I am not someone with a lot of wealth or assets. I am a 24 year-old part-time student, part-time worker who invests all my spare time engaging in activist work. When it comes to capitalist society or divestment there-from, I do not have much to contribute.
However, I recently realized what the $2.45 checks that I have been receiving since the age of 13 actually are, and what impact they actually have in the grand scheme of things.
For my bat mitzvah, A Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, my grandparents bought for me fifteen shares of stock in General Electric. It was not too large of a monetary value, but a substantial and generous gift to anyone, let alone a twelve year-old. She wanted to ensure for me a financially stable future and instill in me knowledge of responsible investment.
Every financial quarter since, I have received a tiny check in the mail which I have dutifully yet automatically deposited in my bank account, the money not being substantial enough to trigger much brain involvement in the monotonous process.
Then I became a BDS activist.
The Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is a grassroots movements instigated by a 2005 call issued by Palestinian civil society that asks for the global community to boycott goods that profit from the violation of Palestinian human rights, divest from corporations complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and issue sanctions against the State of Israel for its human rights abuses against the Palestinian people until the State of Israel ceases these aforementioned human rights abuses. The original call included three primary goals that, if met, would mean the end of BDS. These goals are, as described on the BDS National Committee website:
- Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
- Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
Since its formation, the BDS movement has been a controversial one. Sympathizers and supporters of the State of Israel have rendered BDS akin to terrorism and claim that the BDS movement’s specified targeting of the State of Israel is inevitably anti-Semitic, as why else would the global community single out and target the only Jewish state in the world? Supporters of the BDS movement and the struggle for Palestinian self-determination and human rights, on the other hand, argue for the nonviolent nature of the BDS movement and reference its success in ending the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
Many companies over the years have been particularly targeted due to their obvious complicity in violence against and suppression of the Palestinian people. These companies include but are not limited to Veolia, G4S, Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar, and yes, you guessed it, General Electric.
General Electric, best known for manufacturing the toaster oven currently sitting on your kitchen counter, is also responsible for the manufacture of aviation engines and gas turbines used in Israeli warplanes, helicopters and naval missile ships. These vehicles were used in the 2006 Lebanon War as well as the three subsequent sieges on Gaza. For example, in 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, which resulted in the death of 1398 Palestinians, Apache helicopters using General Electric engines dropped missiles not only on military targets, but civilian homes, shops and hospitals. Both the Human Rights Council of the General Assembly and Amnesty International found that “many of the attacks on Gaza during Cast Lead constituted violations of international human rights, possible war crimes, and crimes against humanity.” Who would have thought the nostalgia-inducing American romantic toaster company could be complicit in all of that?
The divestment portion of the BDS movement “calls for the withdrawal of stocks and funds from corporations complicit in the violation of international law and Palestinian rights and ensures that investment portfolios and public funds are not used to finance or purchase products and services from such companies.” Therefore, by selling my General Electric stock, I am choosing to divest from a company that chooses to be complicit in systemic violence against the Palestinian people, even if only in a fringe part of its market. Public corporations have public responsibility and must be accountable to the public. They have to understand that they do not operate in a vacuum and the choices that they make in this capitalist society have real and harmful ripple effects. And we, as consumers and investors, also have a responsibility, and we must choose whether we too will remain complicit or whether we will challenge the corporations with which we are inevitably entwined to do better—to be better.
However, my divestment from General Electric is merely a symbolic one. My $500 worth of market share barely makes a dent in the public market share that is General Electric. It is much more important to push for institutions to divest from these corporations, such as the successful divestment initiative of the United Church of Christ or the continuing struggle for divestment in the University of California system. But I still felt that, as a BDS activist who supports nonviolent resistance and noncooperation with systemic injustice, that it was not only my responsibility to make this symbolic gesture, but to tell the world about it. For my power does not come through my wallet—it comes through my pen.
And what of this small sum of money that I have come into through this act of noncooperation? Well, I am choosing to reinvest that money, not in the stock market, but in a place where I know it will truly pay off. I am going to donate my profit to Jewish Voice for Peace and the BDS National Committee, organizations that I know adhere to the strongest standards of justice and human dignity.
Jewish Voice for Peace has been standing up for the rights of Palestinians and Israelis—Muslims, Christians and Jews—for nearly twenty years now. It operates intersectionally, not only running successful BDS campaigns, but also fighting racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism here at home. I have been a member of Jewish Voice for Peace for the past year and never before have I been so proud to be a part of an organization.
The BDS National Committee is the coordinator of BDS campaigns internationally. It exists as a coalition of Palestinian civilian organizations both based in Palestine and worldwide fighting for the rights of its people, both on the land and off of it. The BDS National Committee stands up for the people of Palestine and puts nonviolent pressure on Israeli institutions and corporations that are simultaneously engaging in their active suppression.
I chose these two organizations not only due to the amazing work that they do and my total and complete trust in them, but also due to the angles from which they are operating. As a Jew, I strongly identify with the mission of Jewish Voice for Peace and find it to be one of the only Jewish spaces in which I feel totally and completely safe from subjugation due to my politics. It is truly one of the only Jewish organizations in the country willing to take a stand against the Jewish Institutional Machine that aims to control and manipulate what Jews are allowed to do, think, support and stand for.
I chose to support the BDS National Committee also due to my Jewish identity. As an American Jew, it is clear to me my complicity in the oppression and subjugation of the Palestinian people. My American tax dollars are daily being siphoned to fund the Israeli Defense Forces and my religion is constantly being used to justify policies akin to apartheid against the Palestinian people. I exist as complicity. Therefore, I must choose daily to combat this complicity. The Palestinian people issued a call asking for our—for my—support. They asked for us to use fiscal means—nonviolent means—to challenge the status quo, which is one of an unbalanced power differential favoring Israel. When a call is issued by an oppressed people, it is our responsibility as moral and fully complicit actors to respond. The BDS National Committee is the main operating body facilitating response to that call, and thus it is my responsibility as a moral and complicit actor to give back to them.
With that being said, I want to challenge you all forth. I want to ask, in what ways are you complicit in injustice? And in what ways can you begin to challenge this complicity? In this instance, I chose to challenge it with my stock portfolio, my dollars and my word. But my work is far from done. What is your work?