A Campaign To Divest From Mideast Apartheid

gazaPeople around the world are mourning the loss of life that resulted from the Israeli Navy commando raid on a flotilla of ships bringing humanitarian aid to a blockaded Gaza. Nine activists were killed. Prosecutors have characterized the incident, which occurred in international waters, as an act of piracy and a violation of international law. And top-ranking Israeli Navy reserves officers denounced the attack and slammed the Israeli government for blaming the activists for what transpired. “We do not accept claims that this was a ‘public relations failure’ and we think that the plan was doomed to failure from the beginning,” the officers wrote in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In many ways, the handling of the flotilla tragedy mirrors Israel’s policy of Occupation of the Palestinian territories: inhumane treatment and a disproportionate use of force against those who have been labeled as terrorists. This is a response born of arrogance and hubris, and a disregard for international public opinion. Add to that the confiscation of news cameras and media censorship, and a propaganda campaign perpetuating the notion of perpetual victimhood– that the Israeli government can do no wrong.

Israel is a prominent nation in the region, but that does not justify apartheid. The nation’s historical origins do not give it a pass in acting ethically or in compliance with human rights law. The Occupation must end if democracy is to flourish in Israel, and public pressure can bring about a just and equitable resolution to the conflict. Some Jews of conscience believe that economic divestment—taking the profit out of violations of human rights and of international law– is the way to make it happen.

The group Jewish Voice for Peace just kicked off a divestment campaign. Their focus is on TIAA-CREF, a Fortune 100 financial services company and insurance giant. The company serves 3.6 million people and manages more than 27,000 retirement plans and over $400 billion in combined assets. TIAA-CREF’s motto is “Financial Services for the Greater Good,” and it proudly calls itself “a global leader in socially responsible investing.” And earlier this year, the company divested from four petrochemical companies that refused to stop doing business with Sudan.

JVP seeks to persuade TIAA-CREF to stop investing in companies that profit from the Occupation, such as Caterpillar and Motorola. The former manufactures bulldozing equipment for destroying Palestinian homes, while the latter supplies cell phones to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) for use in the Occupied Territories.

Occupation means profits. A settlement industry of hundreds of companies has been built around the servicing of 562,000 Israelis living in 135 settlements and outposts in the West Bank, Arab Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. These companies enjoy special government support, including tax breaks, lower environmental and labor standards and low rents. And they exploit Palestinian workers, land and resources as they maintain an infrastructure of buildings, walls and checkpoints to keep Palestinians separated and out of the settlements. Many of the companies serve the Jewish settlers, while others exploit the captive nature of the Palestinian population and charge them exorbitant rates. Meanwhile, Palestinians who work in these industrial zones face labor violations and severe restrictions on their movement and right to organize.

Divestment is a time-tested tool to bring about nonviolent social change. The divestment movement against South African apartheid is perhaps the most poignant example of such a strategy. Similarly, a U.S.-led campaign hopes to bring an end to Israeli-Palestinian apartheid.

Israel considers itself a member of the “First World” and the only democracy in the Mideast, as it maintains a forty-three year military occupation. “To maintain the Occupation, Israel uses harsh and often brutal controls that are widely perceived around the world, if not in the U.S., as an apartheid system. The truth is that even within Israel, only Israeli Jews have enjoyed democratic government and equal rights,” says Barbara Harvey of Jewish Voice for Peace. “Every person who values democratic freedoms and equality has a personal stake in ending Israeli apartheid, because its continuance threatens to redefine democracy in ways that none of us who live outside Israel accept for ourselves.”

Harvey also suggests that Israeli policing practices are having a bad influence in the U.S.: “How many Americans realize that many of our local police forces and even private security forces receive training in Israel, where the Israel Defense Force is taught to dehumanize Palestinians? If the world pretends that Israel’s free society for Jews only is a democracy, the unacceptable will inexorably become acceptable beyond Israel’s borders, threatening every one of us.”

The West Bank consists of a multitude of fragmented enclaves, many of which are connected to adjacent towns only through checkpoints. Settlements, outposts and Israeli military infrastructure place nearly 40 percent of the land out of the reach of Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Gaza is a prison. As Amnesty International has reported, the blockade of Gaza has left nearly 1.5 million men, women and children trapped in a strip of land only 40 km long and 9.5 km wide. The situation in Gaza is one of collective punishment, where poverty, unemployment and food shortages have left four in five people dependent on humanitarian assistance. “Ghetto” is a word associated with pain and deep historical symbolism for both black and Jewish folks. The ghetto is a place where people are packed in and stacked up, by design, and where dreams die and people suffer. Well, Gaza is the ghetto, and one shouldn’t have to live in Gaza or be a Gazan to appreciate that suffering. As one Israeli official stated plainly, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

Further, Arab Israelis are racially profiled, treated as second or third class citizens, and regarded as a fifth column that cannot be trusted. The efforts to strip an Arab Israeli Knesset member of her citizenship because she participated in the humanitarian flotilla (along with Holocaust survivors, European lawmakers and Nobel laureates) is a prime example of the discrimination Arabs face.

So, this is what the divestment campaign wants to change, so that democracy can come to Israel. Business practices must change, but old mindsets must change as well. Jews who are unhappy with the current state of affairs in Israel should be able to, as a courageous progressive rabbi once said, set limits with the ones they love. They should be able to speak up for Palestinian rights without being branded as self-hating Jews, terrorists or enablers of terrorists.

david.jpgLikewise, non-Jews who come to the table with a love for human rights and a sincere desire to help the situation should not fear accusations of anti-semitism. Displeasure with specific policies of the Israeli government does not equate with hatred towards Judaism or Jewish people. And the rights of Palestinians and Israelis are not mutually exclusive, nor should they be.

David A. Love

This article first appeared in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.

Comments

  1. says

    BTW the entire “attack” on my comment fails to address the substance of the comment, but instead changes the topic to other subjects I have not discussed.

    Which demonstrates, to me, that you have no answer.

    A simple apology would have been nice.

  2. says

    Nothing you’ve said justifies using the term “mideast apartheid” to refer to Israel’s policies and ignore the racist policies of almost the entire Islamic middle east.

    I find it pathetic that you can’t own up to an unfair use of terminology.

  3. says

    Paul, don’t overlook the fact that the USA too has been – from some perspectives always has been – a ‘settler-colonial entity’ too. (Fortunately, with minor exceptions, the USA did not have next-door regimes whose tyrants figured to stay in power by scapegoating Yanks. And pre-Columbian Americans being altogether unrelated to the settlers, they mostly dropped dead en masse from the settlers’ diseases.)

    There’s no point in stereotyping me as one who either views or labels typical Arabs as terrorists or typical Jews as victims. Or who thinks that a great solution would be to reverse these role assignments.

    In peace I have walked streets and hiked roads in Israel and in Arab Palestine and in non-Arab Moslem lands, and in all cases experienced at least basic tolerance and sometimes friendship, neither terrorism nor victimhood.

    In point of fact, neither role – terrorist or victim – fits naturally to more than a small minority of either Arabs or Jews. Of course, in order to avoid mass victimhood, Israelis are taking the first essential and very NOT-foolish step: defending themselves. Yes, bearing in mind the statements from the Iran regime, the Warsaw ghetto Jews are a cogent reminder.

    The Warsaw ghetto Jews were condemned to be fatal victims of genocide – to slavery, starvation and annihilation – which occurred to nearly all within a few years. To put it extremely charitably, there’s no point to comparing them to Palestinian Arabs – people who for decades have had lives and choices, sometimes reasonably attractive.

    Arabs in Israel have civil rights, and when these have not been fully respected they have justice-seeking allies (I know some). Arabs who live in non-Israel Palestine could have a state of their own – if their own ‘leadership’ would only go for it. It’s one thing (maybe natural if not always warranted) to resent Jews (in this case) as ‘the others’. It’s another and truly sad matter when that resentment is magnified and exploited by Palestinian ‘leaders’ as excuse for their NOT taking steps for a peaceful and viable society and polity.

    Thanks to the combined effect of policies of Arab and Western countries, the UN and Hamas – we can all be sorry for kids now in Gaza – their parents or grandparents having fled from places maybe all of ten or twenty or thirty miles away. In 1948 much or most of the flight incitement owed to Arab states’ propaganda, to clear the path for the invading Arab armies. Very few war deaths were suffered by the 100,000+ Arabs who did NOT leave their homes in Israel territory in 1948.

    Yes, Israel does not allow return from Gaza of refugees and descendants. There is little room for orderly such return. Southwest Israel is now filled with descendants of Jews from all over the Mid-East (Southwest Asia), including states – notably Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen – which in 1948 went to war to destroy Israel. These Jews had in most cases no choice but to flee hundreds of miles to Israel. So an exchange of Arab and Jewish refugee populations has occurred. Egypt, et al, are the states to ask about implementing choices for Gazans.

    I suppose that if I were in a mood to compound the world’s problems, I too – and millions like me – could militantly demand a descendant’s right of return to the Southwest Russian Empire (and perpetual UN welfare refugee payments too). For instance, I should be given my great-grandfather’s inn and my grandmother’s house in the center of a west Ukraina town. The UN could pass resolutions condemning Ukraina for not inviting me.

    • Paul McDermott says

      Joe, you’ve done a magnificent job of sugar-coating Israeli history. You should read Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and then you’ll learn that the Deir Yassin massacre and other examples of Jewish terrorism show that the Stern Gang and the Hagana clearly intended to frighten Palestinians into fleeing their homes.

      You also hold to the idea of “swapping” populations, which is actually a form of ethnic cleansing. Would you be receptive to the idea of being forced out of your home in California if you were told that California was to be populated by refugees from the Comoros Islands (say, since their homes had disappeared due to global warming and rising seas)? Oh yeah, one of those English-speaking countries will take you in!

      You rightly mention that the United States was born of settler colonies and the native population was subjugated and largely killed off. But this was a few centuries ago (or a century and a half) and the native American people are fully recognized as equal citizens. We now have international laws guiding human relations. Are you suggesting that Israel is right to follow past misguided policies in the 21st century?

      You can make case after case for defending Israel’s misguided policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians and its neighboring countries, but ultimately there will never be peace in the region unless Israel agrees to three things: end of the occupation (including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights), the right of return (or fair and equitable compensation), and recognition of Palestinians living within Israel proper as equal citizens with equal rights.

  4. says

    The problems faced by Palestinians owe primarily to one fact: For all her life Israel has had to be on a war footing, because most Arab states and Palestinian factions have been explicitly committed to doing away with Israel.

    In time of war or threat of war, a top casualty is full equality of treatment between your folk and those who are identifiably other and moreover could be (or look to be) on the enemy side. Just think of what happened in WW2 to Japanese Americans, in an enlightened USA that was thousands of miles from the nearest effective enemy force. Today, as long as the current repressive genocidal Iran regime is in power – overtly seeking nukes to wipe out Israel and intimidate others in the region, and massively supporting its clients – Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah – the war situation will continue.

    Until Egypt broke the policy, the Arab states were unanimously committed to ‘no peace, no recognition, no negotiations’. It took yet more years until a Palestinian leader was ready to claim (in English, if not Arabic) readiness to move from preferring the no-state solution (no Israel, worth the price of no Palestine) to a two state solution.

    The blockade of Gaza owes to Hamas policy. Pre-Hamas was not ideal, but there was no blockade. The blockade is the result of Israel and Egypt going for a more humane alternative to outright long-term invasion and reoccupation.

    Every population that lives under a regime that has opted for external conflict and local repression – as Hamas has with Israel and with Gazans – does and will in fact suffer collective punishment. Increase in humanitarian supplies can be sought, but simply ending the blockade will prolong the long-term humanitarian problem by prolonging and strengthening Hamas.

    The trapping of so many – and ever more – people in the small Gaza territory goes back to way before the blockade or before 1967. It is the combined resultant of sixty-two years of (1) Refusal first of Arab states and then of Palestine factions to agree to a Palestine Arab state at peace with a viable Israel. (2) With or without a Palestine Arab state, unwillingness of Arab governments and now of Palestinian leadership to use even gobs of western money to resettle refugees and descendants permanently in non-Israeli Palestine (3) Refusal by capable countries, both Arab and western, to enable massive Palestinian refugee resettlement and absorption in their lands (4) Readiness by semi-guilt-ridden oil-seeking western nations instead to underwrite an ever more costly perpetual ‘Palestine refugee’ welfare system, the UN’s only permanent such system, according to which refugee status continues to the thousandth generation (5) Resulting UN welfare system insufficient for real economic development, but sufficient to promote permanent dependence and to support one of the world’s highest birthrates and population increase rates.

    Reader Beckerman has a point: identifying actual or alleged apartheid in just Israel with apartheid everywhere in the Mid-East is indeed antisemitism. Past a certain point, a continual focus on just one alleged locus of injustice becomes a quest not for justice but an obsession which totally belies genuine ‘progressivism’.

    Yes, it’s easier to get articles about Israel, because the press is relatively free to roam there in comfort, and dissenting citizens can raise their voices there – and besides, as Saul Bellow pointed out decades ago, Israel is the world’s moral resort area – where would-be idealistic people are used to finding stuff to criticize on any issue that they can’t or don’t want to do much about anywhere else (including at home).

    Some possible long-abiding topics (for a start) for future apartheid-and related theme articles could be: Persecution of Copts in Egypt. Apartheid against almost all women in almost all the Islamic Mid-East. Denial of national rights to the Kurds by both Turkey and Iran. Iran’s persecution of the Bahais. Turkey’s continued genocide denial. Russia’s brutal repression in Chechnya – no blockades, just utter wipeouts. Barbaric punishments in Saudi Arabia. Syria’s nasty occupations in Lebanon and repressions at home. Strong-man or oil-oligarchy or theocratic regimes everywhere except Israel, Lebanon, Turkey (before Erdogan) and (so far) Iraq. In almost every case, US and other western firms – under Obama supplemented by diplomatic appeasement – have notable roles in strengthening the work of the repressive regimes.

    • Paul McDermott says

      You overlook the fact that Israel has been on a war footing its entire existence because it is a settler-colonial entity. Palestine has gone from being part of the Ottoman Empire to being a mandate of the British Empire to becoming a Jewish Zionist colony. Doesn’t it make sense to you that the native population would resist being colonized yet again and being made second-class citizens, or worse, in the case of the ghettoized inhabitants of Gaza.

      You are right in saying that the trapping of people in Gaza goes back before the blockade and before 1967. It goes back to the ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by Jewsish terrorists during 1947-1949. Many Gazans trace their roots back to villages and towns in the S.W. of present-day Israel, from which they were driven and to which Israel has never allowed them to return.

      Joe, you just don’t get it, do you? Do you think the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto liked the way they were treated? How are the Palestinians any different as people? Why can’t you treat another Semitic people with the dignity they deserve as fellow humans? Why do you always refer to Arabs as terrorists and always make the Israelis out to be victims?

      Victims of their own foolishness, maybe?

  5. Paul McDermott says

    By Imogen Foulkes, BBC News, Geneva

    The ICRC paints a bleak picture of conditions in Gaza Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.

    In a statement, the ICRC describes the situation in Gaza as dire, saying the only sustainable solution is a lifting of the blockade.

    It says Israel is punishing the whole civilian population of Gaza.

    It also urges Hamas movement to allow ICRC delegates to visit a detained Israel soldier Gilad Shalit.

    The ICRC, a traditionally neutral organisation, paints a bleak picture of conditions in Gaza: hospitals short of equipment, power cuts lasting hours each day, drinking water unfit for consumption.

    “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law,” the agency said in the statement.

    And the ICRC blames differences between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for some of Gaza’s shortages.

    But the key message from the body which rarely publicly criticises governments is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza must be lifted.

    That message is yet another indication of growing international concern over conditions in Gaza – just last week US President Barack Obama called the situation there unsustainable.

  6. says

    Ray: We stand against oppression and injustice, not against Israel. If you can direct us to articles standing against oppression and injustice in the Middle East from Israel’s perspective, we would gladly consider them. — Dick Price, Editor

  7. says

    It is absolutely ludicrous to refer to Israel as “middle east apartheid” and ignore the practice of genuine apartheid in almost every Islamic state in the middle east.

    I am shocked to see LA Progressive lend itself to such flagrant propaganda and antisemitism.

    • SK says

      Nonsense. Just because many Islamic countries are oppressive themselves doesn’t mean Israel should get a pass for their terroristic institutionalized oppression of Palestinians and others.

      Why is that as soon as someone points out Israel’s brutality, they’re called anti-Semitic? Since when does Israel represent all Jews? There is nothing wrong with criticizing Israel’s actions, and as a Jew, I’m deeply offended that you resort to false claims of anti-Semitism against those who seek to help the oppressed and downtrodden in the mid-east.

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