Editorial Note: The petition discussed in this article may be viewed -- and signed -- here.
AT FIRST GLANCE, it all seemed a little suspect.
It was a web page, sponsored by a group with a disconcerting name, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East—a title rife with red flags, given the usual political predilections of many academics and self-styled “peace” activists. It didn’t help that the group was circulating a petition—all too often an exercise in activist futility.
But much to my surprise, when I followed the link to SPME’s petition, I found something eminently reasonable—and worthwhile.
It’s A Call for UN & World Leaders to Prosecute Organizers of Suicide/Homicide Bombings Against Civilians as War Criminals—a document as levelheaded as it is self-explanatory. Its thesis: Those countries and leaders who raise “innocents to kill other innocents,” brainwashing children to give up their lives and slaughter others in the most heinous sort of terrorism, are committing massive crimes against humanity, for which they deserve to be not only swiftly condemned, but duly punished.
Suicide bombings are, the group notes, “a breach of the Geneva Convention and a war crime.” Because they require victimized nations “to conduct defensive actions against terrorism,” they exacerbate and expand wars. The end of such attacks must then necessarily precede the resolution of the long-standing Arab–Israeli conflict, and not the other way around.
SPME, it turns out, is a rare beacon of common sense in academia’s intellectual darkness.
Comprised of members of all political affiliations and ethnicities from universities throughout the world, it exists to counter the rampant anti-Israeli sentiment that’s flourished on college campuses, most often in the form of movements demanding that schools divest from corporations doing business in Israel. SPME recognizes that not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, while also noting that the seething condemnations of every alleged Israeli excess—and the dogged denials of every real Arab abuse—which are common on the Left, often have an anti-Semitic foundation.
The group’s petition against the organizers and champions of suicide bombings is an effort to expose such irrational and hateful biases. The document thus poses a challenge to anyone who pretends to be serious about advocating for peace, but who might cringe from signing onto any admission that Palestinian and Arab leaders are, at times, at fault. There’s no denying the petition’s claims—suicide attacks are indisputably crimes against humanity, a fact acknowledged even groups hardly known for their pro-Israeli bias like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. To pretend otherwise, opponents must sink intellectually and employ the absurd arguments of the terrorist themselves:
Israel kills civilians, too—as though the unintentional death of innocents were no different than Hamas’ and Hizballah’s deliberate targeting of them.
Israel is stronger than Palestinian forces—which means, exactly, what? Does weakness somehow exempt combatants from moral accountability?
All Israeli civilians are combatants because they serve as reserve in their country’s military—but reservists in civilian clothes remain civilians, as do the children routinely killed in terror bombings.
Israel’s enemies can’t be held responsible for their own actions—Nabil Abu-Rudeina, a top advisor to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, sums up this mentality well: “The [Israeli] occupation is entirely responsible for everything that occurs”—a stunningly irresponsible view for a people who claim they’re ready for the responsibilities of nationhood.
The problem SPME’s petition poses to Israel’s detractors is that there are no good reasons to oppose it—although there are plenty of bad ones. Chief among them is that to call the organizers of suicide bombings “war criminals” is to admit that there is, in fact, a war going on in Israel. If that is the case then Israel, a sovereign state, is wholly justified in fighting in its own defense. This admission also carries the implicit suggestion that Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat, who may not orchestrate the attacks but certainly condones them, is, if not a war criminal himself, then at least the most unseemly sort of accomplice.
For these reasons alone, the SPME petition has little or no chance of effecting a change in the UN or among the western governments most contemptuous of Israel, but that doesn’t mean it’s without purpose. If it becomes popular on a widespread basis, its futility will speak louder than its intent. With each new signature it gains, and with those signatures it conspicuously fails to attract, the petition will expose the shallowness of those who can find nothing but fault in Israel’s actions, and nothing wrong with those of its enemies.
And that’s as good a reason as any to sign this worthy petition.