The Anti-Israel Divestment Campaign
Posted: October 9, 2006
Since the outbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000, organized campaigns have promoted the "divestment" of university, municipal, church and other investment portfolios from Israeli companies and from companies that do business with Israel, as a punitive measure against Israel for its policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The divestment campaign aims to emulate the 1980s campaigns against South African apartheid. Its advocates claim that the political situation in Israel, Gaza Strip and the West Bank is comparable to that which existed in South Africa. They argue that just as the anti-apartheid campaign helped to bring down not only the South African regime but also the ideology and political morals that governed it, divestment from Israel will further the struggle against what they call an inherently racist system that needs to be abolished.
Yet, despite the best efforts of activists, and some gains among church groups, the divestment campaign in the U.S. has been largely unsuccessful. To date, it has failed to bring its primary targeted institutions to divest from Israel or from U.S. companies doing business with Israel.
Talking points against divestment:
- There is no comparison between Israeli policy and apartheid South Africa: While the anti-Israel activists point to the divestment campaign against South African apartheid as an example of how such a campaign can achieve dramatic results, most recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is distinctly different. First and foremost, pro-Palestinian advocates of divestment cannot offer the same moral clarity as the 80's anti-apartheid campaigners did. The treatment of Arabs by the State of Israel can in no way be compared to the treatment of the Blacks of South Africa under apartheid.
There is no Israeli ideology, policy or plan to segregate, persecute or mistreat its Israeli Arab citizens, nor Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank (Israel already unilaterally disengaged from the Gaza Strip in August 2005). Apartheid South Africa was extraordinarily repressive, regulating every detail of the lives of its subjects – 90 percent of whom were non-white – on the basis of their skin color. By contrast, Israel is a democracy which encourages vibrant debate, which has a flourishing free press and which shares with other liberal democracies a core value: the equality of all its citizens before the law. Nor does Israel want to indefinitely rule over the Palestinian population of the West Bank. Israel's measures in the territories, such as the building of a security barrier, checkpoints and curfews on the Palestinians are driven not by a racist ideology. Rather, they are due to legitimate security concerns on Israel's part and are the consequence of a campaign of terror by Palestinian groups such as Hamas and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, which, in deliberately targeting civilians, have claimed over 1,000 innocent Israeli lives.
The South African divestment campaign targeted companies who were exploiting black labor. In contrast, Israeli and Palestinian workers have both suffered enormously from the economic downturn brought about by the four years of violence and conflict. Moreover, while South African apartheid had no popular support here in America, according to public opinion polls Israel enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of Americans and of the U.S. political leadership.
More: Israel and Apartheid: The Big Lie
- Divestment advocates ignore the complexity of the conflict: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace process is complex. With their rigidly one-sided view of the conflict, divestment advocates see a solution only through punitive action against Israel. The harsh rhetoric of proponents blindly ignores Israeli policies and efforts to promote negotiations and improve the situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These advocates also ignore Palestinian intransigence, terrorism and violence, as well as the new situation that has arisen following Hamas' success in the 2006 Palestinian Authority election. Instead, divestment campaigns singularly demonize Israel and designate Israel for pariah status. Such initiatives do not to seek creative and constructive efforts to promote dialogue, peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
- Israel is being unfairly singled out for human rights violations: These campaigns single out Israel and condemn its record on human rights without any reference to the myriad of human rights outrages going on in the world today including Sudan, Zimbabwe and others. In fact, Israel remains the lone democracy in the Middle East, with all of the institutions – a free press, a multitude of political parties, an independent judiciary and religious freedom — that are at the heart of true liberal democracies. The Middle East and indeed the world has many states that do not come close to living up to Israel's standards. Thus, the singling out of Israel for such punitive treatment is disingenuous and disproportionate.
- How concerned individuals can help promote reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians: Individuals need to educate themselves on the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and promote positions that ensure peace and security for all. The well being of Israelis and Palestinians will best be advanced through policies that help to build a Palestinian society that rejects terror and is ready to accept Israel as the neighbor of a future Palestinian state. Peace will also require investment in programs that promote reconciliation and humanitarian assistance.