The Forward has posted a podcast about the big decision by a Wall Street firm to delist Caterpillar from its socially-responsible index of companies. Gal Beckerman says:
It’s been a number of years since the BDS movement kind of — 2005 was the initial call. South Africa, yes, there was a slow build to it. But there was a feeling of unanimity, at some point. One domino fell; all the dominos fell. And I don’t quite see that happening here.And it’s not, I don’t think, a comment on the moral — y’know, on whether the cause of Apartheid is more or less moral than the cause of Palestinians. I think it’s just there are countervailing forces here in a way that there were absolutely not during the South Africa situation.
[In the 80s] the South Africans actually seek out advice from the Israelis on how to sell themselves In the west and how to improve their image. The South Africans looked to Israel as a sort of beacon, and they didn’t understand why Israel had managed to withstand criticism for decades and survive, and why South Africa was failing.
The countervailing force that Beckerman and Polakow-Suransky are talking about is the Israel lobby. In the Israel case, there is a large bloc inside American political culture that ardently supports the existence of a Jewish state and will go to great measures to back its every policy. F.W. De Klerk, the former South African prime minister who did as much as anyone to end apartheid, has said that the two-state solution, which remains an article of faith inside American political life, is in essence what the white South Africans were trying to get with apartheid and Bantustans, separation.
One measure of this countervailing force is the discourse in our leading newspapers. Polakow-Suransky is now an editor at the New York Times op-ed page. His book of 2010 said that if Israel fails to dismantle West Bank settlements and create a viable Palestinian state, the apartheid label will be appropriate. Charney Bromberg, David Shulman, and Stephen Robert have all said or suggested in the last year or so that apartheid is a correct description of the West Bank. But can we expect this argument to make it into Polakow-Suransky’s newspaper? So far the newspaper’s op-ed page has called the apartheid charge a “slander.”
Alex Kane dissents on this one:
The discussion at the Forward is intelligent and interesting. But I think Beckerman is wrong on the South Africa comparison. The movement to divest from South African apartheid began in the 1960s, and it took till the 1980s for it to to have real impact, at least according to this Wikipedia history.
I also think it’s newsworthy what the Forward’s Nathan Guttman said: That this time, the divestment resolutions at the Presbyterian assembly are “serious,” and “pro-Israel activists seem to me at least to be kind of pessimistic. They think the Israel resolutions do have a chance to pass.”
There seems to be real divestment momentum coming off the TIAA-CREF/MSCI decision.