Divestment & boycotts a moral necessity
Divestment and boycotts of Israel are a moral necessity to bring peace
By Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
Tikkun Magazine, May 2005
Divestment and boycotts are non-violent tools intended to challenge situations of injustice and war and thus advance justice and peace. There are always issues raised about the use of such non-violent tactics. These issues include effectiveness, morality, harm done to occupied people, motivations, and precise formulations. In such a short assay, we can only touch on key issues and provide links for further study.
I do want to state three disclaimers before we start: 1) while we may draw on our experiences in other conflicts (e.g. the Zionist break of the popular boycott of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, or the most recent popular actions for Civil Rights, ending the war on Vietnam, and the boycott/divestment of South Africa), every situation is unique and we must remember that such examples are just that examples to be used to develop strategies not to try and copy verbatim, 2) that the most effective activism is one that is based on universal principles (e.g. as articulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), 3) that while violence and atrocities occur around the world, we as US activists must prioritize action in areas where our government help perpetrate and sustain injustice and violence. I will have more to say about these things in the sections below.
Israel currently is an apartheid state worthy of divestment and boycotts
We do not have much space here to address historical background but only to highlight some key features of the current situation that make divestments moral and necessary. Contrary to International law and basic human rights conventions, the Israeli governments (both Labor and Likud) have:
a) Engaged in a process of removal of non-Jews from their lands over the past 57 years and established laws and a military shield that prevents the return of refugees and displaced people. Today nearly five million such individuals are denied their Internationally recognized right of return simply for not being Jewish (contrary to UDHR, UNGA 194, and countless UN resolutions).
b) Within the Green line (Israel’s armistice borders of 1949), there are now 1.3 million Palestinians living under discriminatory rules including removal from their lands (250,000 so called “Present Absentees), lack of access to governmental services (e.g. 100 unrecognized villages), and discrimination in access to health and education.
c) Since 1967, Israel has illegally occupied the West Bank and Gaza and set up colonies/settlements now housing nearly 420,000 Jews on Palestinian land. In doing so it has violated scores of U.N. resolutions, along with the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The net result of these policies and procedures has been that nearly two thirds of the native Palestinians were rendered refugees or displaced people and that unemployment and poverty among the remaining Palestinians is around 70%. The violence (both of the occupied and the vastly larger violence of the occupier) is a symptom of this underlying injustice. Blaming Sharon for "tactics" while ignoring the basic structural injustice found with both Labor and Likud governments is evading the responsibility of working for just solutions. Even Avraham Burg, a past speaker of the Knesset, acknowledged that Israel “rests on ... foundations of oppression and injustice ... . It must shed its illusions and choose between racist oppression and democracy”(The Guardian, 15/9/2003). Similarly, A group of prominent Israeli artists issued the following statement in 2001: “If the state of Israel aspires to perceive itself as a democracy, it should abandon once and for all, any legal and ideological foundation of religious, ethnic, and demographic discrimination. The state of Israel should strive to become the state of all its citizens. We call for the annulment of all laws that make Israel an apartheid state, including the Jewish law of return in its present form.” But this can happen by only one of two ways: a military confrontation in which Israel loses (this is impossible under the current circumstances of US unconditional support), OR economic, popular, and other pressures as is beginning to happen with divestments and boycotts. Israeli society must be convinced that the price of holding on to discrimination and occupation exceeds any perceived benefits.
Economic tools as an imperative and moral alternative for peace activists especially in the USA
Some Zionists would argue that we should be “investing” in some segments of an oppressive society to encourage change rather than use such blunt tools as blanket divestments and boycotts. This is ironic since this is an argument used by the Zionist movement to break the boycott instituted in the 1930s by progressive Jews against Nazi Germany. In retrospect of course, no one would suggest that “investment” in progressive segments of Apartheid South Africa would have been a better strategy than the blanket boycott of South Africa. Another argument used is that Israel is being “singled out” for divestment/boycotts among many countries that violate human rights. But we live in America and we fund Israel (unlike say China or Sudan). For good or bad, US foreign policy appears now to favor Zionism and support Israel unconditionally placing greater responsibility on us tax-payers and voters. Some 30% of our foreign aid budget goes to Israel (population 0.1% of world population). The US used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to protect Israel from International Law no less than 36 times. Further, the best US military technologies are sent to Israel. Combined with direct financial military aid, this has made Israel the fourth or fifth strongest military power in the world. Israel possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons as well as massive stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons.
As Prof. Joseph Levine stated: "Some people argue that it is unfair to target Israel when so many other governments deny their citizens basic human rights, and others are guilty of occupying foreign land as well. In fact, there is no inconsistency here. It is absurd to argue that whenever you direct your energy to fight abuse in one area, you must do so everywhere. Following such a course would be a recipe for total paralysis and passivity. I support any effort by others to work for human rights in China, or to end the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, but that doesn't mean I have to be working on those projects as well. That aside, there are particular reasons to focus on the Israeli occupation. Israel is singular in the degree of economic and political support it receives from the United States. That places a special moral burden on American citizens to do something about Israel's brutal behavior, because without U.S. support, it couldn't be sustained." (Divestment from Israel Is Peace Move The Columbus Dispatch November 16, 2002).
Moral and other foundations for boycotts and divestment from Israel were examined in papers submitted at the London conference (see http://www.bricup.org.uk/home/articles.html ) and from http://www.palestinemonitor.org/new_web/boycott_cover.htm
Brief Overview of Current Boycott/Divestment groups
- Israeli groups ranging from Matzpun (http://www.matzpun.com/) to the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions (http://www.icahd.org) called for boycotts as early as 2001.
- Students of Concordia University (Montreal) called on Canada to cut diplomatic and economic ties
- Lutheran church called on the U.S. government "to withhold all economic and military aid to Israel until it improves conditions for Palestinians" (The Los Angeles Times, August 11, 2001).
- Many resolutions calling on Divestments were introduced in City Councils nationwide
- Al-Awda initiated a campaign in 2001 against Intel for building a plant on confiscated Palestinian land. Other campaigns were launched against Caterpillar (http://www.stopcat.org/) and other companies.
- A number of independent campaigns of boycott were initiated around the world: http://www.inminds.com/boycott-israel.html, http://boycottisraeligoods.org, http://www.bigcampaign.org, http://www.boycottisrael.org
- Academic boycotts were called (http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article3434.shtml, http://AcademicsForJustice.org) especially in light of curbs on Palestinian education (see for example http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/)
- Three student led conferences on divestment were organized in the past three years (in Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina) that each drew hundreds of students
- Divestment petitions and actions started in dozens of universities (http://www.divest-from-israel-campaign.org)
- Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu pointed out similarities between Israel and apartheid South Africa and called for boycotts (Apartheid in the Holy Land, The Guardian, April 29, 2002).
- The Presbyterian Church, the Anglican Church, and the World Council of Churches have issued statements encouraging serious consideration of economic sanctions and boycotts as tools to address Israeli human rights violations
- British MPs and other celebrities called for outright sanctions especially in light of Israel’s defiance of International Court of Justice ruling on the apartheid wall (
Occupation and oppression are maintained by economic and non-economic support. Withdrawing these sources of support constitutes practical and non-violent methods of resistance and solidarity and serves interests of all people in Israel/Palestine (a win-win situation of ending the root cause of the conflict). It is also a moral imperative to those who seek peace based on universal principles of equality, human rights, and justice. Silence in situations of war and injustice has been correctly described as complicity. This complicity is compounded where atrocities are committed or facilitated by own government or groups claiming to represent our religion or political philosophy.
In my book “Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli Palestinian Struggle”, I argued that human rights must become central if we are to arrive at a durable peace. Divestments and boycotts provide proven tools of the masses to advance justice and human rights (keys to peace) regardless of one’s preference for particular political solutions (one state, two states, federations, regional arrangements etc.). The history of ending the war on Vietnam and ending Apartheid in South Africa illustrate that grass root activities for peace that employ such methods do work as an alternative to continued violence and injustice.