Last week’s vote on the Presbyterian Church’s motion to divest from three multinational companies that manufacture goods to sustain the Israeli occupation may have been a watershed moment. It is not only that the motion failed by just two votes (of 664 cast). It is that the wall-to-wall opposition to it by the entire “pro-Israel” organizational world demonstrates that perhaps divestment is the best tool opponents of the occupation have to start the process of ending it.
Think about it.
Not only did the usual pro-occupation stalwarts like AIPAC, American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs follow the Israeli government’s lead and oppose the resolution, they were joined by both J Street and Americans For Peace Now. That means that the Israeli government and the lobby delivered a clear message to those organizations: either you join us in fighting this resolution or we will drum you out of the community. You will be deemed un-kosher. Our rabbis will not sit on your boards. You will be beyond the pale. Your fundraising will suffer.
It certainly wasn’t the substance of the resolution that disturbed these groups. I mean, really, are we supposed to believe that APN and J Street honestly believe that the Presbyterians have no right to invest or dis-invest from whatever company they choose to? Are they not permitted to use whatever means at their disposal to oppose the abomination that is the occupation? On top of that, the motion was in no way directed at Israel itself but at the occupation these organizations exist to oppose.
J Street and APN opposed the resolution because they themselves were threatened by the lobby establishment, the kind of threat APN in turn then directed at the Presbyterians. (If you support this you will be fueling hatred of Israel, anti-Semitism, the whole kit and kaboodle).
The bad news here is that both J Street and APN shamed themselves and demonstrated that when threatened, they fold (not for the first time). The good news is that the establishment’s fear and trembling at the very prospect of divestment from the occupation demonstrates that it is an effective tool, one that should be utilized, company by company, again and again.
A few months ago, when Peter Beinart, the centrist author, called for boycotting the settlements, I was amazed that his call came under attack (including from J Street). After all, how can one claim to oppose the occupation and then oppose targeted opposition to it?
But it is now clear that the Israeli government is deeply threatened by any attempts to isolate the settlements from Israel itself. This became especially clear yesterday when a report issued by a committee of jurists established by Prime Minister Netanyahu concluded that there is no occupation at all and that all settlements are, by definition, legal.
As far as the Israeli government is concerned, there is no difference between Nablus and Tel Aviv (a point of view Hamas shares). It’s all Israel. Every last inch. As for the Palestinians, to hell with them.
That is why the Israeli government, the lobby, and all their cutouts joined in defeating what appeared to be a fairly innocuous resolution. The Presbyterian motion threatened the occupation and, to the right, that is no different than threatening Tel Aviv or Haifa.
J Street and APN were had. Big time.
On the other hand, Jewish Voice For Peace, which led the forces for the divestment motion, looks like the future of the Jewish anti-occupation movement. By not caring what the lobby and the Netanyahu government think, it demonstrated that it understands that making common cause with the lobby is the ticket to irrelevance. As we said back in the 60′s, if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem. JVP is part of the solution.
Last week, J Street and APN were more than part of the problem. They were the problem. Without them, the motion would have passed. (They should have “given cover” to supporters of the resolution; instead they gave it to the opponents). They should be ashamed. I bet they are.
Meanwhile, JVP and Beinart should take a bow. It is time to fully divest from and boycott the occupation and all those who sustain it in any way. Both Israel and the Palestinians deserve no less.
Last point: Read this interview with Peter Beinart from Alternet. Shouldn’t J Street and Americans For Peace Now start questioning their mushy course when Beinart, a traditional Jew and a centrist American, openly and unabashedly supports boycotting the occupation? Beinart has broken with the establishment which now despises him when it formerly adored him. Clearly, he believes it is worth it to lose friends and backers for the cause. And he has advanced that cause more than any other individual in the American Jewish community. J Street, in particular, can take a lesson from him. Changing the world requires guts. If the other side still likes you, you simply are not doing your job.