House Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY), ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, recently issued a statement attacking the actions of over one hundred New York University (NYU) professors.
The professors have signed an Open Letter to TIAA-CREF, drafted by Students for Justice in Palestine at NYU (SJP @ NYU), calling for divestment from five corporations – Motorola Systems, Caterpillar, Northrop Grumman, Elbit, and Veolia – whose equipment facilitates the oppression of Palestinians and the continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The position taken by these faculty members, and their willingness to speak out, deserve praise, not condemnation.
Rep. Ackerman’s comments are saturated with misunderstandings and misrepresentations, of both the campaign these professors are supporting and the plight of the Palestinian people. Additionally, the references to the campaign as “dangerous” and a form of “warfare on Israel” are chilling in tone.
His comments suggest a desire to preserve the brutal status quo and protect corporate interests, rather than genuine interest in promoting justice and international law in the region.
FACTUAL INACCURACIES – THE CONFLICT
Rep. Ackerman writes that “many thousands of Israelis … have been murdered or maimed by rockets falling on their homes, bombs going off on their buses or by suicide bombers slipping into restaurants and religious celebrations.”
According to the respected human rights organization B’Tselem, exactly 753 Israeli civilians and 342 military personnel were been killed by Palestinians between September 2000 and September 2011. During that same period, the Israeli army killed 6,487 Palestinians, at least half of whom were civilians. During Operation Cast Lead – Israel’s most recent illegal assault on the people of Gaza – the Israeli military killed 1,397 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Three Israeli civilians were killed in the operation.
Clearly this is not a war between two equal parties. This is a vicious occupation against an oppressed and impoverished people, carried out by a powerful, nuclear armed state (Israel), and backed by the world’s strongest military power (the U.S.). Despite the overwhelming evidence, Rep. Ackerman – unlike President Obama, the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, all major human rights organizations, and the international community at large – refuses even to acknowledge that the occupation exists.
Rep. Ackerman questions whether the NYU faculty signers have international law on their side. But to name one of countless examples, the July 9, 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared that “all States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory … [and] to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, to the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination is brought to an end.”
The ICJ’s advisory opinion is consistent with repeated United Nations resolutions recognizing that the Palestinian territories are under occupation, and calling for that occupation to end. The NYU faculty signers have therefore not called for anything beyond the implementation of international law.
FACTUAL INACCURACIES – THE CAMPAIGN
First, concerning the Open Letter to TIAA–CREF, Rep. Ackerman writes that 72 NYU Professors and staff “have managed to assemble a pastiche of smears and falsehoods against Israel.” In fact, SJP @ NYU created the letter, which 132 professors and staff have signed thus far.
Rep. Ackerman fails to point out a single inaccuracy in the letter.
Second, Rep. Ackerman describes the campaign as “unjustified economic warfare on Israel.” The opposite is true: the campaign is a non-violent means of opposing Israel’s warfare on the Palestinian people.
Third, Rep. Ackerman writes that NYU faculty members are unfairly “punishing American companies because of the way Israel allegedly uses their products.” These are not “allegations” but readily demonstrable facts. And surely Rep. Ackerman does not believe that Caterpillar, for example, is unaware of how Israel weaponizes its bulldozers and uses them to demolish Palestinian homes. We wonder if Rep. Ackerman would publicly support the sale of Caterpillar bulldozers to Palestinians to be used for the unlawful demolition of Israeli homes.
Finally, Rep. Ackerman asks rhetorically whether “Ford, GM and Chrysler should be held accountable if their cars are used for drive-by shootings, or bank heists.” Such an analogy is nonsensical. These are not anonymous sales to random individuals who happen to commit a crime. They are massive contracts that provide Israel with the equipment necessary to perpetuate an occupation that is illegal under international law.
CONSCIENTIOUS FACULTY DESERVING OUR RESPECT
Four million Palestinians suffer daily under the occupation Rep. Ackerman defends. The occupation is an infringement on the most basic rights of the Palestinian people, such as freedom of movement and self-determination. The occupation systematically impoverishes them and denies millions access to adequate healthcare, education, water, and sanitation. In addition, occupied Palestinians are routinely arrested, assaulted, or killed; non-violent demonstrators have been among those targeted.
The reason that 132 NYU faculty and staff have signed the Open Letter to TIAA-CREF is not that they are “blinded by their ill-informed and self-righteous rage,” but because they stand in opposition to these violations of international law. This position is at odds with that of the U.S. government and congresspersons like Rep. Ackerman who prefer to defend Israel”s crimes.
SJP @ NYU reiterates its strong support for the conscientious faculty members who have signed the Open Letter to TIAA-CREF. These professors have taken an important and courageous public stance, openly demanding that their retirement savings not be used to oppress the Palestinian people. For this they deserve our respect.