The debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about to heat up considerably here in Seattle. Peace activists have taken a page from the Presbyterian and Methodist churches, which have proposed resolutions divesting church funds from companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation. Initiative 97 would ask the city to divest its pension funds of companies which “do business with Israeli settlements or in disputed territories.” If Israel attacks Iran, the city must withdraw any funds invested “with the Israeli government.” I’m assuming this means Israeli bonds.
I am aware that this issue, like the issue of the academic boycott against Israel, is fraught with conflict. Israel’s supporters in the local community will take great umbrage at this perceived assault on the State of Israel.
But before that happens, there are several things everyone should know:
Divestment is not the same as a boycott, and the two should not be confused. Divestment only involves ending investment in companies that benefit from the occupation. It doesn’t even directly affect Israel (except, and unless, if Israel attacks Iran). Boycott is an entirely different animal.
Divestment is not a tool meant against Israel as a state. It is a tool directed at the occupation. It is one thing to attack a government’s policy and another to attack a nation’s existence. This initiative does not do the latter. Anyone on the anti-initiative side who raises this claim is doing a disservice to I-97 and their own campaign.
Divestment is not meant to prevent Israel from protecting itself. It is not meant to attack the IDF. Rather, it is meant to tell American companies and Israel that its settlement policies and policies of subjugating the Palestinians are not acceptable to the citizens of Seattle.
That is why I support the concept of divestment and this initiative. I want to make clear that I am a supporter of Israel, but a critic of the occupation. I do not relish supporting any measure that might cause harm to Israel even indirectly. But we all should admit that the situation is dire. Protests and pressure on Israel to advance to final status talks have not worked. The occupation is just as entrenched as when it first began 41 years ago.
International criticism of Israel works. It gets the government’s attention. Otherwise, the lion’s share of the local Jewish organizations would not be up in arms over this. I would say to them: if you don’t like divestment, become more proactive in making your views known to Israel’s leaders. Instead of sitting back and watching as Israel and the territories burn, do more. Protest. Tell President Bush that we need bold action and not the pabulum we’ve gotten over the past seven years. Again, Israel listens when the Diaspora makes its views known. If local Jewish groups don’t, you can’t blame the outside world when it decides it has had enough.
I should make a few additional points, however:
I think the initiative overstates its argument here: “The World Court in The Hague has ruled that the…separation barrier built by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories is illegal under International Law…placing those who plan, participate in, and profit from its erection at risk of… prosecution, and liability both financially and socially, even more than in apartheid South Africa.”
While I agree with the general argument, I’m not sure why it speaks so broadly about culpability for construction of the wall. Does the initiative have to be phrased such that an architect or general contractor might be tried for violating international law? There may be legal reasons I’m not aware of relating to the city’s investment policies causing this statement to be added.
The comparison of the occupation to South Africa seems gratuitous and unnecessary. Does it matter whether the occupation is worse or less bad than apartheid South Africa? The occupation is bad. Shouldn’t that suffice?
The initiative specifically targets Caterpillar because they sell their armored bulldozers for use in demolishing Palestinian homes. Another company mentioned as benefiting from the occupation has been Motorola (though it is not specifically referenced in the Initiative text). It will not affect Boeing, however, because the company is not involved in any commercial enterprises in the settlements.