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.