Los Angeles Launches Nation’s First Israel Divestment Campaign

Jonathan Ben Artzi

On April 1, 2010, in a no-holds-barred interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Israeli peacemaker Jonathan Ben Artzi, a PhD candidate at Brown University and nephew to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made clear his belief that equality and social justice will prevail in Israel when the government and people of the United States adopt a no-tolerance stance toward Israel’s abuse of Palestinians. Ben Artzi, a ninth generation Israeli who’s seen a lifetime of Israel’s abuse of Palestinians, declared:

“Sometimes it takes a good friend to tell you when enough is enough. As they did with South Africa two decades ago, concerned citizens across the US can make a difference by encouraging Washington to get the message to Israel that this cannot continue.”

Jonathan’s reference to South Africa is a testament to the powerful roll played by valiant Americans who participated in protests, boycotts and divestment actions nationwide, most between 1984 and 1989, which ultimately forced the white minority South African government to relinquish control over its oppressed Black majority.

Ben Artzi, a man of conscience and compassion, served 18 months in prison for refusing his mandatory service in Israel’s military. Ben Artzi goes on to say:

“If Americans truly are our friends, they should shake us up and take away the keys, because right now we are driving drunk, and without this wake-up call, we will soon find ourselves in the ditch of an undemocratic, doomed state.”

This week, Jonathan Ben Artzi should be pleased to know that a concerned and energized coalition of Americans has heeded the call to rescue out of control Israel from driving deeper into its ditch.

On Wednesday, September 8th, at a noon press conference in Los Angeles in front of the Israeli Consulate, the California Israel Divestment Campaign, a culturally diverse group of compassionate Americans announced the launch of California ballot initiative 10-0020 to require public employee systems to divest from certain business activities in Israel. In its first official announcement, the California Israel Divestment Campaign (IDC) delivered the following explanation:

“Although California has adopted policies requiring divestment from Sudan, Iran and other nations, this is the first ballot measure in the nation aimed at changing Israeli policies through divestment by State agencies. It directs California’s large public employee and teacher pension funds to be consistent with their responsible investing policies and to divest from companies that violate the human rights of Palestinians.

The description provided by the office of the Attorney General when it approved the measure for circulation says that the initiative “prohibits state retirement funds from investing in companies engaged in certain business activities in Israel.”

According to Chris Yatooma, the official proponent of the initiative, “Our government has done nothing to end Israel’s brutal occupation and violation of internationally recognized human rights, UN Resolutions and the Geneva Conventions.” In fact, as campaign organizer Yael Korin, notes, “our tax dollars now help fund these violations of human rights to the tune of more than $3 billion a year in grants, adding up to a staggering $106 billion over the past five decades.”

“California retirement funds have their own disturbing record,” said local campaign organizer Sherna Gluck, a member of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). “Our public retirement systems have more than $1.5 billion invested in at least eight companies that provide war materials and services used in violation of internationally recognized human rights, including support for the illegal Israeli settlements and the “Separation Wall.”

For over four decades, since the 1967 Six Day War, propagandized as a victorious miracle on par with David v. Goliath, Americans have ingested a distorted media diet of Israelis portrayed as victims and Palestinians portrayed as villains. But with the launch of domestic and international outlets for independent journalism and new media, the truth is now accessible. More and more Americans have come to realize that Israelis are the oppressors and Palestinians are the oppressed. In addition, more and more Americans are learning that the relationship between the United States and Israel is not really in America’s best interests – a previously untenable concept.

What is occurring as a result of Americans’ new knowledge is their widespread anger over being misled for so long. Many Americans, myself included, feel a sense of guilt at being unwitting pawns in Israel’s forty-year occupation and systematic torture, deprivation, and dare I say, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Many Americans are further incensed that our legislators have voted annually to award Israel, a wealthy and thriving nation, 3 billion of our tax dollars which go directly into its military.

Fortunately there are ways to fight back against this tyranny in which we Americans have been unwitting pawns. The launch of the California Israel Divestment Campaign is a powerful weapon to that end. Divestment worked well in defeating apartheid in South Africa. Indeed, South Africa’s own Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a principal endorser of this new Israel Divestment Campaign, said this of the campaign on August 22nd:

“We defeated apartheid nonviolently because the international community agreed to support the disinvestment in apartheid campaign. A similar campaign can help to bring peace in the Middle East and do so nonviolently.”

This much beloved Nobel Laureate is correct. As is Nobel Laureate and Belfast peacemaker, Mairead Maguire, who is also an endorser.

Each day the momentum is building for this divestment campaign. The list of individuals and organizations that support this effort, which requires the state public retirement funds (PERS and STRS) to divest from companies that provide products or services contributing to the construction or maintenance of Israeli settlements and/or the Separation Wall in the Palestinian Territories; and/or military supplies, equipment and services to the State of Israel that are used by the military and/or police in violation of internationally recognized human rights, as determined by the UN and NGOS, is growing ever larger. And this is just the beginning. This is the just the first divestment launch in California. Similar launches in other California cities are soon to come.

Even though the goal to divest is one of justice and human rights, it will take much hard work to achieve. At least 434,000 registered California voters must sign a petition to qualify the measure for the statewide ballot. Petitions should be ready for signature gathering in mid-September 2010, after which there will be five months to gather the required signatures. If the requisite number of signatures is gathered, the initiative will appear on the next statewide ballot after March, 2011.

If a majority of voters support the measure, it becomes California law and the public retirement systems in California will have to sell their stocks (divest) in those companies that provide goods and services to Israel which violate UN Resolutions, the Geneva Conventions, and international rules of human rights. It is important to note that the Initiative will in no way jeopardize the pension benefits of PERS and STRS members.

California is frequently the national leader. With this divestment campaign, Californians are poised to spark a state-by-state divestiture movement to parallel the anti-Apartheid campaign that helped defeat the oppressive rule in South Africa. To participate, please visit here. If you’re in Southern California, please email here.

To underscore the passion and humanity of the Israel Divestment Campaign, Marcy Winograd, former candidate for California’s 36th Congressional District, offers this personal and poignant explanation for her own participation:

“Today I lend my name and my support to a crucial ballot measure calling for divestiture in companies that aid the Israeli occupation of Palestine and perpetuate the brutal blockade of over a million people, half of them children, in the ever-more crowded Gaza strip.

As a Jewish woman of conscience, as a teacher who contributes to the California State Teacher Retirement System, I do not want my name, nor the fruits of my labor supporting companies that collude with the government of Israel to steal Palestinian land, bulldoze Palestinian homes,
or imprison those in Gaza routinely denied access to clean water and medicine.

Now is the time for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all believers, be they believers in a higher power or simply in the power of love, to stand for human rights and to demand that our public institutions, like CALSTRS and CALPRS, sell stock in corporations that profit off of misery in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza — making us all less safe.

I urge my fellow teachers to echo my call. Let us divest of our stock in Caterpillar, which makes bullet proof tractors that slice Palestinian homes to ribbons in minutes. Let us divest of General Electric that builds the weapons that terrorize the next generation in Gaza. Let us give the people of our great golden state, California, an opportunity to promote peace by saying NO to companies involved in ever-expanding settlements that erase the beautiful olive trees of Palestine, only to generate more hatred.

In the name of peace, of dignity, of equal rights, let us collect enough signatures to put this measure on the ballot and join a global movement calling for divestiture.

Thank you, my friends, for your courage.”

You can do this! You should do this!

Linda Milazzo

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Comments

  1. says

    Marcy et al have an point:

    Those pesky Israelis are obstructing the humanitarian regime of Hamas. Why should we moral Americans abide that? Hamas is, after all, upholding the highest moral standards – male domination and female subordination, strict adherence to Quranic teachings to wipe out unbelievers, etc. Moreover, in order to do this in Gaza, Hamas has been doubly heroic: not only firing rockets at Israeli civlians but also staging a violent coup to remove the Palestine Authority government.

    So yes, let’s divest from all opponents of Hamas. But why stop just with Israel?

    The most effective and appropriate target for divestiture is the obviously the king-pin of the western governments hostile to Hamas.

    It’s time way overdue to divest from all who do business with the USA!

  2. Tony Carleton says

    Mr. Don Duitz is obviously quite mad. WE, the British, voluntarily gave gave back one sixth of the world. Admittedly the USA could never have done that because because they never had the brains, nouse or intelligence to conquer anywhere worth having in the first place.

    Whether our ” humanitarian” effort actually served the best interests of our occupied territories is a mute point. I would think not.

    Tony.
    Tel: (855) 12 272811

  3. Don Duitz says

    What other country has ever been attacked over and over again and been asked to cool it in response.
    What other country in the region shares our values.
    What other country is surrounded by enemies sworn to destroy it?
    What other country has ever freely given back conquered territory in a quest for peace and recognition?
    What other country has even given back territory except the USA?

  4. Bill Gibbons says

    LA Progressive to review its history of the Palestininan-Israeli conflict. So let’s start with some conveniently ignored facts of Arab perscution of the Palestinians, shall we?

    In September 1970, King Hussein of Jordan sent his 60th Armored Brigade to attack the headquarters of a Palestinian organization in Amman, including Palestinian camps in Irbid, Salt, Sweileh, Baq’aa, Wehdat and Zarqa. Yasser Arafat claimed that the Jordanian army killed between 10,000 and 25,000 Palestinians, with the survivors being pushed out of the country for good. This action followed the PFLP’s (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) repeated attempts to assassinate the king, and the hijacking of four airliners belonging to Swiss Air, Pan AM, TWA and BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation).

    In 1982, the Syrian army shelled the Palestinian city of Hama, killing up to 40,000 Palestinians, mostly men, women and children. Assad leveled an entire city with an air bombardment followed by artillery and tank fire. Why? They were anti Baath party, and apparently in 1982 in Syria that was a death sentence. Those who tried to flee the carnage were simply shot by the Syrian army. Survivors later told how they were made to stand over pits full of charred bodies and shot, Nazi style.

    In 1991, Kuwait expelled over 400,000 Palestinians through an open act of brutal ethnic cleansing after Arafat and the PLO sided with Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War.

    As of July 2010, Egypt has partially lifted its own blockade of Gaza at Rafar, which has been in effect since 2007, to allow humanitarian and medical aid into the Gaza Strip, yet still WITH RESTRICTIONS on what kinds of supplies can enter. The Egyptians were candid enough to admit that (A) they hate the Palestinians as much as the Israelis do (B) they don’t want any Palestinian refugees in their country, and (C) they hate the Israelis and would rather have any supplies go through them into Gaza.

    So much for “brotherhood” among Arabs!

    Yet no protests were ever made against Egypt. I wonder why? Where was the outraged international media, the UN “emergency” meetings and the hordes of “peace’ activists when the above atrocities were committed?

    And people think Israel is bad?

    So, let’s look at the facts about Israel. This is a country that was founded in 1947, long after most Arab nations were established, and with their own clearly defined boundaries. It is the only true democracy in the region and with a far better record on human rights than ANY of its Arab neighbours. For example, you can have your gay “pride” parade in Israel, but try to do that in any Arab country, even the Gaza strip, and you will be hanged or stoned to death, guaranteed. This one reason why groups like “Queers for Palestine” are a complete joke. Israel is smaller than Lake Michigan, or if you like, only 1/19th the size of California, and has a population of only 7.3 million people, but with a thriving economy and a First World standard of living. Approximately 75.4% of the population are Jews, with 20.3% identified as Arabs, and the remainder are classed as “other,” meaning a mixture of largely western residents.

    In 2006, the official number of Arab residents in Israel was 1,413,500 people. About 98% of East Jerusalem Palestinians has either Israeli residency or Israeli citizenship. Imagine Palestine giving a Jew “citizenship” with the right to live peacefully and run a thriving business?

    Most Arab citizens of Israel are Muslim, particularly of the Sunni branch of Islam, and there is a significant Arab Christian minority from various denominations, among other religious communities. There is a growing Arab middle class, particularly in Galilee, where many are judges, lawyers and wealthy independent business people. What is most interesting to note is that the Arab citizens of Israel include the Druze, who were numbered at an estimated 117,500 at the end of 2006. All of the Druze living in what was then British Mandated Palestine became Israeli citizens after the declaration of the State of Israel. This condradicts much of the propaganda that asserts that the Arab population of the region was “pushed out” after the establishing of the new state of Israel.

    Though some individuals identify themselves as “Palestinian Druze”, most Druze do not consider themselves to be Palestinian, and consider their Israeli identity stronger than their Arab identity; indeed, Druze serve prominently in the Israel Defense Forces, and are represented in mainstream Israeli politics and business as well, unlike Muslim Arabs who, not surprisingly, are not required to serve in the Israeli military and choose not to anyway.

    Contrast this to Israels sworn enemies, which comprises of 22 Arab states covering an area 640 times greater than Israel, with a combined population 300 million Arabs. And those 300 million Arabs are part of a total of 1.4 BILLION Muslims world-wide who never cease to accuse Israel of being an “expansionist” state! How can Israel, which occupies one-sixth of one percent of the all land occupied by Arabs, be responsible for the political dissatisfaction of 22 Arab states with more land than they know what to do with? So all this talk of Israel giving up land for “peace” is absolute rubbish. Those 22 Arab states will never rest until Israel has been wiped off the face of this earth, and every last Jew is dead.

    Remember, world-wide there are only 13 million Jews – 5 million less than there were in 1939!

    Israel has constantly been under assault from Arab states in outright war, or via terrorism. At one point, the terrorist group Hamas was firing up to 500 rockets A DAY at “soft” targets from bases in Gaza and Lebanon. As of January 2009, over 8,600 rockets had been launched, leading to 28 deaths and several hundred injuries, as well as widespread psychological trauma and disruption of daily life. Most of the victims have been women and children, many suffering from horrific injuries, including loss of limbs.

    The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center estimated that in 2007 the proportions of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip were:

    34% – Palestinian Islamic Jihad (Al Quds)
    22% – Hamas (Qassam)
     8% – Fatah (Kafah)
     6% – Popular Resistance Committees (al Nasser)
    30% – unknown

    In 2006, Israel grew tired of the indifference of the Lebanese government concerning the number of rocket attacks by HAMAS from within the its own borders, and ordered the army to intervene. Once again the world shrieked in indignation over Israeli “aggression.” yet Lebanon, which possesses a 54,000 strong army, refused to intervene and stop the rocket attacks within its own borders.

    More recently, the Israeli raid on six “aid” ships from Turkey again provoked hysteria from the “international community.” The ships in question were intercepted by the Israeli navy in international waters (which they have every right to do). The raid was simply to ensure that the ships were not ferrying weapons, explosives and ammunition to Gaza, considering that the Israeli army had destroyed most of the weapons smuggling tunnels that lead from Egypt into Gaza. As Israeli defence video clearly showed, the commandoes who dropped from a helicopter onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara were immediately attacked by “peace” activists brandishing metal bars, wooden clubs and other improvized weapons. This is in stark contrast to the claims of the activists on CNN that they used only their bare hands to resist the commandos when they landed on the Mavi Marmara. Several of the commandos were badly injured and could be seen being thrown from the upper deck of the ship by the activists. In the end, the commandos found that their paintball guns were insufficient to keep their attackers at bay, forcing them to draw their sidearms and opening fire on their attackers to protect themselves and their injured comrades.

    The Paestihnians are a thorn in everyone’s flesh, but never say THAT to a woolly-headed western liveral who blame’s Israel for everything that goes wrong in the Midfdle East.

  5. Jay Levenberg,Esq. says

    This is another disgusting article, so one-sided it isn’t worthy of print. If this so called progressive blog continues with these anti-Israel diatribes, it will continue to lose readers that would otherwise follow it. The Winograd wing of the Democratic Party will ultimately fail but it isn’t fun reading the nonsense and propaganda. There is a reason that Congress on a bipartisan basis supports Israel. It is a Democracy in a sea of backward, reactionary religious jealots that allow for no dissent or opposition. Every war that Israel has had to fight for it’s very existance was started by it’s neighbors. Israel has made peace with Egypt and Jordon and there have been no problems between these two countries since the peace agreement was signed. The other Arab countries do next to nothing to help the Palestinians that they pretend to support. Did it ever occur to anyone that these rich Arab countries have the means to help the Palestinians with basic services but merely pay lip service to appease the more radical elements in their respective countries. Frankly, I am getting tired of listening to all the propaganda from otherwise seemingly intelligent people. Ms. Winograd and those of her ilk will be as unsuccessful with this new campaign as she was with her own campaign to become a Congresswoman. In this country and Israel we have to allow for such views no matter how repugnant.

    • garry walsh says

      Silly and foolish talk.
      The state of Israel is run by psyopaths who are turning their country away the wisdom that has anchored the Jews since Moses. When Fredrick the Great put the question to his cabinet about the proof of God’s existence the answer came back “The existance of the Jews is proof”. There is no doubt that “proof” does not apply to the state of Israel. How could a Jew who loves God not know this in his/her heart. Israel is doomed if they continue on this wicked and Godless path.

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