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Point Counterpoint: Anti-Israeli agenda expected at Penn conference

R. James Woolsey was director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1993 to 1995 and now is chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD)

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a complex issue, one that deserves serious scholarship and open, civil debate. Expect to see none of that next weekend on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, where the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement is staging a "conference."

Instead, as we should have learned from many past BDS events at colleges around the country, this will be an exercise in disinformation and propaganda, a call for political and economic warfare, and an attempt to foment hatred of Israel. That is obviously bad for Israelis. It is - perhaps less obviously - bad for Palestinians as well.

One simple fact that will be avoided next weekend: Almost all Israelis agree, in principle, to a "two-state solution." They favor the Jewish state and a Palestinian state living as neighbors and living in peace. Palestinian leaders have explicitly rejected that approach.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, is openly committed to annihilating Israel. The Hamas Covenant states clearly that there can be "no solution . . . except through Jihad," adding, in case there is any misunderstanding, that the goal is to "obliterate" Israel.

The Palestinian Authority, which rules on the West Bank, is generally thought of as more moderate. But PLO official Nabil Shaath said clearly: "The story of 'two states for two peoples' means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this." Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently added: "Don't order us to recognize a Jewish state. We won't accept it."

Also, as the Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh recently reported: "Abbas' Fatah faction has declared war on all informal meetings between Israelis and Palestinians." The Abbas/Fatah objection to such meetings, Toameh explained, is that they promote " 'the culture of peace' and are designed to 'normalize' relations between Israelis and Palestinians." Palestinian leaders can't have that, can they? You think any of this will come up at the Penn BDS conference?

The timing of this event makes it especially jarring: At this moment, just across Israel's northern border, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is slaughtering Syrian dissidents. Since March, as many as 6,000 people have been killed. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said that Syrian forces have committed "crimes against humanity." The United Nations reports "patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, [and] torture, including sexual violence."

Even the Arab League, long known for inaction when member states violate international laws, has sent observers into the country in an unsuccessful effort to halt the violence and, finally, suspended Syria's membership. For years, Assad has been host to Hamas and patron of Hezbollah. Assad has used Hezbollah mercenaries from Lebanon against Syrian soldiers who refuse to fire on unarmed civilians. Do the BDS advocates support international sanctions against the Assad dictatorship? Will such issues even be discussed next weekend? Why not?

Also conspicuously absent from the BDS agenda is the regime that rules and oppresses Iranians. After blatantly fraudulent elections in June 2009 handed a second presidential term to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, security forces violently suppressed Iran's opposition, the Green Movement, whose members poured into the streets in protest. The regime's storm troopers - the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - arrested at least 4,000, while authorities executed hundreds. Unknown numbers of protesters were beaten, raped, and tortured. The reason we don't know the exact numbers is because Iran has a stranglehold on its media.

Iran represses religious minorities, ethnic minorities, gays, and anyone who dares challenge the country's extremist religious code. Iran has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984. Its government supports, arms, and instructs Hamas and Hezbollah - to an even greater extent than Syria.

The government in Tehran is responsible for training, arming, and financing groups in Iraq and Afghanistan that have killed and maimed hundreds of American soldiers. It has ordered a series of terrorist attacks against Americans and other Westerners over the last 30 years, not to mention the assassinations of Iranians in exile abroad. Recently, the Iranian government was implicated in a failed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States while he dined in a restaurant in Washington.

And then there is the issue at the core of America's current crisis with Iran: the government's unwavering efforts to build a nuclear weapon in violation of agreements it has signed, all the while threatening genocide against Israel and vowing that "a world without America . . . is achievable." Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently said he was convinced Iran's rulers would have "no hesitation of using nuclear weapons if they see them achieving their religious or political purposes."

The United States has tried everything from "engagement" to passing oil sanctions, and it is now implementing sanctions against Iran's central bank. Do those who advocate sanctions against Israel support such measures against Iran's rulers?

Why is it, do you think, that the BDS movement is unconcerned about Arab victims when the oppressors are Arabs, and Muslim victims when the oppressors are Muslim? Why do they focus only on Israelis who would like nothing more than to achieve peace with their neighbors and who are willing to make painful sacrifices to achieve a lasting settlement of the conflict?

R. James Woolsey was director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1993 to 1995 and now is chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at FDD.