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Moral Clarity at Duke
by Diana Appelbaum

[The following letter ran in the Herald-Sun, Durham, NC, on September 30, 2004. Diana Appelbaum, a director of the Boston Israel Action Committee, is author of a petition signed by over 75,000 Duke alumni and concerned citizens asking President Brodhead not to allow the PSM to meet at Duke.]

This summer, in one of his first acts as President of Duke Universtiy, Richard Brodhead chose to allow a group that endorses the targeting of innocent civilians by suicide bombers to meet on campus. President Brodhead's decision sends the wrong message to a campus where some students find that the words "murder," "innocent" and "civilian," are "difficult to define."

According to these confused young people, the "merit" of condoning the terror-murder of civilians is "debatable."

I am not writing about members of the Palestine Solidarity Movement, the student group that is holding the controversial conference. It is the moral judgment of the editorial board of the Duke Chronicle that concerns me here. The Solidarity Movement, which has voted at previous conferences to condone suicide bombing and similar "strategies and tactics," does not "see it as very useful for us as a solidarity movement to condemn violence." What they do find useful in their avowed aim of eliminating Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian state, is to deliberately obfuscate the line between truth and falsehood. Solidarity Movement leaders state, for example, that suicide bombing is a "legitimate" form of "armed resistance" "accept(ed)" by the "Geneva Conventions."

They deny that working to destroy the Jewish State and applauding the targeting of Jews for death by suicide bomb is anti-Semitic. They accuse democratic Israel, where Muslims both vote and sit in the Knesset, of being an "apartheid" state.

And they contend that the "national liberation struggle" of the Palestinian people is legitimate while the national existence of the Jewish people is "racist."

None of these assertions is true. By allowing the Palestine Solidarity Movement to meet on campus, President Brodhead has signaled to Duke students not only that the fabrication of facts to achieve a political goal is legitimate, but that the morality of bombing civilian targets is, as the Duke Chronicle says, debatable. That it is the sort of question about which reasonable people on university campuses disagree, one side arguing that the murder of civilians is wrong, the other side arguing with equal legitimacy that the deliberate murder of small children is an acceptable tactic.

President Brodhead has played into their hands by saying that he is allowing the PSM to meet on campus because he believes in "education through dialogue."

Dialogue can only occur between groups that share some common moral assumptions. In this case, that politics should not be conducted with bombs and that both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate national aspirations.

To extend the prestige of meeting space at Duke to an organization that endorses the murder of civilians and chants "Kill the Jews," is to give the impression that murder is an appropriate substitute for dialogue.

This legitimization of the indefensible is exactly what the Solidarity Movement hopes to achieve by holding its meeting on a prestigious university campus.

Duke students, both those who belong to the Solidarity Movement and those who write for the Chronicle, need to hear a clear statement from President Brodhead that the deliberate murder of civilians for political ends is wrong. Not "debatable." Wrong.

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