment web sites. To date, no university has agreed to divest from Israel.
The question is what do proponents of divestiture hope to accomplish with their campaigns? Those who claim that the goals are to create a Palestinian state and to end “occupation” must be reminded that Israel offered the Palestinians their own state as recently as 2000. The singling out of Israel among all other nations as the sole target of divestment is morally indefensible and, as Harvard President Summers indicated, “anti-Semitic in [its] effect if not [its] intent.” It is crucial for all those who oppose this agenda to make their voices heard.
For more about the divestment campaign on campus, see Wall Street Journal column by Harvard professor Ruth Wisse.