For years I have been rather ambivalent about the wisdom of boycotting Israel. While a boycott of anything related to the illegal settlements in the West Bank, which are a clear derivative of a brutal occupation, is an absolute necessity, and which I have fully supported, I have always been reserved about the boycotting of Israel proper. Today I feel that there is no choice but to call for a full and total boycott directed against Israel ‚Äì Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS). For the good of Israel and in the hope that blatant pressure from abroad directed primarily at the Israeli economy is the only way to wean Israel from what Thomas Friedman in a recent editorial called ‚ÄúIsrael‚Äôs crack addiction‚Äù. It is the only way to wake Israelis up from their (crack) pipe dream of ‚Äúbusiness as usual‚Äù or the feasibility of maintaining a disastrous status quo that will only lead to more land grabs, violence and war, ultimately jeopardizing Israel itself. It is the only way to convince present and future governments that the current situation is untenable and unviable. It is the only way to save us from ourselves. At this point in time, Israelis are unable to affect change from within. The atmosphere has become so poisoned that attempts at the grassroots level to affect political change are insignificant at best, particularly in light of attempts at the legislative level to delegitimise grassroots initiatives and make local NGOs seeking to advance political change illegal.
The current Israeli government (as well as past governments, whether led by Labour, Likud or the catch all Kadima party) has zero intention of moving forward with negotiations with the Palestinians. They would much rather ‚Äúmanage‚Äù the conflict than seek a truly just solution. The continued occupation is having a disastrous effect on Israeli society as a whole. Human life has become cheap, a form of Judeo-Fascism is developing here, led by rabbis, far right politicians in the Knesset and leaders in the occupied Palestinian territory. Jim Crow legislation has been tabled at the Knesset, rabbis have signed calls not to lease or sell property to Arab Israelis, hundreds demonstrate against Arab Israeli neighbors, and recently a group of minors were arrested for conducting what can only be called pogroms against innocent Arab citizens in the center of Jerusalem. The poison of the occupation has infected Israeli society as a whole at a level that can only be diagnosed as gangrenous. The only way to convince Israelis that the current status quo cannot be continued is to attach a real and significant price to the continued occupation, and yes, to force local political leaders to take responsibility, to lead rather than manage, to commit, rather than hide behind spin doctors or the outright lies of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Anyone who yet rationalises non-action against Israel is actively contributing to the inevitable use of the only other tool world history has provided for social and political change: violence! Please boycott my country today, you are our only hope!
- The author chooses to withhold his name for fear of repercussions against his family. The threat is real. Suffice to say that the author is an Israeli academic in the field of the social sciences. While the author is fully prepared to pay the price for his opinions, there is no reason for his family to suffer. The author can be reached at: pleaseboycottus@...
Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Quietly moving through the Anselm Kiefer show at the Gagosian gallery on its final afternoon were eight people wearing black T-shirts that bore the show's portentous title—“Next Year in Jerusalem”—in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. They didn't speak unless spoken to; they took pictures of themselves standing before some equally portentous works of Holocaust-evoking art. (Everyone was taking pictures; the catalogue cost a hundred dollars.) Only if approached did one of the group explain that they were part of an organization called U.S. Boat to Gaza, which plans to sponsor a ship in the next flotilla to sail against the Israeli blockade. Half of the group had left, and they were reduced to four by the time that gallery representatives asked them to leave, unimpressed by their claims to be extending the discussion that Kiefer had begun. Morality. Guilt. Jewish tragedy, past and present. (“This is private property,” a gallerista in towering heels shot back. “We're here to sell art.”) A call to the police was threatened. In response, the activists put on their jackets—covering the offending Passover phrase, even while complaining that it had not, to their knowledge, been copyrighted—and asked if they might stay. Without reply, the representatives walked away.
Ingrid Homberg had gone to Gagosian that day to lift her spirits. A delicate blonde woman in her late fifties, she grew up in Germany—she is roughly of Kiefer's generation—but never felt that she belonged there; she moved to New York with her young daughter in 1980, and the city has proved a much happier fit. In recent years, however, she has been ill (fibromyalgia, arthritis) and suffers frequent pain. Still, she was immediately buoyed by Kiefer's magisterial landscapes, in which massive wings overhead suggest the judgment of God. The gallery was filled with such disturbing images. She had earlier noticed the people in the T-shirts, and now she approached them, hoping to discuss the feelings that the artist's work provoked.
But there was no discussion. Two police officers arrived just a moment after Homberg did, and ordered the group out. Including Homberg. She said that she had no reason to leave. She asked one of the officers—“Young man,” she addressed him, and he did look very young—why they did not allow the group to speak. And that was it. His partner grabbed her by the arm and began to pull her out. The force of the motion caused her to lose her balance; she fell. And the Gagosian's chamber of artful horrors came to appalling life, as crowds of gallery goers, on a busy Saturday afternoon, watched a police officer drag a frail and terrified woman, howling with pain, across the floor of two long rooms to the doorway.
Many people might have assumed that her cries were part of a staged scene, since the protesters were shepherded out behind her, loudly bemoaning their deprivation of freedom of speech. But on the street, Homberg pulled off her coat and rolled up her sleeve to reveal an arm thickly blotched black and blue. The officer, she explained, had not merely grabbed her arm—thin enough, and easy to grab—but had strongly pressed his fingers into the upper inner muscle as he dragged her. The result, she said, was agony.
A sympathetic bystander informed the officers that they had made a mistake: the sobbing woman was not with the group and no one had ordered her out of the gallery. They replied that they had ordered her out, and she had not complied; therefore, no mistake was made. Homberg asked to speak to someone from the gallery, but her request, when relayed, was met with conspicuous disinterest. A Gagosian representative has since expressed regret that anyone was hurt during the “unfortunate disturbance.” The New York Police Department, however, insists that Homberg was merely “escorted” from the gallery, and denies that she was dragged or mistreated in any way.
As she was bundled off for medical attention following the incident, Homberg continued to cry. She was upset, she said, because of the terrible pain, because of the shock, and because she had not been able to finish looking at the exhibition. The service of a car was offered by one of the protestors, who had somehow found time to change into a T-shirt that read “Greed Kills.”
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Today marks another win for the global boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement against corporations that profit from severe human rights violations. Chicago’s very own DePaul University just announced that their dining services will be discontinuing the sale of hummus manufactured by Sabra, an Israeli brand known for its vocal and material support of Israeli Defense Forces. The administration has temporarily suspended the sale of Sabra products and will likely move towards permanently banning the brand from campus.
A little over two weeks ago, members of DePaul’s Students for Justice in Palestine expressed concern over the sale of Sabra products after discovering that Chartwells, which provides dining services to the university, had introduced the Israeli-brand hummus to food and dining facilities throughout campus. Acting on their concern, the students compiled research and revealed that the Strauss Group, co-owner of Sabra, has direct monetary ties with elite Israeli military forces currently and historically involved in the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. One week after bringing the issue to the attention of campus administrators, the university informed campaign organizers that Sabra products are set to be removed from shelves for the remainder of the school quarter and will most likely not be sold on campus in the future. (Read the email sent to administrators at the end of the post.)
The ultimate success of this modest divestment campaign isn’t that it resulted in the removal of a product from campus cafeteria shelves but, rather, that it has undoubtedly set the framework for future campaigns in college campuses throughout the United States. With exactly 156 colleges and universities using Chartwells for their campus dining needs, the BDS movement against IDF-sponsoring companies like Strauss Group and Sabra can potentially reach national heights. By discontinuing the sale of Sabra products, DePaul University has made its stance clear: Any product or company involved with flagrant human rights violations against Palestinians or any other people does not mirror the principles on which the university is founded and is therefore not welcome on campus. The administration’s quick response indicates the importance of preserving and respecting Palestinian rights by divesting from companies that do the exact opposite.
DePaul’s divestment from Strauss Group-owned Sabra products comes less than a month after a similar attempt at divestment hit the streets of Philadelphia. Over two dozen activists gathered at a supermarket near the University of Pennsylvania to protest the sale of Sabra hummus. A video of the action was released to the public via YouTube where it quickly grew in popularity and eventually prompted Strauss Group to remove all references supporting the Israeli military from its English-translated website. However, the Hebrew version of the website still maintains the corporation’s public support of IDF activity.
Major BDS campaigns generally take years of concentrated grassroots efforts before any significant progress is made but that did not deter the small group of DePaul students from voicing their concern and offering alternative solutions that fell in line with the university’s code of ethics. The efforts put into this divestment campaign, both at DePaul and in Philadelphia, serve as a model for future college BDS movements. Any institution of higher learning that promotes morality, justice, and respect must make sure to abide by its principles. If it doesn’t, it is up to the students to make sure things change for the better.
— — —
Email sent to DePaul administrators:
Hello Stephanie and Joe,
My name is Shirien and I’m part of Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul. I’m writing you because it has recently come to our attention that Chartwells has started selling Sabra hummus products at DePaul. Many SJP members, as well as several other students, are deeply disturbed about this development. SGA President Ross R., as well as DePaul alumni Ben M. (both CC’d) recommended that we get in contact with you both in order to assist us with this matter.
The reason why we are concerned is because the company which manufactures Sabra hummus, the Strauss Group, has been a voice of support for the ongoing Israeli occupation through its ties with Israel’s military. This is apparent in their vocal support and material sustenance of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), namely the Golani Brigade. The Golani Brigade, Israel’s elite force, is known for its history of severe human rights violations. Many instances of these violations are well documented, from the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin to the torture and humiliation of Palestinian detainees. Because of this, a boycott campaign against Sabra is happening at many universities in cities across the nation.
Many of us students are concerned about DePaul affiliating with a company with such strong military and political ties. We feel that continuing the sale of Sabra products at DePaul is in violation of our Vincentian values, which require us to stand against injustice. This goes for any other companies affiliated with human suffering.
We would like to meet with you both so that we can discuss this matter more in-depth. CC’d to this email are key board members from SJP, as well as Erez, who is on the Fair Business Practices Committee. We want to voice our concerns and perhaps present alternative hummus brands that are more socially conscious. We hope that you can hear us out and help steer us in the right direction of how to go about addressing this.
Would it be possible to set up a meeting some time next week? I included everyone in one email thread so we can all be in the loop. Please let us know what you think. Thank you for your time and consideration!
Sunday, November 14, 2010
|Workers readying the Ariel cultural center for its opening.|
Photo by: Alon Ron
A group of leading Israeli film and television artists have signed onto an online petition supporting the right of theater actors to refuse to perform in the newly opened arts center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
"A number of Knesset members and ministers from Yisrael Beitenu and Likud and other right-wing figures are calling for cutting off funding to artists that this week called for a boycott of the cultural center in Ariel," the online petition said.
"Threats of this type by these Knesset Members do not scare us," the petition continued. "As Israeli citizens, the refusal of these theater actors to perform in Ariel, which is not within the borders of Israeli sovereignty, is a democratic right."
"It is unconscionable that the resistance to the settlement enterprise, a belief shared by a substantial amount of the Israeli public, has turned into an illegitimate position that leads to slandering, silencing, and funding cuts," said the petition.
The Ariel cultural center celebrated its official opening last week, including a performance by the Be'er Sheva theater group.
Dozens of Israeli theater figures had sent a letter to Be'er Sheva Theater actors on November 5, urging them to join their battle and boycott the newly built arts center.
In September, a group of theater actors and public figures signed a petition saying they would not perform in the new Ariel center as a protest of Israel's settlement policies. The protest was supported by over 150 academics.
Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that he will act against the boycotting artists by halting direct funding of their travel expenses for shows abroad and by preventing their appearances before state bodies.
Friday, October 29, 2010
This is not an earthquake.
That's why the next part of the story is even more amazing. The news reports say that the deliveries have been suspended now because Rachel's parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, are bringing a civil suit against the government of Israel in a court in Tel Aviv.(2) The deliveries are to stop during the length of the trial. We take this as an indirect admission by the company that these bulldozers are being used to violate human rights and to violate the law. The Corrie story is sadly just one of thousands of stories of loss and pain.
Tell your friends to ask TIAA-CREF to stop investing in CAT now.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
David Smith in Johannesburg
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 27 October 2010 14.34 BST
Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu said to perform Porgy and Bess in Israel now is "unconscionable".
Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian
The Nobel peace prize laureate said it would be "unconscionable" for Cape Town Opera to perform in Israel while millions of people there are denied access to culture and education.
But the opera company today insisted that it would go ahead with next month's tour of the American classic Porgy and Bess, while Tutu's stand was condemned by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
The 79-year-old, who earlier this month announced his retirement from public life, issued a statement that said: " Just as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa in a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity, so it would be wrong for Cape Town Opera to perform in Israel.
"Cape Town Opera should postpone its proposed tour next month until both Israeli and Palestinian opera lovers of the region have equal opportunity and unfettered access to attend performances."
Tutu, a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and campaign to free Nelson Mandela, continued: "Only the thickest-skinned South Africans would be comfortable performing before an audience that excluded residents living, for example, in an occupied West Bank village 30 minutes from Tel Aviv, who would not be allowed to travel to Tel Aviv, while including his Jewish neighbours from an illegal settlement on occupied Palestinian territory.
"The Tel Aviv Opera House is state sponsored. By luring international artists to perform there, it advances Israel's fallacious claim to being a 'civilised democracy'. Yet, every day, millions of citizens are denied the right to educational and cultural opportunities in Israel and the Palestinian territories it occupies."
Tutu added: "Please, fine singers of the Cape Town Opera: much as it offers you opportunities to travel abroad and show the world what we can do, listen to your conscience. God loves Jews and Muslims equally. To perform Porgy and Bess, with its universal message of non-discrimination, in the present state of Israel, is unconscionable."
But the plea was rejected by Cape Town Opera. Michael Williams, its managing director, said today: "Cape Town Opera respects the views held by retired Archbishop Tutu. We are, however, first and foremost an arts company that believes in promoting universally held human values through the medium of opera and we are accordingly reluctant to adopt the essentially political position of disengagement from cultural ties with Israel or with Palestine."
He added: "I am proud that our artists, when travelling abroad, act as ambassadors and exemplars of the free society that has been achieved in democratic South Africa. Indeed, the production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in question has, in our view, much which should provide food for thought for audiences in Israel."
Williams said discussions for the visit to Israel began four years ago and that negotiations to perform "within the Arab world" are ongoing.
Tutu's stand was criticised by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape Council). Its executive director, David Jacobson, said: "Peace and understanding are best served through constructive and positive engagements between Israel, South Africa and the Palestinian regions, not by boycotts."
He added: "The SAJBD Cape Council further completely rejects Archbishop Tutu's claim that Israel is founded on 'discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity'. There is, in fact, no other country in the Middle East that can claim to be as inclusive, non-discriminatory and multicultural than Israel."
Tutu caused controversy last month when he supported Johannesburg University's (UJ) decision to sever links with Israel's Ben-Gurion University, accused of actively supporting the Israeli military, unless it meets two conditions within six months.
UJ stipulated that its memorandum of understanding with Ben-Gurion should be amended to include Palestinian universities and that UJ "will not engage in any activities with [Ben-Gurion] that have direct or indirect military implications".
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Sunday, September 26, 2010
The Sunday Times Sep 26, 2010†
The University of Johannesburg's Senate will next week meet to decide whether to end its relationship with an Israeli institution, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, on the grounds of that university's active support for and involvement in the Israeli military. Archbishop Desmond Tutu supports the move. He explains why
Photograph by: ROBYN BECK
" My heart aches. I say, "Why are our memories so short." " Jacob Zuma
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Broadway World Web September 8, 2010
Jewish Voice for Peace has collected over 150 names ofObie/Emmy/Tony/Pulitzer and other prize- winning theater and filmprofessionals in support of the Israeli actors'/playwrights' boycott ofIsraeli settlements. The issue has exploded in Israel and now support forthe boycott hasgone global.Supporters include: Theodore Bikel, Mira Nair, JuliAnne Moore, Hal Prince,Stephen Sondheim, Cynthia Nixon, Tony Kushner, Mandy Patinkin, Eve Ensler,Jennifer Tilly, Ed Asner, Wallace Shawn, James Schamus and many more.
Ed Asner, actor "It is always amazing when actors turn down jobs. To have
the actors of Israel say they will not work in those venues is truly an actof courage. I applaud them and would love to instill the actors of Americawith that courage."
Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace: "The response of American artists to the courageous actions of their Israelicounterparts is just phenomenal. It is especially notable that so many ofthe signatories are Jewish Americans with long-standing connections toIsrael. We hope that the strong show of solidarity by Americans in responseto these brave Israelis will help spark a new conversation in bothcountries, one that acknowledges that the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are illegal by every measure of international law, contribute to the daily violation of human rights of Palestinians, and are a major obstacle to a just peace inthe region."
Corey Fischer, co-founder of the Traveling Jewish Theater (now JewishTheater San Francisco), "It seems to me that, as often happens in our times,these artists are taking on what was traditionally the task of the Hebrew Prophets: speaking truth to power. I hope someone is listening."The Israeli theatre community re cently released a petition in which theyrefused to perform in the West Bank because of news that performances werebeing planned for Ariel's new cultural center. The group of artistsparticipating in the boycott hope that their actions will only highlight theinjustice of the current occupation.
visit my website www.michaelmunk.com
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Sarah Irving, The Electronic Intifada, 25 August 2010
Churches around the world are joining the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. (Luay Sababa/MaanImages)
The world's churches have long been one of the battlegrounds of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. With the strengthening of the BDS movement, a number of churches across the globe have seen the boycott of Israeli and Israeli settlement goods hotting up, and recent weeks have witnessed some notable victories.
The British Methodist Church has seen a number of resolutions on Israel passed in recent years. In 2006, says Dr. Stephen Leah, a Methodist preacher and member of the church's conference, a vote to divest from companies profiting from the occupation was passed "overwhelmingly," and other motions condemning Israeli actions in Gaza and encouraging church members to campaign for a just peace have been welcomed.
In June, Leah and colleague Nicola Jones, a Methodist minister who works with Palestinian liberation theology organization Friends of Sabeel, sparked major debate in the British media after they successfully shepherded a boycott motion through Methodist conference. "In 2009 we set up a working party in order to bring a statement to 2010 conference outlining the Methodist Church's position on Palestine," explains Leah. "Our report was the basis for the new resolution."
The resulting motion has attracted most attention for its call for a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements. Christine Elliott, the Church's Secretary for External Relationships, said in an official press release that "This decision has not been taken lightly, but after months of research, careful consideration and finally, today's debate at the Conference. The goal of the boycott is to put an end to the existing injustice. It reflects the challenge that settlements present to a lasting peace in the region. We are passionate about dialogue across communities and with people of all faiths. We remain deeply committed to our relationships with our brothers and sisters of other faiths, and we look to engage in active listening so that we act as agents of hope together."
"My personal view is that I'm in favor of a boycott of all Israeli goods," says Leah. "But we had a big debate about it in the working party, as you can probably imagine, and some people said we should stick with a boycott of settlement products. So the statement now says that the Church will boycott settlement goods, but that some Methodists would like to go further." Although the Methodists are the first church in the UK to mandate a settlement boycott, Leah claims that grassroots opinion within other churches, particularly the United Reform Church, would also support a boycott motion if one was presented to their conferences.
Significantly, the Methodist resolution doesn't stop with a settlement boycott. It encourages church members to educate themselves on the issue of Palestine, directing them to documents such as the 2009 Kairos Declaration by Palestinian Christian leaders. It also encourages them to take action, ranging from engaging with the Amos Trust's Just Peace for Palestine initiative to volunteering with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), whose human rights observation work takes volunteers to villages such as Yanoun, which has been repeatedly attacked and threatened by far-right settlers from Itamar. Official Methodist documents now refer to settlements as illegal, and the Church leadership has written to Britain's main supermarkets asking for details of their policies on settlement produce. According to a Church spokesperson, they intend to make the results of their enquiries public in the near future, and the Methodist website already includes guidance on country of origin labels relating to Israel, the occupied West Bank and settlements.
The Methodist resolution also "directs the Faith and Order Committee to undertake further work on the theological issues, including Christian Zionism, raised in the report that are needed to guide and support the approach of the Methodist Church to the Israeli/Palestinian situation and to bring a report to Conference." This, says Leah, is a measure aimed at "getting to grips with what's behind Christian Zionism, because there are all sorts of different strands. Part of that will be a discussion within the Committee as to whether or not some aspects are compatible with Methodist beliefs. For example, some people, including the UN, have said that Zionism is akin to racism, and the Methodist Church is completely against all forms of racism." Leah says that he's rarely encountered Christian Zionism within his local Methodist congregations in the north of England, but acknowledges that "some people do have a feeling that we should be supporting Israel because they're in the Bible and so on. But I'd say it's stronger in other churches, especially the evangelical churches."
Unsurprisingly, the decision of Britain's second largest Protestant church to endorse the settlement boycott and research Christian support for Zionism has been controversial. The London-based Council of Christians and Jews responded to the Methodist resolution with mailings claiming that the boycott will "hurt Palestinian people," while the Board of Deputies of British Jews issued a statement calling the motion "a very sad day, both for Jewish-Methodist relations and for everyone who wants to see positive engagement with the complex issues of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Methodist Conference has swallowed hook, line and sinker a report full of basic historical inaccuracies, deliberate misrepresentations and distortions of Jewish theology and Israeli policy." The statement went on to accuse the Methodist Church of being "crass, insensitive and misinformed," and The Jewish Chronicle reported that the board had cut off relations with the Methodist leadership until "we see signs of a change in their stance."
From Israel, meanwhile, commentators raised the specter of a "threat to inter-faith efforts all over Europe." The Jerusalem Post called the Methodist Church, which claims 330,000 members in the UK, a "small and declining community" and described the Kairos Declaration as a "highly organized" effort by Palestinian Christian leaders. A Jerusalem Post op-ed by Robin Shepherd of the Henry Jackson Society (which numbers Operation Cast Lead defender Max Boot, former Israeli ambassador Dore Gold and a former CIA director amongst its figureheads), was entitled "The Banality of Methodist Evil," called the BDS campaign "rancid" and accused the Methodist Church of "burying its credibility under a gigantic dunghill of intransigence, pedantry, lies and distortions." The writers concluded by suggesting that "If the Methodist Church is to launch a boycott of Israel, let Israel respond in kind: Ban their officials from entering; deport their missionaries; block their funds; close down their offices; and tax their churches. If it's war, it's war. The aggressor must pay a price."
"I think a lot of people were expecting this," says Leah, "But the ordinary people I've been speaking to in churches are absolutely delighted. They say we've stood our ground and done what's right." He cites letters such as that from the Reverent Rob Hufton, which appeared in the Church's newspaper, the Methodist Recorder, pointing out that Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement render impossible the kind of inter-faith encounter which critics of the Methodist motion claim to support. Hufton condemned the Israeli policies which have turned the West Bank into a "Swiss cheese" and concluded that "Things are worse than the maligned [Methodist] report suggests. We, as a Church, have nothing to apologize for and should not be intimidated."
Leah admits that the Methodist leadership have been "getting a lot of flak from The Jewish Chronicle and The Jerusalem Post, which always makes them a bit worried," but he sees grassroots work with members of the Methodist congregation as his main task. He's also keen to highlight the support which the Methodist motion has attracted from anti-Zionist Jewish organizations, and the potential it holds for cross-community dialogue with Britain's Muslims. "I think more than anything it's important for the Methodist church and leadership to be bold in what they're doing and take it back to those who are criticizing and say, we've got to stand up against injustice," he says.
Behind the hysterical attacks on the Methodist resolution from Zionist commentators is their fear of the growing BDS movement. For the Methodist Church's decision may be part of a growing trend amongst churches worldwide. Despite The Jerusalem Post's insistence on the marginality of the Methodist Church, the Church of England, the UK's largest Protestant denomination, announced the week after the Methodist conference that it was reviewing its stake in French transportation company Veolia because of the latter's role in the Jerusalem light rail project. According to the Anglican Missionary and Public Affairs Committee, there was concern within the Church that "once built, the rail system will help to cement Israel's hold on occupied East Jerusalem and tie the settlements even more firmly into the State of Israel." The church would, it said, be investigating whether "the tram operator will ensure access to the tram that does not discriminate between Palestinians and Israelis, and abide by any ruling on the legality of the project in an international law."
Australian, US churches move towards settlement boycott
In Australia, meanwhile, the National Council of Churches also passed a motion at the end of July backing a boycott of settlement products. The NCCA represents the Australian branches of the Catholic and Anglican churches, along with 15 other denominations. An NCCA press release states: "Rev Tara Curlewis, General Secretary of the NCCA said 'We are asking the member Churches of the NCCA to consider boycotting particular goods produced in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories." NCCA added that boycotting Israeli goods could help to "liberate the people from an experience of injustice" and was a means to help establish a "just and definitive" peace for Palestinians and Israelis. It also confirmed that Act For Peace, the Christian aid agency for Australia, would support boycott actions and advocacy initiatives by Australian churches.
Australian Zionist groups reacted with predictable fury, framing the decision as a boycott against "West Bank Jews." Robert Goot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, claimed to reporters that the resolution "revived painful memories for Jews in Australia of earlier times in Europe when churches allowed themselves to be swept up in the tide of popular prejudices against the Jewish people."
While not going as far as British and Australian churches, the Presbyterian General Assembly, which represents the denomination's two million-plus members in the US, in July passed a number of resolutions on Palestinian issues. These included approving with 82 percent of the assembly vote a position paper which called for an "end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories" (while also affirming "Israel's right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders") and "an immediate freeze on the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and on the Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land and buildings in East Jerusalem."
The Presbyterian General Assembly also approved a report by the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee which "Strongly denounces Caterpillar's continued profit-making from non-peaceful uses of a number of its products on the basis of Christian principles and as a matter of social witness" and "Calls upon Caterpillar to carefully review its involvement in obstacles to a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine, and to take affirmative steps to end its complicity in the violation of human rights." The Presbyterian General Assembly said that it rejected divestment as an option, on the grounds that it would continue to "engage" with companies which "profit from the sale and use of their products for non-peaceful purposes and/or the violation of human rights." The Anti-Defamation League, which routinely attacks any policies critical of Israel, called the reports "biased."
Sarah Irving is a freelance writer. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. She now writes full-time on a range of issues, including Palestine. Her first book, Gaza: Beneath the Bombs co-authored with Sharyn Lock, was published in January 2010.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Support Builds for Boycotts Against Israel, Activists Say
The so-called "boycott, divestment, and sanctions'' movement aimed at pressuring Israel to withdraw from land claimed by Palestinians has long been considered a fringe effort inside the United States, with no hope of garnering mainstream support enjoyed by the anti-apartheid campaign against South Africa of the 1980s.
But in recent months, particularly after an Israeli raid on a flotilla delivering supplies to Palestinians, organizers are pointing to evidence that the movement has picked up momentum, even as Israelis and Palestinians are moving toward a new round of peace talks.
"Peace talks have been going on for decades and all they have resulted in are more dispossession,'' said Nancy Kricorian, a New-York-based staff member for Code Pink, an antiwar group that launched a boycott of the cosmetic company Ahava because its products are manufactured in an Israeli settlement.
Kricorian, who grew up in Watertown, said Code Pink experienced increased interest by groups wanting to endorse the boycott during the Israeli operation in Gaza last year, and again since a May 31 Israeli raid on a flotilla left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead. Ahava did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.
Susanne Hoder, a member of a "divestment task force'' set up by the Lawrence-based New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, said she believes activists will continue efforts until the Israeli military leaves the West Bank.
"Slowly but surely people are starting to recognize that some action is needed,'' she said.
Her task force supports divestment from 29 companies it says are involved in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including Motorola and Caterpillar, but not from Israel itself.
The movement has gained energy from a Palestinian boycott announced in May of products made by Israeli settlers, but it also has sparked a backlash from Israeli lawmakers, who are now considering a bill that would bar non-Israelis involved in "boycott divestment sanctions'' efforts from entering Israel for 10 years.
An additional measure being considered would allow settlers to sue activists inside Israel and the West Bank who help organize boycotts. If the measures pass, they could be used against US activists, the Palestinian Authority, and Israeli groups such as Boycott from Within and whoprofits.org, a website that lists settler products.
Jonathan Peled, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said it is unclear whether the bills will pass. He called the various boycott and divestment efforts in the West Bank and the United States "regrettable and counterproductive,'' especially as Israeli and Palestinian leaders are set to begin peace talks in Washington next month. It is unclear whether the Palestinian boycott will continue throughout the peace talks.
But activists in the United States and Europe - where the movement has much more widespread support - say such actions provide a much-needed outlet to people who want to end the conflict.
"We used to lobby the US government, the Israeli government, and the Palestinians to do something,'' said Sydney Levy, of Jewish Voices for Peace, a California-based group that collected 17,000 signatures since June asking investment firm TIAA-CREF to divest from companies involved in the occupation. "But now we realize that we can take action on our own. We are only waiting for ourselves.''
TIAA-CREF said in a press release that it would not alter its investment policy.
The movement is such a hot-button issue that the sale of stock in Israeli companies often sparks unfounded speculation. Earlier this month, after a blogger reported that Harvard University sold $41.5 million in holdings in a number of well-known Israeli companies, the university had to issue a statement explaining its investment strategy and assuring the public that it had not "divested from Israel.''
Last year, after student activists at Amherst-based Hampshire College told reporters that they had successfully lobbied for the sale of holdings in an Israel-related mutual fund, the university swiftly announced that the sale was not political.
Boycott activists say they are not discouraged by the lack of popular support, noting that the successful boycott of apartheid South Africa took decades to come to fruition. But that boycott had strong support among African-Americans, while boycotts against Israeli companies face passionate opposition from many Jewish Americans, who have mobilized to oppose such efforts.
"Their goal is to brand Israel the new South Africa,'' said Jonathan Haber, a Boston consultant who started the website DivestThis.com to fight against the movement. "Israel is not an apartheid state.''
Hussein Ibish, of the Washington-based American Task Force for Palestine, said the "boycott, divestment, sanctions'' movement had no chance of becoming mainstream inside the United States as long as it targets Israel. But he said actions aimed at Israeli settlements "had a shot'' at garnering popular support, especially now that the US government is pressing Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank on land that US, European, and Arab officials hope will become a Palestinian state.
"There isn't a big constituency in the United States for being hostile to Israel, but I think there is potentially a huge constituency for pressuring Israel to end the occupation,'' said Ibish.
For decades, Israel has provided tax incentive and subsidies for settlers who move to and open businesses in the West Bank, a territory the size of Delaware that the Israeli military took control of in 1967, when it won a war against Arab nations.
Today about 17 percent of the area's 2.5 million people are Israeli settlers, while the rest are Palestinians, according to US estimates. International law forbids a country from moving its civilians into occupied territory. But Israel maintains that the West Bank is disputed territory exempt from that provision.
Hoder, 58, a former communications director, said the goal of the New England Methodist divestment task force is to help end the conflict, not to harm Israel. Earlier this year, she led a Methodist fact-finding mission in the West Bank. This summer, the task force helped persuade two more Methodist groups to pass divestment petitions, bringing the total number to 11 out of 62.
Hoder said she became an activist in 2002, after a group of Palestinian YMCA officials came to visit Rhode Island. She traveled to see Israel and the West Bank for herself for the first time in 2004.
"I was shocked,'' she said of hardships that the occupation brought in Palestinian daily life. "I came back with a clear sense that as churches, we shouldn't be sitting on the sidelines.''
In 2005 - a year after the church's worldwide governing body voted to oppose the Israeli occupation - Hoder and other church activists established the task force, which recommends that individuals divest from 29 companies, including Motorola, which sells security surveillance systems for settlements and checkpoints; Caterpillar, which sells bulldozers that tear down Palestinian homes; and Veolia, a French transportation company involved in building a light rail system between the settlements.
Spokeswoman Tama McWhinney said Motorola is "concerned about any issues that shareholders raise'' but will "continue to provide communications systems to more than 70 countries around the world in accordance with their laws.'' Jim Dugan, spokesman for Caterpillar, said strict US antiboycotting laws prevent US companies from participating in boycotts.
"We expect our customers to use our products in . . . ways consistent with human rights,'' he wrote. A spokesman for Veolia was not available for comment.
The Methodist church's largest investment body, the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, still holds stock in companies on the list, including Motorola, Caterpillar, and Veolia.
Monday, August 16, 2010
AHI offers way overpriced foreign travel packages to college alum groups. Mine came in the mail, offering a 10 day excursion to a nation so small that it "allows you to experience an array of highlights, from spiritual landmarks to modern monuments to freedom." Yes, for $2,595 I could visit Israel with my fellow alums.
I called AHI at 877 572-5160, urging them to discontinue the trip because of Israel's human rights abuses. Turns out AHI serves about 400 colleges nationwide. Each college alum office picks the three tours to be offered. The woman on the phone would not tell me how many of the 400 colleges offer the trip to Israel.
She never asked my name or college. So we can all call AHI and object to the Israeli visit for alums.
I will also contact my college office and urge them not to offer the trip to Israel in the future.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The Olympia Food Co-op announced last week that no more Israeli products will be sold at its two grocery stores.
But such projects have recently become more widespread, especially among students - although most divestment decisions by student bodies are not implemented on the colleges' management levels.
Last week, the board of directors of the Olympia Food Co-op in Washington state decided that no more Israeli products will be sold at its two grocery stores in the city.
"We met last Thursday for the board members meeting and a pretty large group - about 40 people - presented the boycott project and answered our questions," Rob Richards, a board member, told Haaretz. "A couple of board members were concerned about what will be the financial effect on the organization, but it's minimal. For me personally there is a moral imperative that goes beyond any financial concern. So we decided to adopt the boycott which went into effect the next day."
Asked whether the boycott includes all products made in Israel, or only in settlements, Richards explained: "As far as I know - it concerns any Israeli products. We exempted "Peace Oil" - it's a joint product produced by the Palestinian farmers. Any product that is made by the company that works to improve the conditions of the Palestinians will be exempted."
Richards says the decision drew no protests.
"There was very little feedback from the staff that was against the boycott, but it seemed as minority opinion. We have two members on the board from the Jewish community who were supportive of the boycott - it's pretty progressive town. I know that's not universal at the Jewish community."
There is a list of conditions that will lead to the end of the boycott, he says.
"I am trying to be realistic - the Olympia Food Co-Op boycott is not going to change the Israeli policy, but I believe that these small drops will eventually have an effect. I would like to see more co-ops joining the boycott and more voices involved," he added.
It is probably no coincidence that Olympia is the hometown of the International Solidarity Movement activist Rachel Corrie who was killed seven years ago in Gaza - a Caterpillar bulldozer ran over her as she tried to prevent demolition of a Palestinian house. Last month, the student body of Evergreen State College in Olympia, where she studied, passed two resolutions which called for the college foundation "to divest from companies that profit from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine," and the second one called to ban the Caterpillar company equipment from campus.
"The fact that it is the home town of Rachel Corrie's parents and that it is represented by Rep Brian Baird (who has been to Gaza and is outspoken against Israel) makes this ripe for issues," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of The Israel Project, a pro-Israel organization. "So does the fact that it does not have a very organized pro-Israel community. This went under the radar screen at a time when most groups were focused on Iran sanctions and other macro issues. It is clear that the people who voted on this did not hear both sides of the issues. What is needed is education on facts."
An Israeli diplomatic source told Haaretz that the boycott issue is being checked, and although it seems like a marginal incident. The source added that "we are concerned about every attempt to delegitimize Israel."
The Olympia Food Co-Op boycott is only a tiny part of an effort that the BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) movement is mounting on U.S. companies. On Monday, Jewish Voice for Peace activists planned to attend the TIAA-CREF annual meeting the company headquarters in New York City to deliver thousands of signatures calling on the company to divest its money from Caterpillar, Elbit, Motorola and some other companies, that, as JVP puts it, "profit from the violation of international law through home demolitions, the destruction of life sustaining orchards, the construction of roads and transit that only Israelis can use, the killing of civilians by drones, and many other injustices."
In some places the mainstream Jewish community has reacted vigorously against boycott attempts, but many Israel supporters are worried that the battle "might be already lost at the campuses."