One of the biggest warning signs surrounding Initiative 97, the “Divest from War and Occupation” measure, is that it is being promoted deceptively. It purports to be an anti-Iraq War measure, but frequently omitted from the signature-gatherers’ spiel is the provision that would divest Seattle retirement funds from any corporations “that provide direct material support for activities of the Israeli government within the…territories of West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights.”
Why are these two very different subjects in the same initiative? And why is the latter so frequently de-emphasized? One can only believe that it plays to Seattleites’ rightful opposition to the Iraq war in order to advance a hidden agenda.
Wholly aside from the lack of truth in advertising, I-97 operates on a fundamentally flawed premise: That there is a moral equivalence between the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Israel’s ongoing self-defense against Hamas and its suicide bombers. Going to war under false pretenses is a far cry from an ethnic and religious conflict that has been going on for decades, and in which there are legitimate claims on both sides.
Further, the above-quoted language is so broad that it is hard to predict what it may mean. For example, the Israeli government supported removal of the settlements in Gaza. Say it used rigs purchased from an American truck manufacturer like PACCAR for that mission. That’s “direct material support.” Would PACCAR be sanctioned? Or would sanctions apply only to Israeli activities that the proponents of I-97 don’t like? This language encompasses literally all governmental activities in the areas mentioned.
Suppose Microsoft sells the Israeli government software systems that work in a computer in Tel Aviv, calculating the materials needed for a water pipeline on the West Bank. Doesn’t that mean Microsoft is “materially” supporting government activities there?
The whole issue presents a daunting challenge for the city’s pension board. How would they determine what companies must face divestment? How would they research and enforce the measure? What expertise might they call upon?
Everybody wants to see a just settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Great minds have been put sorely to the test in trying to resolve the age-old hostilities and the specific issues that have divided the area since the mid-1940s. Personally, I see internal political pressure as the only way to move the Israeli government to take a more conciliatory stance, and I believe to the same extent that Arab regimes in the Middle East need to shore up strong moderate leadership at the Palestinian Authority.
Only that Arab support, and the resulting internal support for such leadership within a unified West Bank and Gaza, will allow Palestinians the leverage to negotiate with Israel. Likewise, only an end to Hamas suicide bombings and rocket attacks on civilians will allow the Israeli government to negotiate. This symmetry is apparently lost on the proponents of I-97, whose simplistic solution is to attack only Israel.
If I lived in Israel, I would be a participant in the peace movement. I support Rabbis for Human Rights, a group concerned specifically with giving voice to the Jewish tradition of human rights in the context of Israel’s relations to the Palestinian territories. This group is hardly alone in pressuring the Israeli government; indeed, the peace movement there resembles the robust and vocal movement I joined during our misbegotten war in Vietnam.
There is no question that there is a need to improve conditions in those territories. But to the extent that Seattle voters can address this, we should do it honestly and with support for the legitimate demands of both sides. I-97 is neither honest nor fair.
No one believes that I-97 will have a major impact on the government of Israel. It is primarily symbolic. But to the extent that it symbolizes misdirection and unintended consequences — and it does — I strongly oppose it, and ask my fellow Seattleites not to sign it.