The unbelievable has happened! The Prime Minister of Israel is on his way to the US to deliver a speech to Congress, and scores of Congressmen and Congresswomen are announcing that they have better things to do than attend the speech!
The vice-President led the boycott, followed by Earl Blumenauer of Oregan, and after that the flood-gates started to open! Admittedly, all the boycotters are Democrats, and their public statements suggest that it’s their loyalty to the President and opposition to the political manoeuvrings of the House Speaker that are motivating them to join the boycott. Even so, such a move would have been unthinkable a few years ago!
Who can forget Netanyahu’s address to Congress where he received 29 standing ovations – more than any US President has ever received. That was in 2011 – only four years ago! Have things really changed that much in four years? In truth, things have changed drastically in the last few years, and it’s not that Congress has wised up. It’s the American people who have wised up, and Congress can’t remain oblivious to the voice of the people forever!
In 2012 Norman Finkelstein published “Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End”. In it he pointed to enormous shifts in public opinion amongst American Jews who were showing ever-increasing disinterest in the foreign state that claimed their allegiance. Surely the best example of this was the influence the Israeli Prime Minister had on the voting patterns of American Jews in 2012 when he voiced unequivocal support for Obama’s Republican rival. Netanyahu’s interventions apparently made no difference whatsoever!
And what’s true for American Jews is a reflection of the changing tide across the rest of the country. There are exceptions, of course. The Christian right seems to be clinging on as the last bastion of American Zionism. Conversely though, according to the survey referred to in the article below, only 16% of African Americans think their representative should attend the Israeli Prime Minister’s address!
Of course there’s a massive gap between boycotting a talk and seeing the end of the Palestinian Occupation. Even so, it’s a step in the right direction, and we all know that Israel can only ignore world opinion about its treatment of the Palestinian people so long as it has the world’s great super-power unequivocally behind it. But that unequivocal support is equivocating!
The 24 Democrats Who Have Refused to Attend Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress
Their constituents agree.
By Zaid Jilani
When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) decided to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a Joint Session of Congress on Iran in early March, he probably thought it’d go a lot like it did in 2011. That year, Netanyahu received 29 standing ovations – more than President Obama got during his State of the Union that year.
But Obama turned the tables on Netanyahu, refusing to meet with him just two weeks before the Israeli elections. He also announced that his vice president, Joe Biden, would not attend the address.
Shortly after Obama’s objection, Democratic Members of Congress started to announce that they wouldn’t attend the speech, either. The first was Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who wrote in a January 29th Huffington Post column that he will “not participate in a calculated slight from the speaker and the House leadership to attack necessary diplomacy.”
Following Blumenauer’s dissent, a steady string of Democratic Caucus members, mostly in the House but in the Senate as well began to announce that they would not attend the speech. Buoyed by poll numbers showing that many of their constituents agree – a plurality of Americans believe Netanyahu’s speech to be “inappropriate” and only 16 percent of African Americans in particular want to see their Member of Congress attend – more and more members are announcing their refusals to attend nearly every day.
To see the list of 21 House Democrats and three Senate Democratic Caucus members who are so far refusing to attend the speech, see Alternet
This is a courageous move by veteran journalist, Gideon Levy – a man who has always taken a stand for justice and peace but never previously gone as far as supporting the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against his own country!
Levy is as precise in his reasoning as he is articulate: “As long as Israelis don’t pay a price for the occupation … they have no incentive to bring it to an end.”
That’s always an easier statement to make when you’re an outsider and don’t have to pay the price yourself, but Levy stands with those who will bear the consequences of BDS. Indeed he is a true patriot!
The Israeli patriot’s final refuge: boycott
With Israel entering into another round of diplomatic inaction, the call for an economic boycott has become a patriotic requirement.
Anyone who really fears for the future of the country needs to be in favor at this point of boycotting it economically.
A contradiction in terms? We have considered the alternatives. A boycott is the least of all evils, and it could produce historic benefits. It is the least violent of the options and the one least likely to result in bloodshed. It would be painful like the others, but the others would be worse.
On the assumption that the current status quo cannot continue forever, it is the most reasonable option to convince Israel to change. Its effectiveness has already been proven. More and more Israelis have become concerned recently about the threat of the boycott. When Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warns about it spreading and calls as a result for the diplomatic deadlock to be broken, she provides proof of the need for a boycott. She and others are therefore joining the boycott, divestment and sanction movement. Welcome to the club.
The change won’t come from within. That has been clear for a long time. As long as Israelis don’t pay a price for the occupation, or at least don’t make the connection between cause and effect, they have no incentive to bring it to an end. And why should the average resident of Tel Aviv be bothered by what is happening in the West Bank city of Jenin or Rafah in the Gaza Strip? Those places are far away and not particularly interesting. As long as the arrogance and self-victimization continue among the Chosen People, the most chosen in the world, always the only victim, the world’s explicit stance won’t change a thing.
It’s anti-Semitism, we say. The whole world’s against us and we are not the ones responsible for its attitude toward us. And besides that, despite everything, the English singer Cliff Richard came to perform here. Most Israeli public opinion is divorced from reality − the reality in the territories and abroad. And there are those who are seeing to it that this dangerous disconnect is maintained. Along with the dehumanization and demonization of the Palestinians and the Arabs, people here are too brainwashed with nationalism to come to their senses.
Change will only come from the outside. No one − this writer included, of course − wants another cycle of bloodshed. A non-violent popular Palestinian uprising is one option, but it is doubtful that will happen anytime soon. And then there’s American diplomatic pressure and the European economic boycott. But the United States won’t apply pressure. If the Obama administration hasn’t done it, no American administration will. And then there’s Europe. Justice Minister Livni said that the discourse in Europe has become ideological. She knows what she’s talking about. She also said that a European boycott would not stop at products made in West Bank settlements.
There’s no reason it should. The distinction between products from the occupation and Israeli products is an artificial creation. It’s not the settlers who are the primary culprits but rather those who cultivate their existence. All of Israel is immersed in the settlement enterprise, so all of Israel must take responsibility for it and pay the price for it. There is no one unaffected by the occupation, including those who fancy looking the other way and steering clear of it. We are all settlers.
Economic boycott was proven effective in South Africa. When the apartheid regime’s business community approached the country’s leadership saying that the prevailing circumstances could not continue, the die was cast. The uprising, the stature of leaders like Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk, the boycott of South African sports and the country’s diplomatic isolation also contributed of course to the fall of the odious regime. But the tone was set by the business community.
And it can happen here too. Israel’s economy will not withstand a boycott. It is true that at the beginning it will enhance the sense of victimhood, isolationism and nationalism, but not in the long run. It could result in a major change in attitude. When the business community approaches the government, the government will listen and also perhaps act. When the damage is to every citizen’s pocketbook, more Israelis will ask themselves, maybe for the first time, what it’s all about and why it’s happening.
It’s difficult and painful, almost impossibly so, for an Israeli who has lived his whole life here, who has not boycotted it, who has never considered emigrating and feels connected to this country with all his being, to call for such a boycott. I have never done so. I have understood what motivated the boycott and was able to provide justification for such motives. But I never preached for others to take such a step. However, with Israel getting itself into another round of deep stalemate, both diplomatic and ideological, the call for a boycott is required as the last refuge of a patriot.
The following press release from the ‘We Divest Coalition’ reflects how seriously many Zionists take the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) campaign.
If the recent case heard in London is anything to go by, the legal fraternity is ruling increasingly in favour of the right of individuals and companies to express their opposition to the Palestinian Occupation through this non-violent avenue, and it’s hard to imagine any court forbidding shareholders the right to vote on a matter of company policy. Even so, the question is whether the threat of legal action will be sufficient to intimidate the company into taking the BDS proposal off the agenda.
Israel Law Center Threatens Suit Against TIAA-CREF
If It Doesn’t Deny Vote To Shareholders
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 12, 2013
Press Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org…
Pension fund giant TIAA-CREF is seeking permission from the Security and Exchange Commission to allow it to deny shareholders the opportunity to vote on what would be the largest Israel/Palestine referendum to date in the United States. The resolution, filed by 200 CREF shareholders, urges TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that substantially contribute to or enable egregious violations of human rights, including companies whose business supports Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.
It was recently disclosed that CREF is being threatened with a lawsuit by Shurat HaDin (Israel Law Center) if CREF should submit the shareholder proposal for a democratic vote. Shurat HaDin claims that the resolution violates U.S. and New York state anti-boycott laws even though these laws have no application to human rights-inspired boycotts or to divestment resolutions. These peaceful forms of political pressure, central to the U.S. civil rights movement, have long been understood to be protected by the First Amendment’s free speech provision.
Shurat HaDin is using a practice known as “lawfare.” This is a tactic of intimidation, using threats of legal action to coerce students, and now also TIAA-CREF, to refrain from using democratic processes to resolve issues. Shurat HaDin seeks to bar discussion of the serious human rights abuses associated with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. It is deeply disappointing to see TIAA-CREF embrace that same perspective.
Steve Tamari, a Palestinian-American educator and member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, on behalf of hundreds of CREF filers who signed onto the resolution said:
“TIAA-CREF has not only ignored our moral concerns, but now refuses to let us vote or have any voice on the issue. We are hundreds of investors who are deeply troubled that we are forced to support segregation and other abhorrent human rights violations in order to maintain our retirement accounts.”
We Divest Campaign National Coordinator Rabbi Alissa Wise said:
“As in earlier campaigns to end human rights abuses by Sudan, South Africa, and the southern U.S., shareholders should be able to vote on whether their company should be profiting from Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Commitment to such shareholder participation is assumed in a company, such as CREF, that is proud of its corporate transparency and democratic governance.”
We Divest National Coordinating Committee member, Riham Barghouti of Adalah-NY said:
“This resolution is one example of dozens of such discussions taking place in conferences, corporate meetings, and on campuses around the country. The Methodists and Presbyterians have voted on resolutions similar to the one CREF shareholders filed. Student governments are taking up this question on campuses across the country. What is it that TIAA-CREF is so afraid of?”
The following recording is of an address given by Barghouti in February, 2013. In it he both explains and highlights the progress of the worldwide ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) campaign against Israel.
I found particularly insightful Barghouti’s point that people who say that the BDS is anti-Semitic are themselves being anti-Semitic! His logic is as follows: By claiming that the BDS is a crime against all Jews he is equating the State of Israel with all Jewish people. By lumping together all Jewish people and claiming (falsely) that they are all the same in their political stance regarding the Jewish State he is making a racist slur. As he says, “only Nazis and Zionists believe that all Jews are the same”!
Omar Barghouti is a leading Palestinian activist and is a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).
Father Roy writes: Shimon Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations of Canada. The UCC has scheduled the crucial vote for today. See my highlights in the article pasted below Peace, Roy
Boycott of Israeli settlements would shatter United Church’s credibility
The Globe and Mail
On Tuesday, the United Church of Canada (UCC) will vote on the Report of the Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy, which includes a church-wide boycott of goods from Israeli settlements. That report, sadly, has failed to grasp what’s really at stake in this decision. A boycott of Israel launched in any form would put the United Church outside the genuine peace movement and the Canadian consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As hurtful as this would be to the Jewish community, it pales in comparison to the long-term damage it would cause to the reputation of one of Canada’s foremost voices in civil society: the United Church itself.
Granted, the church has removed a disturbing statement from the original report that the deepest meaning of the Holocaust was the denial of human dignity (and posits a moral equivalence with the challenges faced by Palestinians). Yet the report still calls on the UCC to “acknowledge with deep regret” its past policy of asking the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. What this move would achieve is anyone’s guess. But the notion that the Palestinians can continue to deny Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state (as it was explicitly affirmed by the UN’s 1947 partition resolution) only relieves the Palestinian leadership of the duty to reconcile with its neighbour – and with reality.
No less disturbing is the report’s thesis that the occupation is “the primary contributor to the injustice that underlies the violence in the region,” that settlements are the chief obstacle to peace, and that Israel alone must be pressed to resolve the conflict. Put aside that the Arab-Israeli conflict began in 1948 (decades before settlements existed) and that the violent repression in Syria and throughout the region has nothing to do with Israel. On the issue of settlements, we have history as our guide.
In 1982, Israel withdrew every last settler from the Sinai after securing a peace agreement with Egypt. Both countries have since benefited from peace. In 2005, Israel withdrew every settler from Gaza as a unilateral gesture without a peace agreement. Civilians in southern Israel have since been targeted by some 10,000 missiles and mortars from Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza.
History is clear. Israeli withdrawals must include peace and security guarantees signed by Israel’s neighbours, as per international law under UNSC Resolution 242.
It’s astonishing that Israel’s removal of thousands of settlers from the Sinai and Gaza is not mentioned once in the UCC’s report – despite “settlements” appearing no fewer than 54 times. That “terrorism” is mentioned once and “Hamas” and “Hezbollah” receive no mention at all speaks volumes to the report’s lack of balance. Indeed, it reflects a minimization of key obstacles to peace (including anti-Jewish incitement, continuing terrorism, and yes, Hamas – the archetype of Arab rejection of the Jewish state).
Peace will come only through negotiations and painful concessions by both Israelis and Palestinians. This is the consensus among most Canadians and across the political spectrum (the NDP, under both Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair, firmly rejected boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts). No doubt this reflects the majority of UCC members, who would hope to play a constructive role in supporting the legitimate aspirations of both sides. Should a small minority of boycott advocates succeed, the greatest resulting injury would not be to the relationship between the UCC and the Jewish community, but rather between the UCC and its own congregants.
The framework for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict described above is also upheld by the mainstream peace movement, which is engaged in a myriad of projects to bring both sides together. To contribute to this movement, one need not refrain from criticizing particular Israeli policies (as Israeli peace activists can attest). One must simply commit to advancing peace through balance, mutual obligations and reconciliation – rather than coercion and the singling out of one side for blame.
Unfortunately, were the UCC to launch a church-wide boycott, it would alienate one of Canada’s most prominent churches from this important cause. In so doing, the church would not only be turning away from Canada’s Jewish community, but ultimately from the UCC’s own tradition as a leading voice in civil society for fairness, moderation and peace.
Shimon Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations of Canada.