Posted on: February 6, 2008 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 4

I may write more about this soon (or not), but a few words are needed in response to this story in Ha’aretz today.

The Methodist Church is considering divesting from companies doing business that supports Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Now, I do not support boycotts or divestment programs against Israel. But a boycott or divestment drive against Israel is NOT the same thing as one against the occupation.

Opposing the occupation is a moral choice, and one that anyone should feel free to make and act upon. The coverage of this issue, first with the Presbyterians, then with other churches and groups and now with the Methodists, has been nothing short of reprehensible. The constant labeling of divestment drives targeting the occupation only as being proposals to divest from Israel is dishonest, a bald-faced lie in fact.

Judging from this article, there are real reasons to be concerned about the Methodists’ proposal, and the background to it. It certainly does seem that there are some real issues here. But divesting from the occupation and divesting from Israel are two completely different things. It is the difference between divesting from a company supplying weapons for the US army in Iraq and divesting from the US. The distinction is clear, and should be maintained.

There’s a worthwhile piece by a British academic on the question of distinguishing anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and where the two really do intersect. There is no doubt that there is considerable anti-Semitism out there that hides itself behind anti-Zionism, as well as some anti-Zionism, or even just anti-occupation work, that unintentionally steps into the realm of anti-Semitism. And a good deal of the more virulent anti-Israel sentiment is found in the movement for boycotts and divestment from Israel.

But taking a non-violent, economic action against the occupation cannot reasonably be construed, in and of itself, as anti-Israel. Indeed, working to end the occupation, considering the enormous harm it does to Israel’s economy, security, social system, image in the world and identity, is the most pro-Israel thing one can do these days.

Perhaps the Methodist proposal, which does seem to raise other concerns that are noted in the article in Ha’aretz, is a cause for concern. But the proposal should be presented as what it is: divestment from the occupation, not from Israel. Overstating the proposal’s reach is precisely what people are talking when they say that criticism of Israel is always taken as threatening Israel, or worse, turned into anti-Semitism. The only way to isolate those parts of the pro-Palestinian movement that are indeed anti-Israel and those that are anti-Semitic (and I stress that the two are not the same, though they do overlap quite often) from legitimate opposition to the occupation is to be honest about what various groups are saying.

Portraying a divestment proposal that specifically targets the occupation as targeting Israel is disingenuous, and provides fuel to those that are working for Israel’s destruction.

4 People reacted on this

  1. End what “Occupation”?
    Israel is no more “occupying” Gaza then Egypt is and no more the “occiupier” of the West Bank then Jordan is.
    Since Egypt and Jordan are the previous legal authorities (title-holders) and since they both also have a fully implemented peace-treaty with Israel, neither WB or Gaza is legally “occupied”.
    In order for there to be an “Occupier” there MUST also be an “Occupiee”.
    There can not be a “Landlord” without a corresponding “Tennant”. There can not be a “Defendant” without a “Plaintiff” and so forth.
    If WB and Gaza are “Occupied” they should need to be reffered to as “occupied xxx” {whereas the x’s represent a different nation}.
    WB and Gaza can not be legally “Occupied Palestine” because Palestine has never been a nation. Once again Israel is being wrongly pigeon-holed into the worst-case scenario . . . and beyond.
    These neighborhoods are better, more accurately and more fairly described as:
    “Mandated” Palestine (or possibly even Egypt/Jordan). With the “Mandatory” (in this case) being Israel. The Arabs own 98.5% of the Mid East. Israel would LOVE for them to also own Gaza and the West Bank. However, the local Arabs persist on attacking Israel, in the hopes (and dreams) of acquiring the balance of the 1.5% they are now missing. Israel is responding to the consistent war crimes–which are a daily routine on its soil, by occasionally, answering with war crimes of their own. While two wrongs hardly make one right, and while Israel’s retaliation is vastly more effective then the underlying provocations, we can all be highly magnanimous given that we have NOT been under attack for the past 90 years, as the Israelis and before them, the “Palestinian-Hebrews” were.
    It has recently been announced that Israel has achieved a budget surplus of about U$D 2-Billion. The aid provided by the USA is generally about 5% of Israel’s yearly budget and is roughly replaced by the fore-mentioned surplus. Before long, Israel may be sending its resources to the USA. Certainly, its technological position has provided for advantages (in medicine and science) which benefits the entire world.

  2. Interesting and sane post – I accept the distinction between boycotting the occupation and boycotting Israel.

    However (looking at the Ha’aretz article you link to) I wonder whether you accept the difference between the demolition of Palestinian homes on the one hand and the security barrier on the other? THe United Methodists seem to be lumping the two into one transgression. I think there’s a strong case for the wall, awful as such a situation is – although I deplore the annexation of Palestinian land which its route has accomplished. And there are many security barriers being quietly constructed and maintained as we speak – If you accept the wall has a justification, you have to allow for the equipment to build it.

    Also, shouldn’t we expect the Methodist Church to reevaluate its entire portfolio of investments, not just those tied up in Israel or its occupation. Not to attend to this makes the emphasis on Israel’s occupation – entirely reasonable, all things being equal – seem particularist and, indeed, a singling-out of the world’s only Jewish state.

    This sense is exascerbated by the report into the conflict (again see the Haaretz piece) which was unacceptable to many Jews:

    “Among the statements in the report that irked Jewish community activists are a reference to the founding of the State of Israel as “the original sin,” a passage calling Israeli founding father David Ben-Gurion an “extremist” and a passage defining Israeli actions as acts of “terror.” Discussing the impact of the Holocaust on Israeli society, the Methodist report claims it has been the cause for “hysteria” and “paranoiac sense” among Israelis. ”

    I think Israelis could be forgiven for interpretting the most recent divestment drive as an attack on Israel.


  3. Mira,
    I agree with much of what you say. I completely concur that lumping such things as home demolitions together with the barrier makes no sense. The barrier (as I note in a post just yesterday) is not objectionable in and of itself, but its route is. But the barrier is a response to acts such as the one in Dimona this week.

    I also agree (and I did note this in the post) that the Methodists seem to have some real issues in their thinking. I may explore that more in another post on this topic, the very thing I was referring to when I said I may write more about this.

    Finally, I also agree that it is understandable that some Israelis and others as well might interpret the divestment drive as an attack against Israel. But where I would draw the line is with a reporter, particularly one who is usually as professional as Natan Guttman, describing a proposal that targets only the occupation as targeting Israel.

    As I was saying in this post, it is perfectly fine to debate the merits of the proposal, and to oppose it, if such is one’s inclination. But it is crucial, if we are to make any progress, that we deal with reality, deal with thing as they are not label them things which they are not. That is the sum of my point here. If one wants to argue that it is illegitimate to divest from Caterpillar on the grounds that they sell bulldozers which are specially designed for Israel for the purpose of home demolition (that is, they are designed to take on additional armor, a design change inspired by the IDF’s development of an armor package that it outfits the D9 with, a version of which is also now used by the US military) and that they also provide equipment for building the barrier beyond the Green Line, then one should make that argument, not turn it into a group trying to persuade a corporation not to do any business with Israel at all, when such is not the case.

  4. I was unaware of the accompanying statements being referenced:
    “ . . founding of the State of Israel as “the original sin,” a passage calling Israeli founding father David Ben-Gurion an “extremist” and a passage defining Israeli actions as acts of “terror.,” etc..
    However, I am certainly not surprised.
    Disregarding the broader legal authority, founded in the post WW1 treaties and League of Nations charter, and fast-forwarding to 1947:
    The Israelis were entitled to defendable borders.
    To this very day, they have not been allowed to achieve same. Why? Because defendable borders would swiftly become permanent borders and the “Arab Cause” can’t tolerate any permanent Israeli borders, regardless of their type or placement. The borders left behind by the British were intentionally jagged and exposed. The opposing parties were positioned for a permanent war because they could stand on their hillsides and spit on each other.
    The wall, therefore is a legitimate defensive measure by Israel and while it cuts through some Arab turf, Israel has also abandoned ancient Jewish neighborhoods in Gaza (for example) for the same (though opposite) reason, namely, they are undefendable and can not be made so.
    Why don’t we cut-to-the-chase?
    As long as Israel exists (of any size and shape) , it will be under attack because its mere existence is a horrendous affront to Pan-Arab Nationalism and serves as an embarrassment to some well accepted interpretations of Islam.
    There is no other plausible explanation why millions of people have been kept nationless as animals for 60 years–by their own brothers, in the abserd guise of actually helping them.
    Once we understand this fact, the rest of the equation begins to come into focus.
    If it takes a wall, it takes a wall. If it takes bulldozers, it takes bulldozers. If it takes Apache choppers or F-15’s, that too.
    Israel is legally and ethically entitled to defendable borders, whatever that turns out to require from time-to-time and especially (more) so, since they have never been able to achieve this guaranteed right of security. Frankly, put the shoe on the other foot, pretend that Hitler won WW2 and that the M.E. ghettos were full of Jews (rather then Arabs).
    Moreover, for this hypothesis, say that the Arabs were in control of what is now geographical Israel and that the West bank and Gaza Jewish were refusing to accept this, and were engaged in ongoing terror attacks against the Arabs. How many MINUTES do you suppose would elapse before the West Bank and Gaza was converted into a PARKING LOT for Palestinian-Arab Mercedes?
    Please . . . .
    The entire discussion is nauseating because it falsely projects the Hebrews into the imagined position of aggressors. In the USA we protect the habitats of tree-frogs, who are endangered. Jews however, do not qualify for similar treatment.
    I remember growing up and learing that Arabs (and Muslims) hated us. I remember being dismayed because I could not understand why the neighborhood Italian kids and Irish kids and German kids and other kids were not also pervaisively hated by someone.
    ” . . . Methodist report claims it {the Holicost} has been the cause for “hysteria” and “paranoiac sense” among Israelis.”
    Because it has never fully ended, just like it never actually started in the 1930’s. It simply took a pause for ‘network commercials’.
    God did not “choose” any Jews.
    The Jews chose God and that is why they are having to contend with intellectual and violent attacks and the blame for every quantifiable injustice on the planet.

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