Divestfest Puts Liberal Principles to the Test

By Toren Arginteanu

It’s no secret that our friends on the far left both love the environment and hate Israel, but until last week we didn’t know which they cared about more. In a noxious cloud of self-contradiction and progressive buzzwords, an unholy trinity of Fossil Free Penn, Students for Justice in Palestine, and the United Minorities Council opened its collective mouth and removed all doubt.

Divestfest protesters last week characterized forestation (as in the opposite of deforestation) of pine trees as racist and colonialist. Planting trees serves to “erase” indigenous people and their environments, replacing them with more “subjectively” beautiful environments that resemble Europe. Yes, it’s true—even planting trees is racist now.

It is astoundingly absurd that planting trees to make an environment more habitable and to support more human life would be considered a subjective cultural value rather than an objective good. According to Benny Morris, a historian who has been praised even by anti-Israel advocates such as Edward Said and Noam Chomsky, before the rise of Zionism and Jewish migration to the region, quality of life was poor. With water scarce and healthcare undeveloped and outdated, infant mortality was high, and life expectancy was short. Ottoman census data estimated the population of what is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip at less than half a million at this time. The current population of Israel is eight and a half million, including more than one and a half million Israeli Arabs. This means the Arab population in Israel alone has at least tripled. The Jewish immigrants’ technological advancements, including the apparently infamous tree planting, not only made this population increase possible, but also vastly improved the healthcare and quality of life of all of its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish.

But regardless of whether these student organizations’ characterization of pine trees is correct, the argument they put forth is entirely inconsistent. Speakers began the presentation bewailing Israel’s alleged damage to the Palestinian environment, rendering water sources unusable or inaccessible. Not an hour later, they criticized Israelis’ planting of trees, a successful effort to render the environment more hospitable for Jews, Arabs, and Palestinians alike, which reduces atmospheric carbon and is objectively good for the earth. Clearly, there is no consistent argument on environmental issues; the only consistent position is an anti-Israel one.

But none of this matters. Those on the far left see a Jewish person planting a tree in a desert and immediately contemplate the “symbolism” of displacing indigenous people and environments with subjective, colonial, European beauty standards, rather than acknowledging the reality of a person trying to improve a piece of land. This goes beyond forsaking environmental sustainability for an inexplicable hatred of Israel: evidently, some people cannot separate absurd symbolism and eco-colonial fantasy from objective reality.

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