by on April 23, 2012 20

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(Image: Facebook)

As a response to the highly successful One State Conference at Harvard held last month, a number of Harvard undergraduate and graduate students recently organized the Israel Conference. According to its website and an op-ed by the conference’s organizers, the conference is meant to showcase Israel’s innovation – in a way that is palatable to all parties involved in activism around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Speakers at the conference included Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson, Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer, the author of the book “Start-Up Nation” Dan Senor, Dennis Ross and a number of other panelists and entrepreneurs.Unfortunately, the Israel Conference brought to campus individuals whose disregard for international law raises questions regarding the conference’s dubious educational quality.

At least two panelists – Asaf Bar Ilan and Michael Eisenberg – are involved in illegal settlement activities. The first owns a farm in the occupied Golan Heights – territory that belongs to Syria and has been occupied by Israel since 1967. The second sits on the board of a religious and military school in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank. Both of these cases are a direct affront to the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly forbid the expropriation and settlement of occupied land by citizens of the hostile state – in this case, Israel. Sustainable innovation that deserves praise does not stem from illegal activities. The involvement of two panelists who violate international law in their daily lives proves the conference’s lack of credibility, and reflects quite clearly the inextricability of Israeli “innovation” from the occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian rights.  (Screenshots: http://israelconference2012.org/)

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As troubling as the presence of settlers coming to speak at a university is (we’ve been long since sadly habituated by the presence of both IDF and US military officials as a regular presence), so too is the attempt by the conference organizers to recast Israel purely as an “innovation state” an undeniable propaganda effort.

After being called out for their whitewashing efforts in an op-ed by fellow Palestine Solidarity Committee member Alex Shams, being faced with the facts of Israel’s innovation-Occupation duo in another op-ed, and being faced with a counter-campaign whose posters you can see below, the conference organizers published another op-ed defending their enterprise using the tattered shield of “we self-sacrificing Israelis only want peace but get nothing but rockets in return.” Aside from the fact that any kind of terrorism directed at civilians is a war crime and is never condoned, depicting the so-called peace process as an Israeli-only enterprise blindly buries the efforts of thousands of Palestinians (and citizens of other countries) who have dedicated their lives to achieving a solution for this conflict. It seems, however, that in addition to trying to conceal the unpleasant matter of the Occupation underneath Israeli success stories, the conference organizers are also trying to bury decades of global peace struggle in the same casket where Israel apologists have interred nonviolent Palestinian resistance and where they are trying to (metaphorically) entomb pro-peace Israeli activists and NGOs.

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This poster was part of a media campaign run by a number of independent individuals at Harvard to challenge the assumptions and publicity of the Israel Conference and instead present the public with a different perspective on the roots of Israeli innovation: ethnic cleansing, the Occupation, and foreign subsidies.

The text says: “Come learn the exciting secrets of the vibrant ‘start up nation’ & the realities of Israeli innovation. After ethnically cleansing 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, we demolished their homes and built farms and parks on top. Or as we say, ‘made the desert bloom!’

Since occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, we have explored diverse and exciting new ways to start wars against our neighbors. Indeed, Israel is forever optimistic about its ability to never be held accountable for its crimes under international law!

Is it sustainable? Since 1949, Israel has received about $109 billion in US aid, including $3 billion in 2011, despite being one of the most developed countries on Earth!”

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An image of Mr. Fischer’s presentation.

At the conference itself, a friend of mine who attended told me how Niall Ferguson, Harvard history professor and one of the keynote speakers, engaged in the classic game of listing Arab versus Jewish inventions, proving the point (as if that needed to be done) that the conference is nothing but a political propaganda tool. Stanley Fischer, Governor of the Bank of Israel and other keynote speaker, decided to focus instead on the demographic threat posed by Arab population growth rates – another Zionist trope and indication that the main course “innovation” comes with a side of fear politics and demagoguery.

At the end of the day, no one asked – or rather attempted to coerce – Harvard University to shut down the Israel Conference or dissociate itself from it, as was done by vocal pro-Israel groups for the One State Conference. Instead we hope that all attendees, both Harvard-affiliated and not, will see through this hasbara wall engraved with upward-trending NASDAQ arrows and understand what it hides: the legitimization of the settler movement, a distortion of the history of the “peace process”, a decades-old colonial establishment, and “sustainable innovation” based on extensive foreign aid and lack of legal accountability.

About Giacomo Bagarella

Giacomo Bagarella is a Government and Psychology undergraduate student at Harvard. He is one of the co-chairs of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee. Giacomo has spent the last two summer in the Middle East, studying Arabic in Jordan and working for a human rights organization in Cairo.

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