Just two weeks after facing accusations of insufficiently promoting “U.S. national security and economic stability” by Trump’s Department of Education, Duke University is hosting accused war criminal Tzipi Livni to give a talk on “Israel, the United States, & the Middle East: Threats, Challenges and Opportunities.” Though Livni may have some insight into threats facing the Middle East, as both a proponent and envoy of Israeli terrorism, she is wholly unqualified to serve in an educational capacity at any institution which values diplomacy over war crimes and peace over apartheid.
As Foreign Minister of Israel and a member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s security cabinet in December of 2008, Livni “played a key role in the decisions made before and during the three-week offensive” known as Operation Cast Lead, which involved the illegal aerial bombardment, ground invasion, and naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Though the exact extent of her involvement in these crimes is unknown, according to international law, her high rank endowed her with enough decision-making capacity to render her culpable in, at the very least, assenting to and being “proud” of all decisions she made during the operation.
At the time, Cast Lead was the most devastating campaign of the 60 year-long Palestinian occupation. The Israeli military killed almost 1,500 people, most of whom were civilians. Over 300 of those killed by Israel were children. During the operation, Israeli forces directly targeted civilian homes, leading to the displacement of 20,000 Gazans, as well the destruction of infrastructure, hospitals, schools and universities. The United Nations, in addition to several independent watchdog organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, found these acts constituted war crimes.
Rather than distance herself from the heinous crimes of her regime, Livni emphatically supported the violence, declaring that Israel “is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild—and this is a good thing,” and proudly took credit, stating that “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded.” And contrary to the claims of Livni and other officials, the Israeli military, not Hamas, broke the over four-month-long ceasefire in November of 2008, fitting the usual pattern in which Israel “virtually always” fires first after lulls in violence or ceasefires lasting more than a week. Tzipi Livni herself said that an extended truce "harms the Israeli strategic goal."
Livni’s crimes have been cited on five separate occasions as grounds for her arrest in Belgium, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. While she was granted diplomatic immunity in the United Kingdom, Livni evaded arrest in Belgium by canceling her engagements. Though international courts hold war criminals to be innocent until proven guilty, Livni’s cowardly refusal to answer to her crimes in Belgium adds further confirmation to what is evidently clear: Livni committed war crimes while serving on the Israeli war cabinet during Operation Cast Lead. If her crimes disqualify her from entering Belgium without threat of arrest, they should disqualify her from speaking at Duke without first having to answer for her crimes before a court of law.
We certainly value the right to free speech and promotion of free expression here at Duke—but these principles are entirely irrelevant to whether we should offer a podium to accused war criminals. Indeed, Livni is not simply an ethno-supremacist pundit endorsing Zionist settler-colonialism—although that should be enough to disqualify her from invitation to an “institute of higher learning”; rather, she is an unapologetic accused war criminal with blood on her hands. Hosting her for a lecture minimizes the lives and deaths of her victims while encouraging future reproductions of her crimes.
We ask that all concerned members of the Duke community, the academic community and the public stand in solidarity with the Palestinian victims of Israeli war crimes and demand the cancellation of Livni’s speech by signing our petition and lending your voice to the victims that Livni so eagerly and cruelly silenced.
Lama Hantash is a Trinity senior and the treasurer for Students for Justice in Palestine.