Last week, after nearly a decade of debating such resolutions, the Presbyterians voted to divest from three companies (HP, Caterpillar, and Motorola Solutions) that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and that refused to have serious discussions with the Presbyterians’ investment committee about their practices. Many of the Presbyterians who opposed the divestment measure said they were afraid that they would be accused of anti-Semitism; many who supported it were also aware of that eventuality and accepted it.
Now here is Forward editor Jane Eisner’s column describing the Presbyterian divestment measure as anti-Semitic: it “hurts Jews.” A liberal Zionist writing from Israel, she ignores all the non-Zionist Jews who supported divestment, and says that divestment will achieve nothing, and other places are much worse.
Channeling Netanyahu (something not easy for me to do) I could understand how the Presbyterian decision could seem biased, hypocritical and, yes, anti-Semitic. Why should Israel be singled out for its treatment of the Palestinians when Christians elsewhere in the region are fleeing for their lives? At the very least, shouldn’t Syria and Iraq and Egypt be boycotted, too?
In his own clumsy way, Netanyahu pinpointed why the Presbyterian vote is, indeed, unfair and hypocritical. Put aside for a moment whether such divestment is even effective — selling shares in a few companies is hardly going to hobble Israel’s steady economic growth or deter future global investment, so this sort of financial pressure is unlikely to stop the occupation…
when they singled out only Israel’s actions, troubling though they may be, at a time when the region is aflame with tribal violence, they did hold one nation to a standard that others are not obliged or expected to meet. How is that not unfair and hypocritical? How does that not undermine Israel’s legitimacy?
As for their love for me and my Jewish brethren, it may be sincere but it’s awfully misguided. You’ll not usually find me in the Netanyahu amen corner, nor am I prone to identify anti-Semitism at every turn. But when Jewish treatment of Palestinians is judged worse than the way any other dominant group treats a minority, when it is deemed worthy of unique sanction, when other horrors around the world are ignored — how can I believe that this isn’t about the Jews? And that, my Presbyterian friends, is anti-Semitism…
The Presbyterian action is probably not going to measurably hurt Israel. But it has understandably hurt Jews.
Eisner’s argument is characterized by “whataboutery” — how can the Presbyterians single out Israel when so many other places are so much worse? I believe in whataboutery myself (Look at Syria), but it is an inherently conservative way of looking at things, not a forward one. If Palestinian Christians have it so good, does that mean they don’t want equal rights? Just because you live in a bad neighborhood, does that mean that you get to deprive your neighbor of freedom?
Also, how persuasive do you find an American Jewish Zionist’s argument that what my people are doing in Israel isn’t so bad? A wide spectrum of Palestinian society supports BDS– boycott, divestment and sanctions. Even conservative bourgeois Palestinians do. If you’ve been in the occupation, you understand why they feel that way. I defer to their view of conditions there.
As for the absence of political freedom in Syria and Egypt, Americans and Jews have a special relationship to Palestine; Israeli Jews established apartheid there with our complicity. What means does Eisner advocate for ending apartheid? The occupation has now lasted almost 50 years– and the creation of Israel involved ethnic cleansing and dispossession that has never been addressed (decades after Jews received reparations from Germany). As Eisner says, “divestment is not only about wielding punishment; it’s about shaping a moral conversation.” O.K., let’s have it. (And if you’re the liberal Jewish newspaper, are you making any room for anti-Zionist Jews?)