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May 2010 Archive

Divestment from Israel

May 12, 2010 at 11:04 AM

By Michael Waas, New College

A few weeks ago at New College, there was a meeting held about how to encourage anti-Israel activism on campus through the Divestment from Israel movement. Before I continue, a little history about the modern divestment movement:

The modern DFI movement began in earnest 2002 during the Second Intifada. It began with all intents and purposes at Harvard and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) with a high profile petition on these campus to divest from Israel. The DFI movement has its roots in the original Arab-League Boycott of Israel. This antecedent movement is unabashedly anti-semitic and racist, having started with a de facto boycott as early as 1922 against Jewish interests, not Israeli interests, 26 years prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. The Arab League Council formally instated a boycott on December 2, 1945: "Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable to the Arab countries". That, might I remind you, is a little less than 3 years before the establishment of the State of Israel and 22 years before the "occupation" began following the 6-Day War in 1967.


Above: Companies known to do business in Israel

The Arab-League Boycott and the modern DFI are not one in the same; however, they share the same ideological roots of racism and anti-Semitism towards anyone from Israel. During the initial years of the Arab-League Boycott, all products, whether made by Jew or Arab were boycotted. The same holds true today for the modern DFI movement. The Divestment movement presents itself as only going after companies such as Caterpillar that sell bulldozers to the Israeli government. That's all fine and good and the Israeli government deserves its fair share of critiquing policies such as the demolition of Palestinian Arab homes and of Olive Groves but this is actually only a minor part of the movement. In fact, it promotes boycotting Israeli academia, Israeli products, and it promotes most of all, the idea that Israel is an apartheid society.


Boycotting Israeli academia and Israeli products hurts all people who call Israel home. One of the most famous cases is of the Jaffa Oranges. The Jaffa Orange takes its name from the old port city of Jaffa where it was first developed. It is arguable that the Jaffa Orange is the symbol of the "Israeli Occupation" as it is almost always, the first product from Israel that is attacked and demonized. But these fruits are grown by Israelis from all walks of life, a fact that is glossed over when boycotting the oranges. It hurts all people in the region to boycott the products of Israel. In fact, it is outright hypocritical to boycott Israel while taking advantage of technologies Israel has innovated and produced such as the chips that power cell phones, text messaging (and Instant Messaging online), and life-saving medical technologies like the ingestable camera, which allows doctors to examine your internal organs non-invasively. These products are just a few of the technologies that Israelis have innovated and produced. And these technologies are used by people who boycott Israel, proving a lot of the hypocrisy inherent in the DFI movement.


The most dangerous assertion of the DFI movement is that Israel is Apartheid. To call Israel an apartheid is an insult to the South Africans who suffered greatly under real apartheid. (See
article about Judge Goldstone's participation in Apartheid). There are a lot of problems in Israeli society concerning class and race. To deny that is to deny a history of racism and Ashkenazo-centrism that has been a part of Israeli politics. Just among Jews, there was an incredible amount of racism towards the Mizrahi Jews who spoke their beloved Arabic/Judeo-Arabic after fleeing the pogroms that began with the declaration of Israel's independence, much less towards Sephardic Jews. Today, towards Arabs, there is a lot of structural racism especially because of integration issues that revolve around the IDF. The IDF provides a network for aspiring businessman and for social connections throughout Israeli society (see Dan Senor article). However, Israeli Arabs would be put in a catch-22 position of being part of a military that many of them see as hurting and oppressing their family and friends. It is not an easy situation to say the least and one that will continue to go unresolved until peace is had.

To not look critically at Israeli policy is morally apprehensible as Jews. There are constructive avenues for approaching Israel critically that helps promote peace and understanding. Two of my favorite organizations are Save a Child's Heart and Seed's of Peace. Both organization promote understanding, trust, and respect between Israeli's and Palestinian Arabs. Save a Child's Heart goes to great lengths to provide opportunities for aspiring Palestinian doctors as well as to provide the life-saving care that many Palestinian Arab children with severe heart problems don't have access to. In fact, SACH has had to smuggle children and their families out of Gaza before in order to protect them from the punishment (from Hamas) of receiving medical care from Israelis. It is these people who the boycott of Israel actually hurts, not the romanticized image that it strikes fear in to the hearts of people like Bibi Netanyahu and predecessors like Ariel "Arik" Sharon. The Seed's of Peace group promotes trust, understanding, and peace, bringing together young people on both sides. It helps humanize the conflict for both sides to see the hopes, concerns, and dreams of the other side from their contemporary generation. It is organizations like SACH and Seed's of Peace that will lead Israel to peace with our brethren, the Palestinian Arabs, not boycott or divestment.

Yalla v'l'hit!

Sidenote: I will be living in Israel this summer, working for the Israel Antiquities Authority at the old city of Akko. This blog will shift to being experiences in Israel over the summer for me. I am looking forward to my endeavor and getting to spend time in Eretz Yisrael with my dear family and friends who call it home. 


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