This Op-Ed by Youssef Munayyer in today’s New York Times sounds just the right note on the Netanyahu victory, and convinces me, at last, of the need for some version of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel–or more precisely, what I like to call “D without BS,” divestment from companies that promote the Israeli occupation and settlement enterprise, minus boycotts and sanctions.
Here’s Munayyer’s statement of the problem:
Israelis have grown very comfortable with the status quo. In a country that oversees a military occupation that affects millions of people, the biggest scandals aren’t about settlements, civilian deaths or hate crimes but rather mundane things like the price of cottage cheese and whether the prime minister’s wife embezzled bottle refunds.
For Israelis, there’s currently little cost to maintaining the occupation and re-electing leaders like Mr. Netanyahu. Raising the price of occupation is therefore the only hope of changing Israeli decision making. Economic sanctions against South Africa in the 1980s increased its international isolation and put pressure on the apartheid regime to negotiate. Once Israelis are forced to decide between perpetual occupation and being accepted in the international community, they may choose a more moderate leader who dismantles settlements and pursues peace, or they may choose to annex rather than relinquish land — provoking a confrontation with America and Europe. Either way, change will have to come from the outside.
Here’s his solution:
The old land-for-peace model must now be replaced with a rights-for-peace model. Palestinians must demand the right to live on their land, but also free movement, equal treatment under the law, due process, voting rights and freedom from discrimination.
Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election has convincingly proved that trusting Israeli voters with the fate of Palestinian rights is disastrous and immoral. His government will oppose any constructive change, placing Israel on a collision course with the rest of the world. And this collision has never been more necessary.
The election results will further galvanize the movement seeking to isolate Israel internationally. B.D.S. campaigns will grow, and more countries will move toward imposing sanctions to change Israeli behavior. In the past few years, a major Dutch pension fund divested large sums from Israeli banks active in the West Bank, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been divested from companies, like G4S and SodaStream, that operate in occupied territory.
There won’t be real change on the ground or at the polls without further pressure on Israel. And now, that pressure will increase. For this, we have Mr. Netanyahu to thank.
It’s taken me fifteen years of dithering skepticism about divestment to get to the point of agreeing with an analysis like Munayyer’s–and I think there are legitimate questions to be asked about the criteria to be used to decide questions of divestment–but the election results demonstrate that the time really has come to divest from the occupation. The failure to consider the adoption or promotion of divestment for fear of being accused of anti-Semitism has simply become a way of rewarding the Israelis for their intransigence in the West Bank. I’m sorry, but I can no longer believe in the fairy tale of civility, good will, desire for peace, or respect for rights that we’re all obliged to attribute to the Israelis. It’s not there. This election tells us that the writing is on the wall. We’ve written them blank checks for decades; they’ve rewarded us with contempt. It has to end.
Postscript, March 22, 2015: I missed this piece by William Saletan in Slate a few days ago, but it collects a lot of useful evidence, and seems to me exactly on target. (ht: Qasim Rashid’s FB page)
Postscript, March 24, 2015: Matt Faherty sends along this interesting piece from Harvard Business Review on what the author takes to be the relative inefficacy of divestment as a strategy for change or protest. Without disputing the author’s narrow claim (about investments), I’d say two things: (1) the author himself concedes that divestment played an important role in the devolution of South African apartheid, and (2) part of the case for divestment is “symbolic” rather than “instrumental”; one divests from an immoral enterprise from “clean hands” considerations, to avoid complicity in the immorality involved. But the topic could use further discussion.
The two best studies of the South African case that I know are Ronald Segal’s Sanctions Against South Africa, and Robert Kinloch Massie’s Loosing the Bonds: The United States and South Africa in the Apartheid Years. Massie’s book (which covers divestment) is of particularly direct relevance. Segal’s book, though valuable, is more about sanctions than divestment per se.
I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t really kept pace with the BDS literature on Israel/Palestine, but it’s expanding at a pretty rapid rate. The standard pro-BDS text is Omar Barghouti’s (et al) The Case for Sanctions against Israel. A standard anti-BDS text is Cary Nelson’s (et al) The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel. I haven’t read either book, so I’m not recommending or endorsing, just mentioning them.
Postscript, April 3, 2015: There’s recently been a controversy at Princeton University about divestment from Israel. This letter from John Waterbury (emeritus professor of Politics) is a nice statement of the case for divestment “from all companies that contribute to or profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and continued siege of Gaza.”
I agree with the first conjunct but not the second. I think Princeton ought to divest from all companies that contribute to or profit from the Israeli occupation/settlement enterprise in the West Bank, but not from companies that contribute to/profit from the Gaza siege. Waterbury doesn’t mention that if Princeton divests from companies that contribute to and profit from the Israeli siege of Gaza, it ought to do the same for companies that contribute to and profit from the Egyptian blockade of Gaza. It expresses a double standard–and plays into the hands of divestment’s critics–to fail to mention Egypt in the same breath as Israel in this context, when both countries are doing the same thing. (In fairness to Waterbury, the original statement from Princeton Divests does explicitly mention Egypt.)
I’d also explicitly want to stipulate that divestment cannot be construed to involve objections to ventures like this one, as many advocates of divestment would like to assert. The company in question is not profiting from the occupation but profiting despite it. Unfortunately, the distinction between profiting from and profiting despite the occupation seems to be lost on many left-wing advocates of divestment, who seem willing to pounce on any profitable Israeli-Palestinian venture, simply because it is profitable and puts Israelis and Palestinians in cooperation with one another on capitalist or quasi-capitalist lines. I don’t accept that, and don’t want to be associated with it. Here’s an example of the sort of attitude I have in mind (from Electronic Intifada). The review of “Under the Sun” contained in the preceding link is both wrongheaded and egregiously dishonest, and is just one of many reasons why skepticism about the divestment movement is justified even if divestment turns out to be the right thing to do.
Postscript, April 10, 2015: So let me get this straight: A bank can be held liable in federal court for facilitating terrorist attacks when it funds the terrorist organizations behind the attack, even if the bank follows established compliance standards designed to avoid liability. Meanwhile, it’s anti-Semitic to suggest that we divest from companies that play an active role in the state-sponsored Israeli expropriation of Palestinians, even when that enterprise involves torture and homicide. In other words, facilitation of terrorist attacks (by Muslims) deserves legal sanctions, but divesting from state-sponsored rights violations (under the auspices of a Jewish state) deserves defamation. The “principle” involved here, if you can call it that: Jewish lives matter; Palestinian lives don’t. Palestinian terrorism matters; Israeli rights violations don’t. As a bonus: reckless, well-poisoning ascriptions of “anti-Semitism” are fair game in defense of Israel. Call it what you want, but it isn’t justice.