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Anti-Semitism Is Immoral
by Lawrence H. Summers

[This article was published in The Jewish Week on November 12, 2004. It could be viewed originally at the following link. Lawrence Summers is the president of Harvard University. This article is adapted from a talk he gave last month at the launching of the 2005 UJA-Federation Annual Campaign at the Manhattan home of Alan C. "Ace" and Kathryn Greenberg.]

I was powerfully struck two years ago, and am not less struck today, by the tendency to cross a line in discussions of Israel. It should be the right of any person to express any opinion he wishes with respect to Israeli foreign policy. And there is much in Israeli policy that surely should be debated, even legitimately criticized and questioned. But there are lines that need to be drawn.

When Israel is singled out for moral opprobrium, something wrong is happening. When the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians is approached in an entirely asymmetric fashion, with criticism or sanction directed only at Israel, something wrong is happening. When comparisons are drawn with Nazis or Hitler or the SS or apartheid in South Africa, something wrong is happening.

And that is why I chose the words anti-Semitic to address proposals for the large-scale divestiture of companies doing business in Israel, to address the movement in England to remove Israeli scholars from the editorial boards of scholarly journals, to address the move of Presbyterian churches last summer to divest the stocks of companies that were doing business in Israel with no action whatsoever with respect to the Palestinians. There is much else that one can point to, and however one sees the debate in the United States, the debate has shifted to a less pleasant place in Europe.

Which way are things likely to move? I wish I could be more encouraging, but the trends are not running in the direction that we would like them to run. People who become weary of a conflict inevitably seek to place blame on both sides, and that is happening with the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Our next president will face enormous pressure to achieve rapprochement with the rest of the world, and will see the court of international public opinion as a major concern. When the president asks what the United States can do to repair relations, one solution will be to pursue a policy that is seen as more constructive with respect to the peace process. And I would suggest that the definition of more constructive in Europe, the definition of more constructive in the developing world, and the definition of more constructive in the United Nations is not a definition that involves standing more strongly behind Israel.

The fading memory of Arafat walking away from peace at the end of the Clinton administration will inevitably reduce sympathy and support for the Israeli position. And so I think these are not going to be easy times.

I take some satisfaction in the fact that on American college campuses, the movement that had gained considerable support by the fall of 2002 [advocating a form of anti-Semitism] seems to have ended and these pressures seem to have ceased to exist. But as the actions of the Presbyterian Church suggest, these pressures are ever present.

These pressures of anti-Semitism come at a time when the task of Israeli foreign policy and the task of enlightened American leadership have never been more difficult. And while I would claim expertise in the economic area, I certainly would not claim expertise in this political area. But it seems to me that the complexity of the problem lies in these realities and the morality is relatively clear.

There is a very sharp distinction between the taking of innocent life with the sole objective of sponsored terror, and the response to those terrorist attacks. It seems very clear that there is one party to this conflict that is promoting violence and another party that is responding to violence. It seems very clear that there is one party that made good-faith efforts to honor the agreement reached on the White House lawn in 1993 and another party that moved fairly quickly to violate the terms, understanding and spirit of that agreement.

And yet the right morality is not always the right guide to action. The demographic reality in the Middle East is that Arab populations are growing far more rapidly than Israeli populations. One recognizes that a society will have great difficulty being Jewish and truly democratic if the majority of people who live in its territory are not Jewish. For these reasons, we have to approach these matters in a very hardheaded way and recognize that that which is morally right is not always practically compelling.

There is nothing to be said for the view that we could all live in cooperative utopia if only more concessions were made. The events in the last decade make very clear the futility of this notion. On the other hand, we must remember that we are on a path that may be justifiable but not fully prudent for Israel.

Given the incredible progress made by the Israeli economy, one might have supposed that the support we are gathered to discuss here tonight would have become less important. And yet I am convinced that it is an irony of this moment that even with Israel's single economic success, even with the tremendous progress that the American Jewish community has made, that the kind of support we are here to discuss tonight, the kind of solidarity that it provides, has never been more important.

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