Economic and moral pressure
The movement to employ divestment and boycotts to help end the Israeli oppression of Palestinians and its apartheid laws draws upon the successful campaign to help dismantle apartheid in South Africa. The same is said for alerts and letter campaigns that will eventually get enough people to question their support of oppression.
In 1948, Israel expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, and has refused ever since to abide by U.N. Resolution 194, which demands the refugees' repatriation. In 1967, Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip (in a war that Israel started, contrary to popular myth), expelling another 250,000 Palestinians in the process. Since 1967, Israel has violated scores more U.N. resolutions, along with the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from deporting the native population and moving its own population onto occupied territory.
"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." Joseph Levine Divestment from Israel Is Peace Move The Columbus Dispatch November 16, 2002
Just as in South Africa the Israeli political dynamic shows that a genuine peace movement is capable of achieving political power only with significant external pressure to counteract the chauvinistic and racist attitudes present both in Israeli and Western Zionists. Israeli society must be convinced that the price of holding on to discrimination and occupation exceeds the benefits.
When I wrote an op-ed titled Time to apply South Africa remedy to Israel and published in the New Haven Register, Rabbi Lerener wrote to complain. The following email exchange is perhaps revealing.
To the New Haven Register:
As a rabbi who believes that Israel's current policies are not only self-destructive but a violation of the highest values of the Jewish tradition, I believe that if one can get beyond his incendiary rhetoric, the description of Israel's current sins portrayed by Mazin Qumsiyeh is mostly and tragically correct. Yet those sins pale in comparison with the genocide taking place between peoples of color in Sudan, and barely matches the level of violence and denial of human rights that has been the continual fate of the people of Tibet under Chinese rule or the fate of the Kurds under Turkish rule, and the list could go on. To single out Israel for a South Africa style campaign of disinvestment, as though Israel's sins were the greatest, will not win the hearts of Americans who understand that this selective focus must be motivated by something beyond the quite reasonable desire to shift American policy from its current blind support for Ariel Sharon. Why pick incendiary tactics certain to divide those of us who oppose Sharon's policies when it would be more effective to rally forces behind the peace forces in Israel and Palestine who have recently united in support of The Geneva Accord and a fair two state solution?
Rabbi Michael Lerner
Editor, Tikkun Magazine Author, Healing Israel/Palestine
Dear Rabbi Lerner:
Two brief comments on your biased response:
- We in America and you as an American Jew (and maybe taxpayer) fund and support the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In fact, we are now the sole remaining country to do so (US pressures a few others and our government is pressured by the Zionist movement). We do not fund and support any of the other atrocities (in fact last I heard, the US is doing a lot in oil rich Kurdestan and Western Sudan where oil was just discovered and suddenly our government became interested). We are responsible to stop our government from using our taxes to fund oppression where they do so. This is our responsibility as US citizens. The history of South Africa shows that divestments and boycotts are the best way to start. The history of Vietnam shows that calling our government to task works. Blaming Sharon for "tactics" is really escapism at its best since in many other places you claim Israel is a democracy.
- I do not think it helpful nor honest on your part to claim you have some sort of a yardstick to measure which people are suffering more. Kurds and Tibetans are occupied and oppressed but neither populations suffered having 2/3rds of its population made refugees or displaced people. Any way your "comparisons" betray your attempt to minimize the suffering of the Palestinians. Imagine your reaction if someone responded to a call of boycott of Nazi Germany by saying that others have committed worse atrocities and we should not be singling out Germany and that this is not helpful blah blah. But wait a minute that was actually what the Zionist movement did in the late 1930s- they broke the boycott of Nazi Germany arguing against the boycott along the same lines (see Edwin Black, the Transfer Agreement). Maybe thsi proves my point that history does indeed repeat itself (sometimes with the same players).
Dear Mazin Qumsiyeh,
I have been doing all I can to organize a movement to change US policy so that it no logner supports the policies of Ariel Sharon. I frequently challenge those who call Israel a democracy, instead insisting that it cannot be called that until it gives an equal vote to all the Palestinians under its rule in the West Bank and Gaza. We differ as to the best strategy to move forward, but you write in tones that try to make sure that I and the people I help organize are perceived by yor community not as a useful ally but as an enemy. That seems to me a rather destructive approach from a community whose powerlessness gets more and more extreme. I have analyzed this way of thinking and doing politics in my book Surplus Powerlessness--you ought to read it. But instead of trying to show you that your approach is pathological, I'll instead ask more respectfully to explain how exactly you imagine building an anti-apartheid type strategy in a country where we can't even get the Democrats to do better than endorse the Bush/Sharon agreements? The anti-apartheid strategy faced an entirely different political reality--by the early 1980s there was noone, not even President Reagan, who supported South African apartheid. The debate was entirely about the best way to get South Africa to change its policies--not about whether those policies were legitimate. In that context, the disinvestment movement was an alternative strategy to the "constructive engagement" strategy of the Reagan administration, but everyone was united on the goal, at least in terms of what they said publicly. To end the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and to create a Palestinian state there is no agreement in the U.S.--not even among political liberals. In fact, many Palestinians themselves won't support a strategy aimed at creating a two state solution, because they want to see the elimination entirely of the State of Israel--so even those who dislike Israeli policy can't agree on a single end point about which they agree comparable to "majority rule" for South Africa (indeed, majority rule for Israel/Palestine could still cast the Palestinians in a powerlessposition before a hostile Jewish majority and keep them in refugee camps and the walled-in enclaves being built by Sharon). There is no sympathy for Palestinians even vaguely comparable to the sympath y for South African blacks. I regret that this is the case. But given that it is the case, I simply see no possible way that disinvestment or use of the South Africa analogy helps to mobilize support--rather it guarantees that people like you and me will continue to argue with each other rather than join forces to mobilize more sentiment in favor of Palestinian national self-determination. So please explain to me in political terms your strategy--not in terms of why this or that right is being denied, about which I largely agree with you, but in terms of a coherent political strategy.
Rabbi Michael Lerner
The strategy I propose (not new but addressing many of the myths about why some think it unworkable) is laid out in details in my book. I urge you to get a copy and read it (see http://qumsiyeh.org). You may even write a thoughtful critique of it. A dialogue is not useless. In fact such a dialogue occurs in all liberation and human rights movements. I would be happy to have a public dialogue with you or others anytime and any where. I am willing to travel. I am just not so sure that such a dialogue would be fruitful using impersonal back and forth emails (but would be happy to do so if that is the only way we can talk). You may also call me at 203-785-6317.
For now let me briefly say to you: whether one agrees with one state or two state or three or no state "solutions", I fail to see any other reason other than basic tribalism to argue against divestments and boycotts (proven tools of the masses to draw attention to injustice). As for teh history of South Africa, I think you need to read more about it. It is simply not true that there was consensus that apartheid was bad and only difference was between those calling for divestments versus those calling for "constructive engagement." By cherry picking a small point in history (towards the last few years of Apartheid), you simply ignore the history of the 40 years preceding it (BTW, Reagan did support apartheid as did many of his corporate friends). In fact the US government and the media was well in support of Apartheid for decades (most notable in their frustration of UN efforts in the 1970s).
It was indeed the International boycott campaign combined with the resistance inside South Africa that made the difference. History is very clear on that. But even if one does not coose to believe that, one should treat with respect those who think differently and engage them in positive, respectful dialogue. If one claims that our goals are similar (like ending the occupation, like peace with justice) but we differ on tactics (e.g. divestments), then that is a dialogue worth having in public and in the open. Who knows maybe we will end-up on the same page. Deriding divestments with a letter to the editor that minimizes the Palestinian catastrophe (comparison to Tibet and Kurdistan) really adds little to furtherance of such dialogue. You go speak at many venues so I am sure you can suggest that one of these venues open it up for a differing view.