In my weekly piece at Souciant, I do a post-mortem on the PC(USA) divestment initiative, which failed by a 333-331 margin with two abstentions. I conclude that the defeat still shows a growing intolerance for Israel’s trampling of Palestinian rights.
Later today, perhaps by the time you read this, or perhaps tomorrow, the plenary session of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly will vote on the recommendation of its Committee 15 to divest from three corporationsthat are profiting from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza, and its concomitant violations of Palestinian human rights.
Jewish Voice for Peace has been a key player supporting the divestment resolutions. But they face opposition not only from the major Jewish and pro-occupation groups, but also from the Zionist peace groups, J Street and Americans for Peace Now.
J Street has been consistent in opposing any kind of pressure on Israel. Their program seems to be to find ways to ask Israel, with more and more “pretty pleases” all the time, to end their occupation.
But APN has supported limited boycotts of settlement programs, products and institutions in the past. Still, one can argue that divestment in general has always been opposed by APN, so the case can be made that their call for PC(USA) to defeat the divestment resolution is also consistent with their positions.
I’m sure they think so.
APN is a wonderful institution. No one does better work in documenting the activities of AIPAC and other pro-occupation lobbying groups on Capitol Hill. They are an indispensible source of information on settlements, especially in East Jerusalem. They have done a huge amount of good on this issue, as much as any group, and more than most. I am proud to have worked with them and proud to call several of their staff members and others affiliated with the group both colleagues and friends.
But this time, they are dead wrong.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has won two huge victories in recent days. Anyone who has an opinion that is anything other than the tired notion that somehow Israel deserves some special immunity from economic actions is going to see these victories as vindication for their view.
So, this is how I see it as vindicating mine.
Let me start with just what that view is, since judging from comments on this site and others where my articles appear, a lot of people have rather inaccurate understandings of them.
I have long been of the belief that pressure from outside is the only hope for getting Israel to change its policies. It is not going to happen internally, nor are the Palestinians ever going to be able to win serious concessions from Israel by themselves against not only the regional superpower but the global superpower that is Israel’s patron and protector.
That pressure, though, is stymied by supporters of Israel in the United States and elsewhere. Those so-called supporters are, in fact, dooming Israel to perpetual conflict and eventual destruction, while critics who care about Israel are trying to save it. But be that as it may, the fact is that the one entity that clearly has the ability to change Israeli policies will, instead, bow to domestic pressure and continue to encourage the worst Israeli behavior.
I therefore have always supported two tracks: economic pressure through grassroots activism and political activism to counter the Israel Lobby. These, to my mind, are not short term activities, but they represent the only hope for changing things in Israel-Palestine before some cataclysmic event changes them for us, quite likely to the detriment of almost everyone on both sides.
Yet I do not support the BDS movement. I stress here “do not support” instead of “oppose.” The Palestinian civil society call on which that movement is based is a perfectly sensible one for the Palestinians to pursue, but it neither speaks to me nor does it strike me as tactically sound, due to its insistence on the full right of return. I have explained this elsewhere, so I won’t go too far into it now. But the bottom line is, I see nothing ethically wrong with the BDS movement, but it doesn’t fit me and I don’t think the movement as a whole is tactically sound.
On the other hand, when I was with Jewish Voice for Peace, I helped craft a strategy of “selective divestment,” which targeted the Israeli occupation, but strove to avoid targeting Israel itself. The point of this framing was ideological and rhetorical. It was meant to target Israeli policies and its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem (JVP always recognized that the Golan Heights was illegitimately held by Israel, but we, I think rightly, saw it as a separate issue because the people of the Golan were not living under military occupation), but not Israel itself. Continue reading