Divesting Israel at Its Own Insistence

A recent blog edition of The Electronic Intifada caught my eye this morning. (1) The by-line read “Israel boycott growing ‘much faster’ than South Africa campaign, says Omar Barghouti.” Not that the Israeli-Palestinian debate is a new item of discussion – it is not. Rather, what drew me to this article was the current debate over boycotting Israel in order to get it to attend to continuing social issues of discrimination within its borders and adjoining Palestine, usually referred to as “the West Bank”. In past months the state of Israel has increasingly faced a growing outcry calling for the resolution of political issues including “settlements”, boundary lines and the treatment of minorities in the region controlled by Israel. These issues together with interference from the U.S. have tended to discourage a peaceful coexistence between Palestinian and Israeli. This conflict is not because of fundamental human differences, but due to economics and politics of government.

Every people must determine their own form of government. This is a fundamental point for constructing the form of, and the representative character of a successful government. This is something the U.S. fails to recognize. Interventions that seek to either militarily or politically coordinate solutions for others seldom receive the degree of “buy in” required for long term success. For three generations following WWII Israelis and Palestinians have continued to struggle with an indivisible territorial ideal related to a land that is difficult to divide due to religion, history, tradition and culture.

In reading the article and then listening to the interview with Barghouti, Co-founder of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) it became apparent that a segment of Palestinians make up a growing social and economic movement that gives political solutions a back seat. This movement is assisted by independent social media that is increasingly making the atrocities suffered by the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Arab Israelis in Israel visible to the world. In this way citizen media has circumvented the controls of government that normally influence mainstream media in reporting the news. It has gained the attention of the world. In gaining the support of the UN and more importantly of individuals and groups, academic, economic and social boycott of Israel is spreading. It is this strategy that pressures Israel and is creating an atmosphere of exclusion thereby forcing political attention. This is not to downplay or prejudice Israel or the people of Israel.

Unfortunately, Israel is experiencing this form of pressure at its own insistence in ignoring the human rights of the Palestinian people. In traveling Israel and Palestine I have witnessed the prosperity of Israel as a nation. It exceeds in business, technology including weaponry, construction and agriculture. From this vantage Israel is a nation to make its people proud and serves as a guide to nation building. But its social policy negatively affects and stifles minorities within its borders and approaches the same level of exclusion and expulsion as did the U.S. government’s policy toward the American Indian/Native American in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.

Yet this is not enough, on the eve following Secretary of State Kerry’s last visit Israel announced plans to construct another 1,800 new settler homes in annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank. (2) Under 1967 guidelines both East Jerusalem and the West Bank are places of refuge for the Palestinian people and are not to be settled by Israel. With more than 500,000 Israeli “settlers” now living in the West Bank this is a primary obstacle to a U.S. engineered plan of cooperation and stirs the population of the region to the point of inability to communicate with each other in open truthful dialogue. Each time the Israeli government approves additional construction or the Court approves demolition of Palestinian villages to make way for “settler” construction the wedge is hammered deeper.

What appears encouraging about the growing boycott is that the Palestinians are being empowered internationally while domestically allowed to make their own choices and seek solutions toward economic and social advancement. Some rather powerful entities apparently are taking steps to join the Palestinian people in their mission to end colonization and to gain respect, self-determination and economic advancement. Recently the American Studies Association (ASA) voted on and endorsed an academic boycott of Israeli educational institutions. (3) Now the Modern Language Association (MLA) is considering the same step. (4) This past week the Netherlands struck an economic wound as the Dutch pension firm PGGM divested from all Israeli banks stating the reason as Israel’s involvement in illegal settlement construction. The company supported its decision to divest quoting its investment policy which excludes “investing in bodies involved in ‘violations of fundamental human rights and labor rights’” (5)

One thing is clear; the movement against apartheid in South Africa did not enjoy swift success. Similar in concept yet distinguishable is the issue of Israel and Palestine. Perhaps the case of Iran will illustrate how economics can create a desire for change within those in power. Perhaps boycott will create a greater need for politicians to enter into truthful and open discourses. Only when this occurs; only when governmental authorities on each side are willing to sit down with each other and openly and truthfully agree to coexist will the region of Israel and Palestine enjoy a degree of peace and civil exchanges. Interveners cannot with success direct “how” they will make exchanges or make them “believe” in a precept, however perhaps interveners can create a “condition” that grabs their attention and “inspires” officials to “desire” and wish to resolve issues in light of a greater consequence(s).

Malcolm L. Rigsby J.D., Ph.D. is assistant professor of Sociology and Coordinator of Criminal Justice at Henderson State University, Arkansas. His recent study involves religious conversion in prison comparing Islamic and Christian converts and transforming sociality. He travels in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle-east.

(1) The Electronic Intifada. 2014. “Israel Boycott Growing ‘much faster’ than South Africa campaign, says Omar Barghouti”. Chicago, IL. Retrieved January 10, 2014 (http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/israel-boycott-growing-much-faster-south-africa-campaign-says-omar-barghouti).
(2) Ma’an News Agency. 2014. “Israel Announces More than 1,800 New Settler Homes”. Retrieved January 10, 2014 (http://maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=664145).
(3) American Studies Association. 2014. ASA Members Vote To Endorse Academic Boycott of Israel. Washington, DC. Retrieved January 10, 2014 (http://www.theasa.net/from_the_editors/item/asa_members_vote_to_endorse_academic_boycott/)
(4) Jerusalem Post. 2014. “Scholars Launch Counter-measures Against MLA’s Move Toward Boycott.” Jerusalem, Israel. Retrieved January 10, 2014 (http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Scholars-launch-counter-measures-against-MLAs-moves-toward-boycott-337539).
(5) Jerusalem Post. 2014. “Foreign Ministry Slams Dutch Penson Firm that Divested Israeli Banks.” Jerusalem, Israel. Retrieved January 10, 2014 (http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Foreign-Ministry-slams-Dutch-pension-firm-that-divested-from-Israeli-banks-337519).

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