Guest Column: Standing for Justice

Published in the Diamondback on October 18, 2010

By Natalia Cuadra-Saez.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s job is to make Israel look good, regardless of the truth. And when the United States is giving Israel about $3 billion in military aid every year, it is in Oren’s best interest to make this relationship seem special and mutually beneficial.

While Oren spoke at the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies’ event, “Getting Perspective on the US-Israel Relationship,” UMD Students for Justice in Palestine and other students felt it was our job to present a different perspective – one that is not only essential to acknowledge but that is consistently and systematically silenced in this country, even at this university. This is the Palestinian perspective, or the perspective of those who are disadvantaged because of our special relationship with Israel.

I would like to address Diamondback columnist Andrew Steinberg’s assertion (from his Oct. 11 column, “Stand with Israel: Our indispensable ally”) that “Israel is one of America’s indispensable allies and one of its most valuable strategic assets.” The truth is our relationship of unconditional military support with Israel is unacceptable. For one thing, it is not truly in America’s best interest to offer unconditional support to any country with such blatant human rights violations as Israel has been accused of. The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act states that aid will not be provided to any country that grossly violates internationally recognized human rights. Israel was accused of such violations by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch during the Gaza assault of January 2009 and in past attacks. More recently, the United Nation’s Human Rights Council endorsed a report that accused Israeli commandos of executing six passengers aboard an aid flotilla this past May, including an American citizen. No amount of contributions to U.S. jobs or new technology can justify our being accomplices to such actions – legally or morally.

In fact, when Israel attacks Palestinians, its instruments of destruction are U.S. weapons, including white phosphorus. When people around the world protest such atrocities, they are well aware of our connection to Israel’s actions, and it harms the United States’ image abroad. Gen. David Petraeus even testified on Capitol Hill in March that “The conflict foments anti-American sentiment due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.”

More important, however, than how our relationship with Israel affects us is how it affects justice. The United States and we as individuals should not stand with any country unconditionally. Instead, we should dedicate ourselves to standing for justice, even when that means questioning our own government.

In his article, Steinberg compares Israel’s values to those of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Let me remind you that for all the things the founders accomplished, they were still slaveholders who limited suffrage to white male landowners. Our nation did not progress because of people who stood blindly with those in power; it progressed because of those who dissented, those who criticized, those who were uncompromising in demanding justice. While a country may say it stands for equality, democracy and freedom, that does not mean it will actually act on these values. We must act on those values.

So whether your concern is for the well-being of Israel, Palestine, the United States or just basic human rights, I urge you not to stand blindly with a country but rather to hold your leaders accountable for their actions by standing with justice.

Natalia Cuadra-Saez is a senior classics and history major and is the president of Students for Justice in Palestine. She can be reached at ncuadra at umd dot edu.