Open Letter to Obama

Now a call for divestment and boycott of the apartheid state comes from more than 900 American academics:

Once, in what was perhaps an unguarded moment, you stated that: “Nobody’s suffering more than the Palestinian people”. After days of relentless Israeli bombing in the Gaza strip that has already killed over seven hundred people, most of them civilians or policemen, and injured over three thousand, many of whom may yet die for lack of medical supplies and facilities, your words have never rung more true. And yet, so far, your signal response to this latest assault on the Palestinians, that the UN Secretary General diplomatically calls “disproportionate”, has been to defend Israel’s right to respond to rocket attacks that, while rightly condemned, are mere pinpricks in comparison to the horrific consequences of Israeli bombardment and of the ongoing blockade on Gaza.

Does this mean that on the long way to the White House you have trimmed your sails and, for the sake of securing the power you will soon assume, fear now to speak truth to power? Does this mean that, unlike Dr. King, your sense of justice is adjustable for the sake of political expedience? Those who supported you from the early days of your primary campaign did so not on account of your response to economic crisis, but because they believed in your sense of justice and your commitment to put an end to business-as-usual in Washington, and because they believed in your genuine desire to shape a new and different world order.

In 1981, while you were an undergraduate at Occidental College, you were among the first of a courageous group of students and faculty who, while the cause was still unpopular or unheard of, spoke out for divestment from the apartheid regime in South Africa. You knew then that it was imperative to place pressure on a racist regime which shamefully oppressed a black and coloured population that was discriminated against, subject to pass laws and control of its every movement, parceled into Bantustans, and subject to detention, torture and extra-judicial execution. When the black population protested, like the school children of Soweto, they could be summarily shot down by police or army. The ANC, under Nelson Mandela, was proscribed as a terrorist movement, its leaders were imprisoned, tortured or killed, its guerillas faced the overwhelming power of the South African army, equipped and trained in part by the United States and its European allies. A regime that was so unafraid to use violence in the defense of its discriminatory and racist regime, and so unashamed to do so in the face of international condemnation, could only understand the language of force. The divestment movement in which you so actively participated understood that the euphemistically and cynically named policy of “constructive engagement” was a moral and practical failure and that only the non-violent force of a financial boycott on the South African regime had any hope of bringing an end to apartheid without an horrific bloodbath.

Public figures as diverse as Bishop Desmond Tutu and President Jimmy Carter have recognized that Israel too maintains an apartheid regime, in practice if not in name. South Africa, now a functioning multi-racial democracy, was a white state for a white people. Israel is a Jewish state for a Jewish people. Its non-Jewish, mostly Palestinian Arab citizens are discriminated against in numerous ways, economically and civilly. The dispossessed and ethnically cleansed Palestinian populations, dispersed in the diaspora and in the refugee camps of Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon, are denied the internationally recognized right of return. They have had their lands and homes taken from them by armed and “legal” force, are subject to collective punishment, prolonged states of siege, the absolute and deliberately destructive control of their daily movements. Where South Africa instituted the pass laws, the checkpoints that have proliferated all over the West Bank and at the exits from Gaza prevent students from reaching their schools and hospitals, workers from reaching their places or work, keep farmers from their fields, the sick from the few hospitals that survive to serve them. The illegal settlements, that in contravention of all international laws regarding occupation have proliferated across the West Bank, are designed to be permanent “facts on the ground” and have divided recognized Palestinian territory into segmented islets, into besieged Bantustans, with the intent of preventing a contiguous Palestinian state. A so-called security wall, illegally built, as even the Israeli Supreme Court recognized, on Palestinian territory, has cut farmers from their lands and turned formerly prosperous villages into isolated prisons. Regular Israeli military incursions into Palestinian cities and refugee camps, and bombings from the air, have killed innumerable civilians, many of them children. Since the election of Hamas, in fair and open elections, Israel has subjected the civilian population of Gaza to a prolonged state of siege, designed to suffocate them into submission, depriving them at will of water and power, medical supplies and food, and of access to the outside world. The most recent, all-out assault on Gaza, the disproportionate and bloody use of excessive force, is no act of self-defense, but the dramatic extension of an insidious policy of extermination of a people that refuses to disappear.

Every one of these acts is a crime against humanity. In their ensemble, they constitute one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times. Almost alone among nations, Israel acts in flagrant violation of international law and UN resolutions and does so with impunity. That it can do so is in large part the consequence of the uncritical support offered to Israel by a succession of American administrations. Without the military and economic aid of the United States, which amounts to more than a third of all US foreign aid, Israel could not have mounted its violent offensives against the Palestinians or Lebanon, could not maintain its security apparatus, could not afford the illegal settlements that seek to expand Israel into what remains of Palestinian territory. The United States has supplied the F-16s that are bombarding the Palestinians, their schools, police stations and mosques, and the cluster bombs that continue to kill and maim children and farmers in southern Lebanon. America continues to support Israel to the tune of billions every year at the expense of US taxpayers and at the expense of its moral standing in the world.

You will continue to do so, according to your own web page, because “our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region.” You and your Vice-President, Joe Biden, not only “defend and support the annual foreign aid package that involves both military and economic assistance to Israel”, but moreover “have advocated increased foreign aid budgets to ensure that these funding priorities are met.” In doing so, you lend your support, in the name of the United States, to a regime no less criminal in its acts and in its policies towards its own minority population and its dispossessed Palestinian neighbors than South Africa was in the 1980s. Then, it was argued, South Africa was our strongest ally in the region, a bulwark in the war against communism, a crucial supplier of uranium and other minerals, a prosperous Western-style democracy, if not the only democracy on the continent. To bring down the South African apartheid regime, it was argued, would be to create chaos in southern Africa, unleash a bloodbath in which whites and blacks alike would suffer, and pave the way for a communist or dictatorial postcolonial regime. The divestment movement, a non-violent coalition of students and academics, union members and churches, came together in the spirit of the Civil Rights movement to challenge those self-serving assumptions. It changed the direction of US foreign policy, disgracing its support of a racist regime, and placed effective pressure on the apartheid regime to begin serious negotiations with the ANC. Through a combination of diplomacy and divestment, we did end apartheid, making way for a functioning multi-racial democracy that confronts its challenges, indeed, but has not dissolved into chaos or tyranny.

It is time for the United States to place a similar pressure on Israel. That Israel has been America’s beneficiary, unchallenged in its war crimes and in its acts of terror, uncontested for its racist civil constitution and illegal occupations, has not been to the United States’ advantage. On the contrary, such unquestioning support of Israel has fuelled the legitimate anger of the Islamic world, supplied the justification for terrorism, and continually tarnished the United States’ reputation among the democracies of the world. That the United States has stood so often alone in defending Israel before the court of world opinion in the United Nations is not a sign of its virtue, but of the obstinacy and arrogance of its stance. But it is not for the sake of the reputation or advantage of the United States that you should take a new path in relation to Israel. It is in the name of justice. It is not just to support the territorial ambitions, realized settlement by settlement, of a Zionist minority in the region. It is not just to continue to supply Israel with the most advanced weapons and the most deadly arms in order that it may murder civilians, children and policemen. It is not just that we should support Israel with all our diplomatic force and financial aid, while leaving Israel’s victims to die slowly for lack of food, medicine, water and power. It is not just that we should sacrifice a dispossessed people for the security of a state that discriminates and expropriates, continually and violently ignores UN resolutions and international appeals, collectively punishes those whose right to resist occupation is recognized in international law.

There is no road to peace through such injustice. It may be that the compromise in the end will be the establishment and security of two separate states. Almost certainly, the only hope of a lasting solution is a single state in Israel/Palestine, committed to the civil and human rights of all peoples within its boundaries, irrespective of religion or ethnicity. That is, after all, the standard to which we hold all other states in the world, Israel alone excepted. But no solution at all will be possible until we hold Israel accountable for its criminal violence and its illegal acts, until we cease to supply it with the means to pursue a course of domination and expansion, with arms and warplanes, with finance and diplomatic support. In wake of the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, your recent expression of “deep concern” is not enough. It is time for constructive disengagement from Israel, financial, diplomatic, military. What worked in the case of South Africa, divestment and pressure, may finally work in the Middle East.

Without such justice, there will be no peace.

David Lloyd

University of Southern California Los Angeles

January 1, 2009

  • Maher Abdelqader, St. Johns University
  • Butool Abdullah, University of California (UC), Riverside
  • Khadeeja Abdullah, UC Los Angeles
  • Wadad Abed, Palestine Aid Society
  • Diana Abouali, Dartmouth College
  • Thomas Abowd, Wayne State University
  • Matthew Abraham, DePaul University
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  • Maha Akhtar, Macaulay Honors College at Queens College
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  • David Alderson, University of Manchester
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  • Maryam El-Shall, UC Irvine
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  • Zachary Noffsinger Erbaugh, Bethany Theological Seminary
  • Colleen Eren, CUNY Graduate Center
  • Jenny Ernst, Park Day School
  • Adriana Estill, Carleton College
  • Nava EtShalom, University of Michigan
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  • Munis D. Faruqui, UC Berkeley
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  • James Ferguson, Stanford University
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  • Amy Foerster, Pace University
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  • Noha Forster, University of Chicago
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  • Claire F. Fox, University of Iowa
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  • Carla Freccero, UCSC
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  • Lezlie Frye, NYU
  • Gloria Frym, California College of the Arts
  • Dan Fulton, San Lucas Toliman Hospital
  • Gary Gaffney, Art Academy of Cincinnati
  • Nancy Gallagher, UC Santa Barbara
  • Catherine Gallou’t, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
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  • Matthew Garrett, Wesleyan University
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  • Leo Gerweck, Harvard Medical School
  • Bishnupriya Ghosh, UC Santa Barbara
  • Vinay Gidwani, University of Minnesota
  • Stephanie Gilmore, Dickinson College
  • Rachel Giora, Tel Aviv University
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  • Abbott Gleason, Brown University
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  • Catherine Tracy Goode, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  • Priyamvada Gopal, University of Cambridge
  • Gayatri Gopinath, New York University
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  • Jeffrey Gore, DePaul University
  • Melanie Gould, Voluntary Service Overseas
  • Stephen Graham, University of Durham
  • Lucy Graham, Stellenbosch University
  • Ronald Walter Greene, University of Minnesota
  • Mary Jo Grennan, Keene State University
  • Zareena Grewal, Yale University
  • Pamela Grieman, USC
  • Larry Gross, USC
  • Sarah Gualtieri, USC
  • Patricia Guizzetti, Chicago Public Schools
  • Andrew Paul Gutierrez, UC Berkeley
  • Ferit GŸven, Earlham College
  • Khristina Haddad, Moravian College
  • Mathew Hadley, University of Minnesota
  • Elaine C. Hagopian, Simmons College
  • Jeanne Hahn, Evergreen State College of Liberal Arts
  • Jennifer Haidar, Des Moines Public Schools
  • Samira Haj, CUNY Graduate School
  • Paula Hajar, Bronx Charter School for Better Learning
  • Semya Hakim, St. Cloud State University
  • Judith Halberstam, USC
  • Sondra Hale, UCLA
  • Lisa Kahaleole Hall, Wells College
  • Susanne E. Hall, Duke University
  • John Halman, Macalester College
  • Jeff Halper, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
  • Raja Halwani, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Brian Hand, Wexford Campus (IT Carlow, Ireland)
  • Margaret Hanzimanolis, De Anza College
  • Michael K. Hardy, Rutgers University
  • Molly O’Hagan Hardy, University of Texas at Austin
  • Marguerite Hargrove, retired citizen
  • Gillian Harkins, University of Washington
  • Barbara Harlow, University of Texas at Austin
  • Laura Harms, Earlham College
  • Gillian Hart, UC Berkeley
  • Janet Hart, University of Michigan
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  • Barbara Harvey, lawyer, Detroit, Michigan
  • Salah D. Hassan, Michigan State University
  • Wail S. Hassan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Frances Hasso, Oberlin College
  • Paul M. Hassoun, Johns Hopkins University
  • Nola J. Heidlebaugh, SUNY-Oswego
  • Courtney Helgoe, University of Minnesota
  • Peter Henry, Seattle Schools
  • RDK Herman, Smithsonian Institution
  • Jocelyn Claire R. Hermoso, San Francisco State University
  • Caroline Herzenberg, Argonne National Laboratory
  • Devin Hess, Park Day School
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  • Edwin Hill, USC
  • Brenda Hillman, Saint Mary’s College of California
  • Ruth Hoffman, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Miguel Hoffman, Luperon High School
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  • Grace Kyungwon Hong, UC Los Angeles
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  • Pomona Howla Jardali, Livingston Union School District
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  • Alison Jian, concerned citizen
  • Anne Joh, Phillips Theological Seminary
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  • Nadav Katz, Brown University
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  • Arang Keshavarzian, NYU
  • Andrea Khalil, Queens College, CUNY Mustafa Khammash, UC Santa Barbara Saera R. Khan, University of San Francisco
  • Nathalie Khankan, UC Berkeley
  • Ali Khejjou, Foothill College
  • Habibul H. Khondker, Zayed University
  • Emily Khweiss, Queens College
  • Jodi Kim, UC Riverside
  • Garnet Kindervater, University of Minnesota
  • Mary C. King, Portland State University
  • Laurie King, Georgetown University
  • David Klein, California State University, Northridge
  • Jesse Knutson, University of Chicago
  • Silvia Kolbowski, Columbia University
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  • Ebru Kongar, Dickinson College
  • A. Kiarina Kordela, Macalester College
  • Paula Kornegay, Kornegay Design
  • Dennis Kortheuer, California State University, Long Beach
  • Wendy Kozol, Oberlin College
  • Sanjay Krishnan, UC Irvine
  • Priya Kumar, University of Iowa
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  • James Lafferty, National Lawyers Guild/Los Angeles
  • Ingrid Lagos, UC Davis
  • Premesh Lalu, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
  • Mariam Beevi Lam, UC Riverside
  • Joan B. Landes, Penn State University
  • Jill Lane, NYU
  • Lauren Langman, Loyola University of Chicago
  • Brendan LaRocque, College of St. Benedict
  • Nadia Latif, Columbia University
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  • Mary N. Layoun, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Alicia Lazzarini, University of Minnesota
  • Margaret D. LeCompte, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • James Kyung-Jin Lee, UC Santa Barbara
  • Julia H. Lee, University of Texas at Austin
  • Sharon Heijin Lee, University of Michigan
  • Thomas F. Lee, Saint Anselm College
  • Eleonore Lee, Trinity University
  • Jon Lee, Trinity University
  • Winnie Lem, Trent University
  • Yuen-Gen Liang, Wheaton College
  • Stefan Liess, University of Minnesota
  • Nhi Lieu, University of Texas at Austin
  • Eng-Beng Lim, Michigan State University
  • Deborah L. Little, Adelphi University
  • Dana Luciano, Georgetown University
  • Heather N. Lukes, NYU
  • Loren D. Lybarger, Ohio University
  • Janet Lyon, Penn State University
  • Laura E. Lyons, University of Hawaii
  • Gordon MacAlpine, Trinity University
  • Barbara MacAlpine, Trinity University
  • Nancy Maclaine, Citizen
  • Banafsheh Madaninejad, University of Texas at Austin
  • Theresa J. Mah, University of Chicago
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    3 thoughts on “Open Letter to Obama”

    1. It is most unfortunate that so many academics and professors from around our country have fallen victim to the “Palestinian” Propaganda Trap. How quick they are to forget that it was just 60 years ago that the State of Israel was founded and subsequently attacked by all of its Arab neighbors. Miraculously, Israel was able to fight back and live on but continued to fall victim to merciless Arab attacks on its civilians, attacks that have continued for the past 60 years. There must be some consequence for engaging in a war with a small and defenseless country with the goal of exterminating them and then, losing the war and screaming victim. The “Palestinian” people, really the pre-1967 citizens of Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, must deal with the consequences that their attack failed. They did not destroy the Jewish nation and, although they killed thousands of innocent civilians in cold blood, Israel did not and will not roll over. Instead, Israel chooses to build life on the bloody soil of its citizens. Peaceful settlements and towns on the hills of the corpses of their brothers who were brutally massacred by the “Palestinian” terrorists. If the fact that Israel chooses to build life to combat the murderous ways of the “Palestinian” terrorists makes them an apartheid state then, so be it. I firmly believe that no intelligent person, not even the academics and professors that signed this letter, would find any fault in isolating and separating murderers from people who pursue life. And, just remember, today the “Palestinian” terrorists ask you to be sympathetic to their cause yet tomorrow they dance in the streets as your twin towers crumble to the ground. Wake up, university leaders, and remove yourself from the “Palestinian” Propaganda Trap.

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