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The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Debate: Boycott or ‘One Big Carrot of Peace’

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The following report was sent to us by a long time U.S.-based activist for a just peace in Israel/Palestine posting under the name Rie Graham. It is in response to a discussion between Naomi Klein and Rabbi Arthur Waskow on the merits of using boycotts, divestment and sanctions to change Israeli policies in Israel/Palestine. The discussion appears in the current edition of In These Times under the title "To Boycott Israel…or Not?":

In the April 2009 cover story
of In These Times, Editor Joel Bleifuss moderates a discussion on the
merits of BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) with author Naomi Klein and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of
the Shalom Center in Philadelphia.

Klein and Waskow agree on the
goal of changing US policy as critical to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
but differ on their strategic vision.

The discussion centers on whether
BDS is a strategy worth pursuing in advancing a just and lasting peace
in Israel/Palestine.  Klein, who wrote an article in the Nation officially endorsing BDS, states that the strategy is critical
to changing the power imbalance and mobilizing grassroots activism for
change in US policy: 

There is such an asymmetry of outrage on this issue – the uproar about Israeli universities facing a boycott at the same time as Palestinian schools and universities are being bombed, for instance.  When we treat Israeli war crimes as deserving of international sanction, we are rejecting this double standard and embodying the future we want, which is a future of genuine equality

Klein is supportive of the
efforts such as the Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine’s
two-year campaign to convince its Board of Trustees to screen out college
investments, which support Israeli occupation.  She believes that
concrete solidarity should be mobilized in support of the 2005 call
by Palestinian civil society non-governmental organizations for BDS,
which she describes as the “most effective tactics in the nonviolent
arsenal.”

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Waskow criticizes the BDS strategy
as one that “won’t work.” Dismissing the strategic value of BDS,
Waskow argues that attempts for “personal purity” (for instance
tying spending habits and investments to human rights and international
law) won’t impact U.S. policy.  As an alternative Waskow believes
that an “Abrahamic” alliance is needed to change U.S. policy, meaning
bringing together U.S. Jews, Muslims, and Christians to lobby Congress
for change.  He advocates offering Israel a “One Big Carrot of
Peace” rather than applying pressure through BDS that he describes
as a “sticks only” approach.

Waskow, who supported BDS against
the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, wishes that Palestinians
would learn the lessons from the U.S. civil rights movement and organize
nonviolent sit-ins, presumably to help Americans – and clearly American
Jews – see their human desire is for peace, not the destruction of
Israel.  He criticizes Hamas for not organizing boats to Gaza in
the model of the Free Gaza movement initiated by ISM, as if this were
truly an option available to Hamas. 

What Waskow (and other “peace”
activists who claim to be searching for the Palestinian Gandhi who will
lead Palestinians to freedom) fails to mention in the discussion is
any acknowledgment of the overwhelming nonviolent response by Palestinians
to decades of Israeli military occupation, including in Gaza. Where
does he cite the human chain initiated by Palestinians across Gaza calling
for unity and an end to the siege (that was dismissed as propaganda
in the west)? What about Palestinian attempts to maintain survival by
digging tunnels to Egypt as an act of nonviolent resistance to international
attempts to blockade, isolate and imprison 1.5 million Palestinians
in Gaza?  Or all the diplomatic efforts to reach a ceasefire and
truce initiated and upheld by Hamas? Why does Waskow not mention the
weekly protests in Bi’lin – which regularly include Palestinians,
Israelis, and internationals in collective nonviolent action – as
well as the daily acts of courageous nonviolence at checkpoints all
over the West Bank? Do the Palestinians need to set up a lunch counter
to get the west and Waskow to see their nonviolent efforts to end occupation?

Klein argues that BDS can be
a complementary strategy to the dialogues and interfaith efforts that
Waskow believes will move leaders in Washington, DC.  Waskow says
that “people will make up their own minds” about tactics, but should
remain focused on changing U.S. policies.

Perhaps when nonviolent strategies
are taken seriously in the US – and American rabbis like Waskow join
the boats to Gaza to break the siege and stand with Palestinian farmers
against continued land confiscation by Israeli authorities – there
will be the necessary resistance to politics as usual on the Israel/Palestine
question in DC.

Nothing but praise should be
given to those students at Hampshire College and political journalists
like Naomi Klein who demand solidarity for Palestinians who live under
occupation, and accountability for those who continue to finance their
destruction.

Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Executive Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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