Professors Sign Petition on Israel

Twenty-six Harvard professors and lecturers are among the over 1,100 American academics who have signed a petition warning the Israeli government against the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian minority and calling for “vigilance” by the U.S. government to prevent it.

The petition decries the “transfer solution,” under consideration by parts of the Israeli leadership, which involves forcibly removing Palestinians from Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Professors started the petition in November after almost 200 Israeli academics released a similar appeal Sept. 29.

Rather than protesting an already-formulated policy, the petition seeks to preempt any consideration of radical solutions to the debate over land settlement.

“[It] is not written with assumption that this is what Israeli government actually will do,” said University of California-Hastings Professor of Law George Bisharat. “The hope is that if we shed some sunlight on the issue, it will operate as a deterrent to some in the Israeli political leadership from considering supporting this policy.”

The Israeli petition expresses outrage over “indications that the ‘fog of war’ could be exploited by the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing.”

The American academics echoed this concern in their petition.

“There are people in Israel that believe that under the cover of a war, such actions could take place, or even be contemplated,” said Hooper Professor of Geology Paul F. Hoffman.

But the organizers of the more recent petition also wrote it to point out the culpability of the U.S. should the Israeli government begin forcibly expelling Palestinian residents, said an organizer of the petition.

“As Americans we feel that we bear a particular responsibility because it is our tax money that substantially funds much of what the Israeli military essentially does,” Bisharat said. “That implicates us in what the Israeli government does. The principle is that we want to hold the Israeli government accountable. We don’t want it to be committing crimes against humanity with our resources and in our name.”

The possible war in Iraq might afford Israel an opportunity to engage in actions otherwise seen as radical, said New York University Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and History Zachary Lockman, one of the petition’s 15 original signatories.

“People [in the Israeli government] have been calling for expulsion for years, but the Israeli government, including [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, realizes that it would not be acceptable under normal circumstances,” Lockman said. “But in middle of a war in Iraq, especially if they attack Israel, there would be panic and one can imagine all sorts of horrible scenarios. The public could countenance this, or the U.S. could turn a blind eye.”

Fifteen of the Harvard signatories on this new petition also supported last spring’s petition requesting the University divest from Israeli financial interests—a petition that drew strong criticism from some.

In September, University President Lawrence H. Summers criticized efforts like the divestment campaign as anti-Semitic “in their effect if not in their intent.”

While this new petition does cite American financial support of Israeli tactics as an additional cause for concern, the campaign for divestment from Israel is a wholly separate issue, Hoffman said.

—Staff writer Katharine A. Kaplan can be reached kkaplan@fas.harvard.edu.