Olympia Food Co-op Boycott of Products from Israel
This is for stories, articles, blogs, and other posts related to the Thursday 15 July 2010 decision by the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors to boycott products from Israel due to aggression against Palestinians by the state of Israel.
Ali Abunimah in Olympia on BDS and the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse
Peace talks between representatives from Israel and the Palestinian Territories are scheduled to start tomorrow (Thursday,) but Abunimah said the expectations of many people are low, because of a precedent of bad-faith negotiations. He used a metaphor of pizza pie to explain the negotiations. For example, analogous to the occupation of the West Bank would be if he were to sit down to negotiation and immediately begin by grabbing pizza and stuffing it into his mouth, and if his partner were to complain, or to try grabbing some pizza for theirself, then he would slap them and chastise them for it.
Abunimah presented a persuasive fact-filled lecture in support of a 2005 call by Palestinian Civil society for BDS against Israel (Global BDS Movement), and then responded to questions from the audience. The talk included information about the historical situation, the current situation, and other background information supportive of the rationale for BDS against Israel.
While in the PNW Abunimah also visit Port Townsend. The co-op in Port Townsend is in the process of considering participating in a boycott of Israeli goods. Abunimah has an article from the 29th of August on his personal blog (Ali Abunimah) describing the reaction to his visit by Rob Jacobs (who is Northwest Regional Director of StandWithUs.)
It was good to hear a Palestinian voice speak about what is going on from their perspective.
A few of the highlights that I got from (and inferred from) the presentation include:
Abunimah advocates for a one-state solution to the conflict.
The situation on the ground in the Gaza Strip is very bad, and can arguably be compared to a concentration camp.
The State of Israel is segregated; it is separate but unequal.
All people deserve to be treated well, this very much INCLUDES Palestinians.
Abunimah is warm and approving of the Oly Food Co-op boycott.
Abunimah, as a Palestinian-American, relates to what is happening in Israel/Palestine as an indigenous person, and views the state of Israel as a force of colonialism.
BDS provides an alternative to combative/physical violence.
Governments, especially Israel's greatest ally, the USA, have ignored many years of Israeli contraventions of international law regarding occupation by settlement-building in the West Bank, the Siege of Gaza, and discriminatory treatment against Palestinian Israelis.
BDS seeks to:
End occupation of land beyond 1967 borders
Guarantee equal treatment for Palestinians living in Israel
Guarantee the right of Palestinians to return to their former homes within Israel
Israel (like the USA) is not a real democracy (it is democracy in name only.)
BDS is not about Arab v. Jew, nor Israeli v. Palestinian: it is about oppressed v. oppressor
Abunimah responded to a question about blanket boycott v. specific boycott with some of the above mentioned statements, as well as others.
To paraphrase: The principle crime committed by Gazans is that they are not Jewish.
The boycott by Israel v. Palestinians is harmful and unjust. But the boycott against Israel is an effort toward remediation via noncooperation with injustice.
The water/sanitation situation in Gaza is horrendous. 90% of the largest aquifer (the coastal aquifer) is contaminated. Nitrate in water is a silent killer.
Jewish people in Israel are not going to be successful in the accomplishment of their own safety and security against persecution via policies of militarism, suppression, oppression, and racism.
The conflict is about land and territory, and colonialism—and not necessarily about religion (although some people use religion to justify what is happening.)
Abunimah mentioned that in some ways he think that the atmosphere in the USA of discrimination toward Arabs and Muslims feels worse now than it did in the months right after 9/11/2001.
Well there's an incomplete run-down of the discussion last night for you. Feel free to offer more, and/or points of clarification.
Ali also appeared on today's (1st of September) Democracy Now!, here.
An Open Letter to Boycott Opponents from Olympia BDS
An Open Letter to Boycott Opponents from Olympia BDS
As community members and peace activists, we are proud that the Olympia Food Co-op has joined a rapidly growing global movement for social justice in a conflict for which we are all complicit. It is an honor to stand with Desmond Tutu and with prominent Palestinian and Israeli activists who are risking their lives to create a just peace.
As the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz noted recently about the Co-op and the boycott movement, “The sums involved are not large, but their international significance is huge.”
Our commitment to working for peace in Israel and Palestine is intertwined with our commitment to the Olympia community. We have sought to educate the public through events with notable speakers such as Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and Ali Abunimah.
Our next steps include hosting a visit by esteemed Jewish liberation theologian Marc Ellis and sponsoring a panel discussion on anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism, and Islamophobia. We are dedicated to informing the local community to not only talk about peace and justice, but to make it a reality.
We also stand committed to fighting all forms of oppression.
The swastikas that appeared at a Jewish high school on Mercer Island last month affect us personally, for we boycott supporters are also Jews, Muslims, people of color, immigrants, and queers—everything that the swastika is summoned to oppose.
That is why we are alarmed by recent actions of boycott opponents in Olympia. At the last two Co-op board meetings, local boycott opponents were accompanied by questionable allies. This included the Northwest co-chair of StandWithUs, an organization that cynically exploits the oppression of queers in the Middle East despite their explicit protestations, and a person affiliated with the xenophobic anti-immigrant group the Minutemen.
Boycott opponents had the opportunity to speak and be heard by board members. Yet when it came time for board members to discuss many other important issues, boycott opponents insisted on disrupting the meeting, making it difficult for the board to do its job in serving the Co-op.
Additionally, at the Sept. 16 board meeting, boycott opponents repeatedly made Islamophobic references to BDS being the work of “jihadists” and warned the board that “your life is in danger with these people.” To us, this mirrors the disturbing mood within the United States, where rampant Islamophobia is the norm.
Port Townsend—a model?
Opponents to the boycott are now citing the recent rejection of a boycott proposal in Port Townsend as a precedent for Olympia to follow. Not only is it strange to expect the Olympia Food Co-op to follow the dictates of a board from Port Townsend, but this account omits many details:
• The Port Townsend Co-op board president attempted to circumvent bylaws by organizing a closed-door meeting between the Co-op board and the Israeli Deputy Consul General, who had been dispatched to Port Townsend to thwart the boycott proposal in coordination with the Seattle chapter of StandWithUs.
• A racist anti-boycott cartoon appeared in the Aug. 18 Port Townsend Leader.
• Port Townsend Co-op workers were harassed by angry boycott opponents. Slurs such as “self-hating Jew” were directed against two of the Port Townsend boycott organizers who were former Israelis.
• A non-Native man stood outside the Port Townsend Co-op wearing a mock Native headdress and face paint, accosting Co-op shoppers and distributing racist literature against the boycott.
Meanwhile, the most vocal spokesperson for “It’s Our Co-op” (the Olympia anti-boycott group) traveled to Port Townsend and joined the Port Townsend Co-op hours before its member forum in order to speak against the boycott as a “member.” He then returned to Olympia and praised the Port Townsend forum as a beacon of democracy. At the same time, he wrote comments on the website of the Port Townsend Leader boasting that he had disrupted the Olympia Food Co-op’s own community forum (where he stood up and screamed expletives) on August 12 and also defaming one of us by name in the same comments.
It has been suggested that had the outcome been different—had the Olympia Co-op board rejected the boycott proposal—we boycott supporters would be acting the same way that boycott opponents are acting right now. That is absolutely untrue.
If the board had rejected the boycott, we would not have protested outside the Co-op. We would not have accosted staff or led a campaign of angry messages against the Co-op. We would not have attempted to smear the Co-op, interrupt board meetings, resort to pressure and intimidation to get our way, or threaten a loss in Co-op sales.
We would have been upset that the Co-op was not following its principles, but we value the Co-op too much to want to hurt it. Instead, we would have continued to follow process. We would have introduced a member-initiated ballot.
Therefore we are perplexed that boycott opponents reject this option and refuse to follow process. Instead, they have resorted to bullying, intimidation, disruption, fear-mongering, misinformation, racist/Islamophobic insults, and ultimatums to have their way. Is this the kind of “process” they want the Co-op to follow?
Not all opponents of the boycott have acted inappropriately. We do not blame all boycott opponents for the actions of isolated individuals. However, many of these reprehensible actions have been committed or endorsed by leaders of the boycott opposition. In fact, one of the most aggressive people—someone who has disrupted board meetings, screamed into the Co-op, yelled expletives at the Aug. 12 community forum, made Islamophobic comments to the board, and who has told passersby that one of our colleagues is “the most evil man in Olympia”—is currently being hailed as the hero of the boycott opposition.
Our requests to boycott opponents
With this in mind, we as fellow community members issue the following requests to those working against the boycott:
1. Be civil to Co-op staff and volunteers. Even if you oppose the boycott, there is no reason to take it out on them. Respect the work they do that keeps everyday operation of the Co-op running smoothly and enables the Co-op to serve our community.
2. Be civil at Co-op board meetings. It is unreasonable to accuse the board of not doing its job and simultaneously prevent the board from doing its job by interrupting board proceedings. The board has gone out of its way to accommodate boycott opponents at these meetings and elsewhere. Please give them the opportunity to work on all other important Co-op matters.
3. Fight anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia in your ranks. Reject racists such as the Minutemen or organizations such as StandWithUs that promote Islamophobia and exploit queers. Do not resort to claims about “jihadists” threatening the lives of board members, and do not dismiss or condescend to Muslims in the community.
4. Acknowledge that pro-boycott Jews are just as Jewish. Do not deny them their identities. If you want to be an ally to Jews, then recognize that there is no single “legitimate” Jewish voice. Loyalty to Israel is not a litmus test for Jewish identity. One can be a proud Jew and proudly support the boycott.
5. Reject intimidation and bullying to get your way. If you are concerned about process, if you are concerned about democracy, then use the democratic process that is readily available. The member-initiated ballot was designed as a tool for redress. It is counterproductive to make demands while rejecting the avenues to achieve those demands.
6. Avoid apocalyptic narratives. The community is not torn to shreds. The Co-op is not on the verge of collapse. Olympia is not a “war zone.” Do not resort to fear-mongering and scare tactics to get your way. And please, don’t tell the board that their “lives are in danger.”
7. Stop spreading misinformation. The boycott is not designed to “disband” Israel, we are not “paid outside agitators” set on destroying Olympia, sales are not down at the Co-op,* and there was no “stolen vote.”
8. If you have questions about the boycott movement, then ask us! Attend our informational events and read our literature. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. We have spent an inordinate amount of time dispelling malicious rumors directed against us and against the process that we carefully followed.
9. Be honest about your concerns. Dialogue cannot happen when one party is not forthcoming. Is it about the “process” or is it about Israel? Would you be protesting if the Co-op had boycotted Djibouti instead? Would you have complained if the Co-op had followed the same process but rejected the boycott? If not, then be honest and say that your ultimate concern is about defending Israel. Only then can true dialogue begin.
10. Take responsibility for your actions. It is bizarre to create discord and disruption, to protest, to level accusations and spread misinformation, and to file grievances over the boycott—and then claim that the boycott must be rescinded because it is causing discord. The boycott doesn’t make you do it. You choose to do it.
Boycott opponents repeatedly exploit the idea that the community is being “torn apart.” This is true only to the extent that boycott opponents are willing to resort to misinformation, disruption, and bullying to have their way, rather than pursue the democratic process offered to them, which they disdainfully reject.
Time for a debate?
At this point, we feel it would be an educational opportunity to counter misinformation by participating in a civil and public debate about the boycott. We feel that a debate would allow interested parties to explain their positions and to dispel much of the misinformation that has been widely circulated.
We invite boycott opponents to work with us to establish this debate in order to increase understanding of the issues at hand. Let us involve the community in this discussion.
* A letter printed in the Olympian falsely claimed that “[s]ales are down” at the Co-op due to the boycott. In fact, Co-op records show a significant increase in sales following the boycott.
Behind the scenes
The It's Our Coop website has posted a chronology page which gives an ongoing account of what their group has been doing, and includes a number of details about their ongoing negotiations about the boycott with the Food Coop Board. They say:
August 1: A Jewish Discussion Forum was held to provide a “safe space for Olympia’s Jewish community to discuss thoughts, ideas, feelings, etc regarding the Olympia food co-op boycott on Israeli goods.” About 90 people attended, and a significant minority supported the co-op boycott. Persons were randomly assigned to one of approximately 12 groups to share their feelings in response to the Board’s decision. There was a follow-up meeting on August 8.
August 6: The Co-op Board announced that they were committed “to creating a process to provide members an opportunity to express their opinion regarding the boycott.” At that point, It’s Our Co-op stopped collecting petition signatures. Over 350 signatures had been collected over a two week period.
August 8: Members of It’s Our Co-op met with five members of the Olympia Food Co-op Board. On August 10thIt’s Our Co-op sent a follow-up letter to the OFC Board requesting that the decision be rescinded and that a group of co-op members examine the co-op’s boycott policy and the Israeli products boycott. This group was to be given a deadline for making recommendations to the Board, and the Israeli boycott proposal was to be re-submitted through the new policy process. We stated in the letter that “we want to do everything we can to strengthen the consensus-building process within the co-op, to deal with the difficult issue of the Israeli products boycott, to help repair divisions in the co-op and Olympia communities.” No response was received from the Board.
August 12: The Olympia Food Co-op held the forum that had been announced by the Board at the time that they approved the Israeli boycott amendment. The meeting was attended by 300 community and co-op members, but the format did not allow for productive conversation or dialogue.
August 22: It’s Our Co-op held its first public meeting. About 90 people attended. As described in the flyer, the meeting was conceived as providing an open space so that persons could form work groups to work on issues raised by the Olympia Food Co-op Board’s Israeli boycott. Many of the groups that formed at that meeting are continuing to meet.
August 24: In late August two members of the Co-op Board approached two members of It’s Our Co-op to explore possibilities of developing a proposal to take back to the two groups. The four people met on August 24. Much of the meeting was spent talking about the possibility of forming a working group composed of persons with diverse perspectives to examine the Israeli boycott and the boycott policy. On August 26 the Board had a work meeting that decided to have a boycott policy review committee composed of six members.
September 7: It’s Our Co-op sent a follow-up letter to the Olympia Food Co-op Board asking about whether a member of the IOC could be on the policy review committee. We also asked whether there was going to be a review of the Israeli boycott decision. Most importantly, the letter urged the Board to commit to re-voting (by consensus) on the Israeli boycott decision after the review process in order to demonstrate the genuineness of their commitment to an open community and membership review.
September 21: The Port Townsend Food Co-op Board rejected a proposal to boycott Israeli products. This decision came after a 60 day period for discussion and public input. The decision occurred at an open meeting during which community members had an opportunity to speak to the Board. The Board then voted in front of the assembled co-op members, and gave individual statements regarding their position.
September 23: Leafleting began at both co-op stores sharing information about the Port Townsend vote. The leaflet asks that the Board set aside their boycott vote and either send the proposal back to the staff or engage in an educational process with a commitment to a re-vote on the boycott proposal at the end of the process.
September 23: The Olympia Food Coop Board formally decided to form a subcommittee to review the OFC boycott policy with applications available on November 15. They also announced their intent to “clarify” the language that they passed about conditions for ending of the boycott. They mention that they are going to consider “next steps for community dialogue”, but they have no concrete plans as yet. They encourage groups to propose a member initiated ballot if they are not happy with the Board’s actions.
Sunday September 26: Tibor Breuer began a continuous vigil outside the westside Co-op store in protest.
September 27: IOC sent an e-mail to the Board requesting responses to our letter of September 7. We received an e-mail back later in the day (dated September 23). In the letter, the Board states that (1) their Israeli boycott decision stands, (2) they “are not considering an open review of the Israeli product boycott with professional facilitation”, (3) IOC members are free to apply for positions on the policy review committee, and (4) they have not decided whether any policy changes will be retroactively applied to existing boycotts.
October 6: Olympia Power & Light publishes an editorial entitled “What went wrong with the co-op boycott of Israel.”
October 10: Gathering at the westside co-op to support Tibor’s vigil. Tibor ends his 24/7 vigil but continues to leaflet and have a presence at the westside co-op.
October 11: Gordon Gladstone from J Street spoke with a group of about 80 people at a meeting sponsored by It’s Our Co-op. Gordon discussed J Street’s strategy to “create space” for United States’ political leadership so that they can strongly support negotiations for a two-state resolution of Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Gordon’s introduction was brief and he responded for over an hour to questions from the audience. A diverse range of questions were asked, including views in support of the co-op’s boycott and a one-state solution to the conflict. The atmosphere was civil and respectful. Gordon presented J Street’s belief that boycotts harden more conservative elements in Israel and that both Israelis and Palestinians desire separate homelands in which they have self-determination.
Not surprisingly, they would like the Board to "re-vote" on the boycott proposal. If I understand the Board's decision making process correctly, I think this would reverse the present situation, in which you'd need the consensus of all ten Board members to change the current policy. Instead, you'd need every member of the Board to agree to a boycott again, so having elected just one new Board member who was opposed to the boycott (or changing one current member's position) would be enough to do away with it.
Co-op Member Forum Regarding Board Decision to Boycott Products from Israel
In this photo, Jeff reads a board that was filled up with comments after the Food Co-op Boycott Forum last night. view larger
The house was packed when the forum started. As people filtered in members of nations of First Peoples were drumming, and the event was formally initiated with a First Peoples drumming and prayer ceremony. The prayer was for health, reconciliation, communication and dialogue, and peace, and was given by Robert Satiacum.
People gradually filtered out of the event as the night went on. Some people walked out of the hall right after speaking, without waiting to listen to the remaining speakers. I don't know how many people spoke, but it might have been close to one hundred. Toward the end, the amount of time allotted to the individual speakers was reduced—from one and a half minutes to one minute—in order to help make sure that the maximum number of people who wanted to speak were able to.
Rolf Boone has a descriptive article about the event, here.
Coop Boycott - Round 2
I stopped by the Eastside Coop on my way home to buy a couple of things, and there were two stations at the door. Somebody I've known for years was helping to man a table collecting signatures for a petition asking the Board to rescind the boycott, have a discussion of the issue, and have a vote by the full membership on it. On the other side of the entrance, someone from the Board was sitting in case anybody wanted to talk to someone on the Board about the issue; she said she was doing it because didn't think that the staff should have to handle a lot of feedback about a decision that the Board was responsible for. (The Coop's formal boycott policy says that ordinarily the staff makes a consensus decision about whether to participate in national boycotts, but the decision goes to the Board in cases like this one, where the staff can't reach full consensus.)
[Correction - This was actually handled this way because of Item 16 in the list of the Board's duties in the Coop's Bylaws - "16. resolve organizational conflicts after all other avenues of resolution have been exhausted." (I was misled by misinterpreting the relation between a sentence and the preceding sentence in the original press release...)]
I didn't know whether or not I wanted to sign the petition, even after thinking it over while I was shopping and talking to the guy I know for a while. I'm still thinking about it... (I don't think it's very honorable, but my strongest feeling about it right now seems to be, "Lord, if I sign this, then I'll feel as if I have to go to a lot more meetings to participate in sorting this out, and I really don't want to...") (There's some more information from the Board on the Coop's website, including a pretty detailed statement about the decision.)
As you may already know, the ballots for the next Olympia Food Coop Board election are now available in the new newsletter. Fifteen candidates are running for five positions; ballots are due by closing time November 15th. (The Board has ten members, including one chosen by the staff.) Two current Board members are running for another term (Eric Mapes and Suzanne Shafer).
From one point of view, the answer to the repeated question "Why don't boycott opponents put the issue to the membership?" seems simple. It takes 60% of the votes to pass a member initiated ballot. In contrast, it probably takes considerably less than 50% of the votes to elect someone to the Board, if there are fifteen candidates running for five positions. As I said at the forum, I don't think that having the Board election be a proxy for a member election about the boycott is a very good way to choose a Board. ( I am somewhat comforted, though, by the fact that most of the candidates look pretty good to me on paper.)
(Since my recent experiences in electoral politics seem to have brought out a somewhat low and cunning streak in me, it didn't take me long once I started thinking about this to start worrying about people on each side of the boycott issue organizing to try to make sure that all their supporters voted in a block for the same five candidates...) In fact, this situation unfortunately seems like an arms race, structurally - the possibility that one side of the controversy might do this pretty much guarantees that both sides will feel they have to do it. And in fact, as Phan's recent post says, the Olympia Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group has just publically endorsed a slate of five candidates. The comments introducing these endorsements make it clear that Olympia BDS thinks opponents of the boycott are supporting a set of candidates who share their views, too. (I guess I think that announcing one's endorsements is an honorable thing to do; it at least makes the unavoidable dynamics of the situation as I understand it a step more open and transparent.) Their post stresses that they aren't just endorsing them because they support the boycott, and they list the criteria they used in making these choices. (Supporting the boycott isn't one of them, but I certainly assume that they do all more or less support the current boycott as well.)
From another point of view, it seems as if trying to elect new Board members who share your view isn't a very effective way to change a Coop policy. Since the Board makes decisions by consenus, it isn't enough to elect a new majority to the Board; every single member of the Board has to agree about the proposed change (or at least be willing to stand aside). This means it might be quite difficult to change an established policy, even through a couple of Board elections; trying to pass a member-initiated ballot might actually be easier. (It also means that there are also some structural incentives, in addition to what one hopes are their good intentions, for members of the Board to try to craft a solution that everybody's willing to live with.)
At a deeper level, as far as I can see, it is not actually going to be possible to resolve this issue at the level of the Board by winning - not by winning an election or anything else. Perhaps it will be possible for the Board to work out a solution that's acceptable to most, if not all, of the people on both sides who care enough about this issue to actually struggle over it. I do think that would resolve the issue, and I hope the engaged parties can figure out how to do that.
But if we did end up somehow with a Board that agreed to change the policies in ways that suited the people who are unhappy with the current ones, but weren't acceptable to the supporters of the boycott, I don't think that would settle the issue. There would just be a new group of people deeply unhappy about the processs and the outcome at the Board level, and it seems very likely that they'd initiate a vote by the members at that point. (Conversely, at this point it seems reasonably likely that opponents of the boycott will take the issue to the membership if the Board doesn't end up with a solution that's acceptable to them.) I don't think that anything any Board does that is not acceptable to both engaged parties is going to be accepted as a legitimate decision that's the result of a legitimate process. If people can't come to an agreement, and we have to decide, I think the only process that people will generally be willing to accept as settling the issue will be a vote by the membership as a whole.
Even then, it's not too easy to see how to phrase a ballot measure that will do this effectively. It's easy to be dissatisfied with the wording of any particular ballot measure, and to think that if it had only included something else you wanted people would have voted for that too, or to think that if it had been phrased in some more satisfactory, clearer, less deceptive way people never would have voted for it.
I still think that having a separate advisory ballot with a set of "Yes/No" questions about the issues would be a much cleaner way to try to decide what the membership wants to do. The next Board could take this step either as a help to working out some agreement that satisfied the engaged parties, or as a way of getting an actual decision by the membership about what "the Olympia Food Coop" collectively wants to do and putting that into effect. (I assume such a sequence of questions would start with something like "Should the Coop engage in any boycotts at all?" and progress through various stages like "Should the Coop's boycotts be limited to food issues?" and "Should the Coop boycott Israel in some way at this point?" and "Should the Coop modify the language of its current boycott to drop supporting the right of return?" all the way to "Should the Coop leave the current boycott in place unmodified?"
Do you support the Olympia Food Coop Board of Directors decision to initiate a boycott of Israeli goods?
FAQ on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)
Since opponents of the Co-op's boycott of Israeli products delivered a petition at the meeting last night in furtherance of their goal of repealing the boycott, there will be- and indeed should be- much, much more discussion of the issues at stake. The following article may prove helpful in that regard.
FAQ on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) IMEU, AUG 12, 2010
What is BDS? BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. On July 9, 2005, one year after the historic Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which found Israel's Wall built on occupied Palestinian territory to be illegal, an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society called upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel, similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.
What are the goals of BDS?According to the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society: Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions are nonviolent punitive measures to be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
Who is calling for BDS? A 2005 call for BDS was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian parties, organizations, trade unions and movements representing the three major constituents of the Palestinian people, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Palestinians living in the Diaspora. On July 13, 2005 the UN International Civil Society Conference adopted the Palestinian Call for BDS. Today, hundreds of organizations and people of conscience around the world are actively supporting the Palestinian BDS call by engaging in a variety of BDS actions and initiatives.
US-based Motorola was providing radio equipment to the apartheid government in Pretoria, where the police and army were using it. A US campaign calling for boycott of and divestment from Motorola products and subsidiaries resulted in Motorola'ssale of its South Africa subsidiary to Allied Technologies Ltd in 1985.
In October of 1981, the board of the Associated Actors and Artists of America - an umbrella organization of major actors’ unions with a total membership of over 240,000 actors - took a unanimous decision that its members should not perform in South Africa.
July 2010: U.S.-based Olympia Food Co-op (two grocery stores) voted to stop selling all Israeli goods with the exception of a single brand called “Peace Oil.”
June 2010: Responding to appeals from Palestinian civil society after Israel’s attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza, dockworkers in Oakland - California, Sweden, and Norway all refused to dock and unload Israeli ships, imposing a blockade so-to-speak on Israeli goods. Similar historic action was taken by South African dockworkers in February of 2009.
July 2009 – 2010: As part of a CODEPINK campaign against Israeli settlement-based and settlement-owned Ahava Dead Sea Cosmetics, Kristen Davis wassuspended from her post as Oxfam spokesperson after it was revealed that she also represented AHAVA Beauty Products. Davis later ended her contract with Ahava. CODEPINK also confirmed with Costco that it would no longer carry Ahava products after a letter-writing and calling campaign by activists across the U.S. Finally, the Dutch government is currently investigating Ahava and its practices.
2006 - 2010: The “Derail Veolia” campaign against French corporation Veolia, for its involvement in the construction of a light rail train from Jerusalem into Israeli settlements or colonies on Palestinian land, led to a loss of over €7 billion for the company across several countries. Israeli news daily Ha’aretz reported that after the losses Veolia had decided to withdraw from the project.
November 2007 - 2010: A global campaign against Israeli billionaire, diamond mogul, and settlement-builder Lev Leviev initiated by US-based Adalah-NY has led to hisrenunciation by UNICEF, denunciation by Oxfam, the removal of a promotional section of his website featuring actors like Salma Hayek, Drew Barrymore, and Halle Berry at some of their requests, a UK government decision not to rent embassy space from his company,
Cultural and Academic BoycottSuccess
July 2010: According to festival organizers, Hollywood actors Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffmancancelled plans to attend the Jerusalem film festival following Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine dead.
June 2010: California-based folk artist Devendra Banhartcanceled two shows he had been set to play in Tel Aviv just hours before his scheduled arrival in Israel.
June 2010: Rock band The Pixiescancelled their first ever concert date in Israel just after the Gaza flotilla incident, blaming "events beyond our control.”
May 2010: Elvis Costello pulled out of two concerts in Israel, saying that his appearance there could have been “interpreted as a political act.”
May 2010: The University and College Union in Britain, with well over 100,000 members, voted to sever all relations with the Histadrut union in Israel and commence looking into the boycott of Ariel College.
April 2010: Gil Scott-Heronannounces that he will not play an upcoming show in Israel.
March 2010 - Award-winning novelist, historian, and playwright,Sarah Schulman,chose not to accept the invitation to participate in a conference at Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Universities.
February 2010: According to Israeli producers, guitarist Santana canceled his concert in Israel due to pressure not to play there. This was after letters directed at him, including one from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.
2008 - 2009 included: The Government of Spain’s exclusion of an Israeli university in the illegal settlement of Ariel from a prestigious international university competition for sustainable architecture in the world, organized by both the Spanish Government and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid; rapper Snoop Dogg’s cancellation of a concert in Israel; The Yes Menwithdrawing their film from the Jerusalem Film Festival; Roger Watersof Pink Floyd refusing to play in Israel again until it removes the wall it built largely on Palestinian land; and film director, screen writer, and criticJean-Luc Godard canceling plans to attend a Tel Aviv film festival.
July 2010, Jewish Voice for Peace activists presented over 15,000 petitions and postcard signatures to one of the world’s largest retirement funds, TIAA-CREF,asking them to divest from companies documented as profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
June 2010: Students at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, voted to divest the college foundation’s funds from companies profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation.
September 2009: The Norwegian Pension Fund announced its divestment from one of the most important Israeli defense contractors, and constructor of Israel’s wall, Elbit Systems.
August 2009: British bank Blackrock divested from the West Bank settlement projects of Lev Leviev and his company, Africa Israel Investments Limited. This was especially significant since Blackrock was the second largest shareholder of Africa Israel.
February 2009: Hampshire College, a pioneer in the 1970s by becoming the first U.S. university to divest from apartheid South Africa, decided to divest from some 200 companies that "violated the college's standards for social responsibility," including six companies with close connections to Israel's occupation.
February 2010 - The European Union court in Brussels ruled that products from Israeli settlements on the Occupied Palestinian Territories are not Israeli and are therefore not eligible for the trade benefits between Israel and the European Union.
July 2009 - Britain blocked the sale of spare parts for Israel’s fleet of missile gunships because they were used in the 2009 bombing of Gaza, revoking five of Israel’s arms licenses with the UK.
January 2009 - The European Parliament managed to halt negotiations on strengthening the trade relationship between the EU and Israel in the framework of the Association Agreement and there are new, emboldened efforts to try and get the Association Agreement suspended altogether.
From the Olympia BDS Why Boycott, Why Divest Teach-in
The following video is from the Olympia BDS presentation, Wednesday last week, the 4th of August. In the video, David Langstaff, one of the organizers of Olympia BDS, recounts a personal experience and explains why he is organizing for BDS. Thank you David, and to the rest of Oly BDS, for all of your great work.
I felt really grateful to have been able to sit in on the discussion about the boycott. As everything i know about the situation over there is hear say and word of mouth. What i know is very limited, and the only way I'll have the opportunity to know more is to listen to wonderful people like that.
I feel grateful that we can non-violently say we beleive things need to change rather than forcing our ideas upon people.
i feel sad that this could be, or is already being used as a platform for people to be rude to one another, calling people anti-semites or calling people names around judism. Bullying is exactly what the boycott aims to abolish. It makes me sad to hear stories about people being treated badly in this situation when there are so many great opportunities for dialogue.
I identify with many religions, i love all of them as much as I worry about them. In my religion as a collective lover of thought I believe if you choose to have enemies it`s because you`ve still not chosen to love yourself. Everyone is a lover of some kind.
The scariest part about the boycott to me is the divisions that people choose to make when passion and fear override our abilities to meet at common ground. I love to see people together, this the endagered reality of information technology. So I look forward to more discussions, and maybe potlucks? To invite people who want to investigate what is going on, and what we can really do to help without hurting while making it clear that perpetuating abusive cycles is not ok.
"The world is beautiful and you are a part of it, you beautiful world you!"
Hubbub on birthday street: Six statements related to the boycott controversy and the Co-op Member Forum of 8/12/10
So far almost every statement I've heard about the boycott has included something that I really don't like.1 Hopefully this piece of writing will do something more than make the feeling mutual. I have omitted many arguments against the boycott's opposition because the boycott itself is not my focus here.2
I don't want anyone to be satisfied with defeating their opposition in this discussion - it would serve to confirm the worst suspicions of their worst opponents, and thus make for only a technical victory in the form of a continued boycott or an end to the boycott.
Here are some of my thoughts:
The controversy over the boycott is not divisive.
Though the opposite was claimed at the member forum on 8/12, anyone who was there ought to have seen that the community was not divided. I've never seen such close community among so many people in Olympia, with such differences between them. The disagreements that constitute the present controversy have served as reasons for people to talk to each other. People who might never have talked to each other if there were no controversy.
Those who decide to reject whole swaths of their community as a response to the current controversy, and then claim that the boycott, or its opposition, made them do it - these people are trying to pass themselves off as beings who are not autonomous (as if autonomy were not required for making accusations). Worse than that game, they are promoting their own isolation and hostility, increasing the likelihood that their so-called enemies will respond in kind. This holds regardless of anyone's position on the boycott.
I don't say this to paint anyone as a villain, but to emphasize that one can come up with alternative ways of listening this controversy.3
Conflicts bring people together and require the best of their humanity - they require us to maintain the legitimacy of others in the face of affronts to our own senses of the world. Thus conflict can help us to be flexible, and to know when not to be flexible. Whereas staying separated and maintaining stances in isolation creates conditions for hostility as a first recourse.
I want a society that values conflict, and reserves a special place for people to have conflicts so that they are assured their place and prevented from dominating society. This in contrast to allowing people to stagnate in their opinions and objectify each other as ideological game pieces. Such a society would afford its people frequent exercise in humility and well-articulated argument. I would like to see people choosing collaboration (in which agreement and conflict generate a need for ideas so that everyone changes and everyone wins), rather than competition (in which someone wins, someone loses, and no one changes) and compromise (in which everyone changes and everyone loses).
Arguments against the process by which the boycott was called are not arguments against the ethics of the boycott itself. Therefore it is possible to accept criticisms of process and maintain the boycott through a process consistent with those criticisms. If there are conflicts among the criticisms themselves, then people won't get to rely on their existing formulations - they'll have to come up with something new or give up and hate each other.
will not distinguish boycott from attack,
or will not distinguish anger about a boycott from attack,
or will not distinguish boycott opponents from Jews,
or will not distinguish Israel from Jews,
or will not distinguish Israel from the Israeli government,
or will not distinguish Palestine from anti-Israeli paramilitary groups residing in Palestine,
or will not distinguish boycott as a tactic chosen in a context rather than as something to be applied in every instance of oppression,
or will not distinguish (a) a call for a boycott against the Israeli government's organized state policy of imposing confinement and violence, from (b) a claim that Israel itself is morally inferior to the paramilitary organizations in Palestine who attack Israel,
or prioritizes the suffering of one over the suffering of another,
or answers an accusation with an accusation,
or responds to a self-description as if it were an accusation,
- then I suspect that they are in trauma. I know that this may sound condescending to some. Yet I maintain that the items on the list above are all mistakes, and I want to account for them in a way that acknowledges the self-descriptions people have made of themselves as hurt and/or angry. Rather than insulting people for failing to add things up the way I do, I want my sense of the situation to be in collaboration with what I have been told, not in contradiction.
I know that this list will seem to some as if it paints boycott opponents as irrational. A careful reading of the list will show that I am not saying that, and that nothing on the list necessarily applies to all boycott opponents, and does apply to some boycott supporters. (Some items apply to some supporters and some opponents, simultaneously). I am sure that some people will find me biased. But for human beings, there is no alternative to bias.4
I want to emphasize something for my fellow boycott supporters: Refuting the logic of arguments against the boycott seems easy to you and I, but if you reject discussion of the content of the arguments against the boycott, you are making a hostile move against your neighbors, no matter your intentions.
Criticizing the way that public discussion of anti-Jewish oppression has emerged (as opposition to the Co-op's boycott) is as petty as arguing to rescind the boycott by citing the Co-op board's process in deciding on the boycott. Both the boycott and its opposition are demands to end racism, and that ought to be our focus.
Someone has said to me that focusing on racism directed against one group, rather than dealing with all racism, is itself racist. I can follow this. At the same time, I have been told for some years now that there are forms of racism that address Jews uniquely, and that they are invisible to most people in Olympia. I see the current controversy as perhaps the public emergence of a discussion that has been private and communal for too long. As a new and overdue public discussion, I think that opposition to oppression of Jews deserves temporary special attention. This will help us to be better oriented to the world we live in.
As a boycott supporter, the only alternative I would have to this position, as far as I can tell, is to say something to the effect of, "The boycott is good, so you're wrong, so shut up." Though most boycott supporters wouldn't say this outright, they would still be understood that way if there were no effort to reach out to people locally as a way of closing this controversy, rather than calling it settled once a final decision on the boycott is made.
If the operations of a boycott consist of not ordering things from suppliers, then the boycott requires very little effort. In that sense, the argument that the Co-op should put energy into local issues instead falls short. However, it is only the "instead" I object to:
Now that this controversy is on,
and since the controversy suggests the possibility that many Jews in Olympia feel the sting of racism in ways, and at times, that are invisible to most of the rest of us,
and since this controversy was triggered5 by something the Co-op board did,
and since the board was aware of the likelihood of controversy,
I would like to see the Co-op committing to doing something in support of anti-racist action, specifically linked to this controversy.
What constitutes "anti-racist action" is a question that will provide for many experiments.
I want articulate desiring. Not evidence in support of current stances in the current society.
1The person who came closest to saying something I'd say (I didn't know about the situations he spoke of, but what he said was structurally similar to what I'm saying here) was someone whose birthday was, like mine, on the day of the Member Forum. Go on and gloat, astrological superstitioners.
2I do agree with most of what's written in Phan Nguyen's article in Works in Progress - not all of it.
3Standard grammar can prove insufficient.
4I want to acknowledge something: Since many boycott opponents tie their opposition to a Jewish identity, it may be that someone who reads this will think I am saying that Jews are irrational or "too sensitive." Although this would be a misunderstanding, racism would still be present, partly as a consequence of something I have indeed done intentionally. I am making my points anyway so that fear doesn't silence me, yet I am making this additional statement so that my speaking doesn't pave over the systemic pervasiveness of racism as a property that emerges in this society whether we want it to or not.
It's also worth saying that such a misunderstanding would ignore Jews who do support the boycott. In the same spirit I want to mention that, at the member forum, a different racism was made public when one speaker said that, despite their having witnessed and been victim to armed violence in the Israel-Palestine armed conflict, they were not considered qualified to speak about Israel and Palestine because of their Vietnamese descent.
5Triggered, not caused. The Co-op's board didn't choose for people how they would respond, but their actions did provide the occasion to which people had to respond.
Humanity in Solidarity between Israelis and Palestinians
I like the humanity that this story portrays. And the story does a good job of describing the real experience of what many people refer to as the Apartheid conditions that now exist in the State of Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories. The fact that these concitions exist, as told in this story, provides good reason to support boycott of the State of Israel, in my opinion.
A group of Israeli women smuggled 12 Palestinian woman and four children, among them a year-old baby, into Tel Aviv for a day of fun about two weeks ago. The women, among them writers Ilana Hammerman and Klil Zisapel, picked up the women from their villages, following two earlier meetings with them.
Avoiding the security forces at West Bank checkpoints, they took the women out to eat in a restaurant in Jaffa, swimming in the Mediterranean, and took them home via Jerusalem where they could see the Old City walls from afar.
Hammerman undertook a similar trip in which she brought three teenage Palestinian girls to Tel Aviv for the day, which she described in an article in Haaretz Magazine in May. Following publication of the article, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel demanded that the attorney general investigate Hammerman for smuggling illegal residents into Israel.
After the complaint was filed, peace activists with whom Hammerman is acquainted approached her with the idea of doing another trip, but more extensive this time.
Hammerman and her friends then began to seek women in West Bank villages who would be willing to take a chance on getting caught to take part in such a trip, Hammerman said yesterday and eventually, the 28 Israeli and Palestinian women and children made their way into Israel.
"We all came, we met the women, we took them in our own cars. We pulled a fast one on the army," Hammerman said.
Most of the Palestinians had never seen the sea or visited certain holy places. None of them had permits to enter Israel.
"We passed the checkpoints in our cars, knowingly breaking the laws of entry into Israel," the Israeli women wrote in an ad published in the Hebrew weekend edition of Haaretz.
"We don't recognize the legality of the entry law into Israel, which allows every Israeli and every Jew to move freely throughout most of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and denies this right to the Palestinians, to whom this land also belongs."
The ad also said the Israeli women had been greatly privileged "to experience in our country that lives by its sword one of the most beautiful and exciting days in our lives; to get to know brave Palestinian women who love life and the joy of life, and to spend time with them and to be free with them if only for one day."
Hammerman said the Israeli women wanted to spark debate in Israeli society. "None of us are anarchists, yet we broke the law. That is a symbolic act," she said.
Hammerman said the possible two-year prison term for smuggling people into Israel did not deter her.
Zisapel said yesterday that the women had wanted to "show the absurdity of this situation, of this law and what it does. The wall and the checkpoints do not keep illegal aliens, and certainly not terrorists, out of Israel."
Zisapel said some of the women wanted to see the sea, some the shops or the high-rises. One said she just wanted to breath.
Important Questions about US Policy
Some, what I think are, important questions to ask:
1) Is US international policy hegemonic (i.e. driven to dominate)? If you think not, then read no further. If you think so, then go to question two.
2) Now, if you understand US policy as hegemonic, do you think it is possible that the US exploits (i.e. takes advantage of) Israel in order to pursue a policy of "global dominance?" If no, then again, please read no further. If yes, please proceed to question three.
3) Now, if you think US policy may be exploitative of Israel, and given that Israel is a Jewish nation, do you think it is possible that US policy is anti-Semitic?
That's an idea I was trying to develop in this post re: Avi Shlaim aricle, which discusses in minor detail, the process which led to the creation of Israel, where there was controversy between Britain and the US over the selection of leadership here.
Informative Article about the situation in Israel/Palestinian Territories
Someone forwarded this very informative article. I think it gets to some of why the boycott has been such a divisive issue. I am going to post a link and an excerpt. - Berd
In 2003, several prominent Jewish philanthropists hired Republican pollster Frank Luntz to explain why American Jewish college students were not more vigorously rebutting campus criticism of Israel. In response, he unwittingly produced the most damning indictment of the organized American Jewish community that I have ever seen.
The philanthropists wanted to know what Jewish students thought about Israel. Luntz found that they mostly didn’t. “Six times we have brought Jewish youth together as a group to talk about their Jewishness and connection to Israel,” he reported. “Six times the topic of Israel did not come up until it was prompted. Six times these Jewish youth used the word ‘they‘ rather than ‘us‘ to describe the situation.”
That Luntz encountered indifference was not surprising. In recent years, several studies have revealed, in the words of Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis, that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing “a near-total absence of positive feelings.” In 2008, the student senate at Brandeis, the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored university in America, rejected a resolution commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Jewish state.
Luntz’s task was to figure out what had gone wrong. When he probed the students’ views of Israel, he hit up against some firm beliefs. First, “they reserve the right to question the Israeli position.” These young Jews, Luntz explained, “resist anything they see as ‘group think.’” They want an “open and frank” discussion of Israel and its flaws. Second, “young Jews desperately want peace.” When Luntz showed them a series of ads, one of the most popular was entitled “Proof that Israel Wants Peace,” and listed offers by various Israeli governments to withdraw from conquered land. Third, “some empathize with the plight of the Palestinians.” When Luntz displayed ads depicting Palestinians as violent and hateful, several focus group participants criticized them as stereotypical and unfair, citing their own Muslim friends.
Most of the students, in other words, were liberals, broadly defined. They had imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights. And in their innocence, they did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was a Zionism that recognized Palestinians as deserving of dignity and capable of peace, and they were quite willing to condemn an Israeli government that did not share those beliefs. Luntz did not grasp the irony. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was the kind that the American Jewish establishment has been working against for most of their lives.
Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.
Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.
Since the 1990s, journalists and scholars have been describing a bifurcation in Israeli society. In the words of Hebrew University political scientist Yaron Ezrahi, “After decades of what came to be called a national consensus, the Zionist narrative of liberation [has] dissolved into openly contesting versions.” One version, “founded on a long memory of persecution, genocide, and a bitter struggle for survival, is pessimistic, distrustful of non-Jews, and believing only in Jewish power and solidarity.” Another, “nourished by secularized versions of messianism as well as the Enlightenment idea of progress,” articulates “a deep sense of the limits of military force, and a commitment to liberal-democratic values.” Every country manifests some kind of ideological divide. But in contemporary Israel, the gulf is among the widest on earth.
Israel and the USA, Policies of Dominance and Conquest
The foreign policy of USA is intimately connected with Israel. Following World War Two, the keepers of political and economic power in the USA designed to further efforts toward dominance of global economics and politics.
There is a lot of support for divestment, and in that environment I think it is critical for people to keep in mind the bigger picture, which is of a long and calculated strategy of geo-political dominance led by keepers of political power.
For example, dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were one part of the effort to dominate the globe (through a beating to the punch, and alienation, of the USSR as a potential partner in resolving conflict in the Pacific Rim. There are numerous credible scholarly articles that suggest the bombs were unnecessary toward ending the war, and did not save lives overall, but were instead intended to exert dominance through violence. (Also interesting to note is that discussions relating to development of the bomb as a weapon, leading up to the use of the bomb, were held at the Bohemian Grove.))
And I believe that the creation of the state of Israel, in a mold of explicit militarism, was another part of design for global dominance.
I think that the USA exploits Israel, and preys upon Jewish sentiments of nationalism—and Jewish people's need to feel safe and secure in the aftermath of the Holocaust—in order to exert economic and political control.
That's why I am linking to the following very important article by Avi Schlaim, which appeared in The Guardian in January 2009.
This article is important because the author discusses differences between Britain and the USA over the selection of leaders whom were considered by some to be "unscrupulous" and militaristic.
Oxford professor of international relations Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army and has never questioned the state's legitimacy. But its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions
It's Our Coop
Checking out the photos of Tibor Breuer outside the Coop in the Flickr display in OlyBlog's footer, I found that the local group opposing the boycott, Its Our Coop, has a new website. They're organizing a couple of public events that I'll post separately so they appear in the calendar; you can sign up on the contact page there to get updates if you're interested.
((I do think their name would be more accurate if it were "It's Our Coop Too" or "It's All the Members' Coop"...)
January 2009 Seattle Demonstration Against the Siege of Gaza
I think that recent actions by the government of Israel have increased the urgency of the need to respond to the Palestinian people's need for human rights and dignity.
Here's a slideshow of photos from a January 2009 demonstration in Seattle.
The offensive by the state of Israel against Gaza, which started late December of 2008, continued for 10 more days after this demonstration, until the 13th of January, a week prior to the handover of the White House from the Bush Administration to the Obama Administration.
Here's more description from the event:
Protestors who oppose Israel's treatment of Palestinians and/or consider Israel's attacks against the Palestinian Terrority of Gaza to be Aggression, advocates of a Free Gaza, gathered at Westlake Plaza in downtown Seattle for an afternoon of rallying and marching. I estimate (roughly) that about 800 to 1,000 people participated. I have heard estimates ranging up toward 2,000 people.
p.s. I also remember that there was a lot of talk about oil and gas deposits off the coast of Gaza around the time of the December 2008/January 2009 Israeli offensive.
Jewish Voice for Peace Statement Regarding Olympia Food Co-op Boycott
Jewish Voice for Peace Statement Regarding the Olympia Food Co-Op Boycott of Israeli Goods
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) condemns the attacks against the recent decision by the Olympia Food Co-Op to boycott Israeli goods. We reject the assertion that Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) are inherently anti-Semitic, and we encourage discussion both within our own community and outside of it of the growing BDS movement.
We defend the right of the Olympia Food Co-Op to use the full range of BDS tactics without being persecuted or demonized. We consider BDS a nonviolent response to the daily violence embodied in the occupation. Those that are protesting the Olympia Food Co-op for its decision to adopt BDS, should direct their energies to ending the injustices that stand as the root cause of BDS. We look forward to the day when the occupation will end and BDS will no longer be necessary.
The current co-op decision follows a long history of economic pressure campaigns used to press for and end of human rights violations, including the Indian boycott of British goods to protest British colonial rule, the Montgomery bus boycott to protest racial segregation, the grape boycott to protest farm workers' working conditions and low wages, and the South African boycott to protest the Apartheid regime.
The co-op itself has adopted a series of measure in the past, boycotting products from China (human rights abuses), Norway (whaling abuses), Colorado (anti-gay legislation), and more.
This boycott does not single out Israel. It singles out the injustices of the occupation. This boycott does not target Jews and is not anti-Semitic.
JVP's campaign work is focused on advocating for divestment from and boycotts of companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. This includes companies operating in or from occupied Palestinian territory, exploiting Palestinian labor and scarce environmental resources, providing materials or labor for settlements, or producing military or other equipment or materials used to violate human rights or to profit from the Occupation.
Jews Vs Muslims
I am really having a hard time feeling invested in this Israel/Palestine fight. A blogger mentioned something about millions dying and comparing it to the holocaust and I'm just not seeing that. Bear with me here, I'm not much of a writer, but here is my question:
How many "Muslim" countries are out there? Nations that are fundamentally Islam? How many "Jewish" countries are out there? Star of David, etc, you know who they are.
I'm really interested in numbers here. I remember reading in history class about how many Jews from middle-eastern countries were transported to Israel in order to escape death and hardship.
So, you have Jews, and Muslims fighting over a country that is the size of....well here's a quote
Israel is one of the tiniest nations on the face of the earth... only about 8,000 sq. miles, 2½ times the size of Rhode Island and only slightly larger than the Canary Islands!
Here is my questions folks. Why are Palestinians hanging around? How many other countries can they flee to? Would any other Islamic nations take them in? Are the Israeli's forcing them to stay within the confines of Israel? That would seem really unlikely. Why not let the Jews have their own little country?
On Linda Sternhill Davis’s Facebook page, one of her “likes” is “Boycott Olympia Food Co-op.” She is also in a Facebook group called “We Don’t Need Olympia Food Coop – Boycott and Alternatives.”
Kent Davis has three “likes” on his Facebook page, one of which is “Boycott Olympia Food Co-op.”
In Andrea Lipper’s statement for candidacy, Lipper states that her vision is for the Co-op to possess “the technology to accommodate credit cards.” Co-op members have had the option of paying by credit card for the past eight months.
In Susan Schaeffer’s (not to be confused with incumbent candidate Suzanne Shafer) candidacy statement, Schaeffer claims that as “a fairly new Co-op member,” she brings “no preconceived notions, and I bring no rigid allegiances.” Yet in an Aug. 13 letter to The News Tribune, Schaeffer threatened to resign her Co-op membership if the Co-op “board does not change its position” on the boycott.
Susan Trinin expressed her opposition to the boycott in the September 2010 Works in Progress (see www.olywip.org). The article dismisses the Co-op board, which she is now running for, as “imperialist” and an “oligarchy” and states that instead of honoring the boycott, the Co-op community should “address the secret/underground national security government”!
My full statement on Aug 12 in front of the Olympia Food Co-op Board
Respected Board Members of the Olympia Food Co-op,
Ramadan Kareem! Happy Ramadan! Congratulations and jubilations are in order for the fabulous OFC board members and staff! This is a beacon of hope: the OFC’s boycott of Israeli goods has been featured on Al-Jazeera news channel and on 60 minutes of Israeli national TV. The Israeli Parliament “Knesset” discussed the OFC support of the boycott over 4 days of breakfast meetings. My co-op has made history and I am proud of it!
The community-wide support for this boycott of Israeli goods is demonstrated fiscally by double-digit increases in sales at both stores. It has created 16,000 meaningful discussions in the co-op community membership. Such interactions have led to a greater understanding of issues, shifting of positions, mass education and in some cases, an agreement to disagree without being disagreeable. These discussions have given the community the ability to sleep better at night because there is no longer the cognitive dissonance or feeling of hypocrisy to not support a legitimate cause of the poor Palestinians.
My name is Muhammad Ayub and I am part of the Jewish-Muslim Listening Group and the Moses & Muhammad (peace be upon them both) Eco-kosher Eco-halal farm and buying club. I am telling you this to establish my credentials and where I am coming from. I am neither anti-Semitic nor an unreasonable man. What has torn me apart is that half of the folks in the opposition to this boycott are my close friends and are on the speed-dial on my cell phone. They have stood by us on the same platform against human-rights violations in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Argentina and supported our stand against “Obsession, the movie” and joined me in radio broadcast on KIRO-Seattle’s “The Dave Ross Show”. We have shared the Seder, fasted for "Rosh Hashannah" and eaten together at Sunset during Ramadan.
However, I need to balance and walk a tight-rope between speaking the truth and caring for my close Jewish friends, who are the children of the Holocaust that happened in Germany. This boycott is not negative, but positive. It is not pessimistic, but optimistic. IT IS a beacon of hope. It is about being the vicarious voice for the Palestinian orphans and widows because they were NOT responsible for the holocaust (shoah). It is about the apartheid that they face as Arab citizens of Israel. They have no equal pay and wages, no safety from land-seizures, no security from Fundamentalist Israeli settlers who uproot their mature olive trees to sell at auctions, no permission to love or marry across ethnic lines, decreased opportunities for school, work, recreation, community, spiritual practices or burying their dead. They can’t travel on “Jewish Israeli-only” roads. Because our government has failed to take action, this is a grass-roots, non-violent, hyper-local “people’s action”.
This beacon of hope is about being an ally, an advocate for the poor, voiceless Palestinians. As a rule, I side with the under-dogs if they have a point. In this case, they do have a point. Israel is currently an apartheid state and this boycott will help both parties. It is good for Israel in the long run, just as the boycotts were good for South Africa in the long run. We don’t tolerate bullying in schools; why tolerate it in global politics! Bullies need help too! Palestinian Psychologists have told several visiting delegations: “The trauma that our Jewish friends felt in Germany during the Holocaust was quite real and will last a long time. Healing takes a long time. Displacement of the fear and anger onto the Palestinians is not right. Arabs were not responsible for the killings in the Jewish pogroms. We pray for the healing of the hearts. Please help the Jewish people heal from the collective trauma of the holocaust. Unless they heal, they shall displace that fear and anger and keep lashing out on us. Abused children grow up to be abusers.” I hope to work closely with the Jewish-Muslim group and others to help in the healing of hearts- infact, all hearts because we all need it too!
As a Muslim, I have no qualms or fear about criticizing the stupid, ludicrous, absurd policies of idiotic governments in Muslim populated countries. After dinner one evening with friends and family, we chatted and the family made up a list of approximately 80 things that we can condemn in terms of politics in the Muslim populated countries. But my verbalizing disapproval does not reduce my spirituality or being a Muslim; infact, the Holy Quran commands us to do so. All I am asking my Israeli Jewish friends is to criticize a few policies of Israel- how will it reduce their Jewishness? What do the Holy Scriptures in the Talmud, Tenach / Torah and the Midrash say about criticizing people in power? After the townhall meeting, I’d love to hear primarily from my Jewish friends about this! I am a good listener and want to be even better!
Below anger is usually fear and I truly love and want to understand my friends' fears. Sincere Jewish friends told me, “Because of Germany, we are afraid that we will NOT have a safe-place, a citadel or a fortress to go and seek refuge. Hence, we support Israel (inspite of disagreeing with its policies and politics secretly!)” Therefore, what I can understand is that we need to make America a truly safe place for our Jewish brethren; they have to feel so secure here that they don't feel they have to side with Israel (as a Plan B contingency) for worst-case scenario.
I pray that pro-Israeli Jewish people will continue to work and dialogue on social justice and human rights for Palestinians. When they say “Never again”, we hope it is “Never again for all people!” There is no justification for crying after the Palestinian holocaust is over and 6 million Palestinians have been killed. I commend you for taking action while the holocaust is in process by slow en-masse starvation and ethnic cleansing.
Lastly, in closing, I’d like to request you all to arrange a similar forum after Ramadan, which started on Aug 12th and will continue through September 9th or so. 600 members of the Muslim community were unable to participate in this discussion which is near and dear to their hearts. Muslims were unable to participate due to the sanctity of this month of Ramadan for daytime fasting and evening prayers. They would like to participate in a similar town-hall meeting. Thank you for having the courage to take a moral stance in accordance with the by-laws! Please don’t rescind or reverse the boycott. Keep it in place. Your members want that.
My response to Olympia BDS
I believe the subject of Israel/Palestine is important and it should be debated. However, right now problems related to Israel/Palestine are being used as a smoke screen for another problem, one that is closer to home. It won't be possible for our community to effectively address Israel/Palestine until we face what happened in July. The boycott had an unprecedented absence of community education in advance of the decision. There are reasons for this and our community needs an honest reckoning. Not a blaming session, but a chance to acknowledge the situation.
In the 19 years that I've been an OFC member I've learned about the thorny political elements of cotton farming, high fructose corn syrup, organic food standards, the suffering of migrant workers, and other complex political subjects from OFC education efforts related to building consensus and forming OFC policies. All of this helped us unite around various OFC efforts, spread the word and "vote with our dollars" in and out of the co-op. We had nothing like that in July. This was a mistake. It can be easily corrected, forgiven and we can move forward together.
It is community reconciliation and education that IOC is working towards, a foundation of trust on which you and I can stand and address all sorts of things, including Palestinian suffering. I can't imagine a debate format being part of any OFC education process on any subject, let alone being particularly useful for the community at this time on this subject. I believe that when Olympia cooperates we are at our best, we accomplish great things and we serve as a beacon of hope for the world.
New Date and Time for Coop Boycott Forum
From the Coop's blog (where they've also posted one article about boycott issues):
In order to include as many co-op members as possible, the Olympia Food Co-op’s Member Forum on the Israeli products boycott has been moved to Thursday, August 12th, from 6-8:30 at the Olympia Center. This date change allows us to secure a larger room for the Forum.
The Board of Directors of the Olympia Food Co-op recognizes that the decision to boycott Israeli products has put a strain on the organization, impacted staff, volunteers and the membership, and that they did not adequately prepare the staff or community for it. They are concerned by this impact on the community and dedicated to listening to member feedback. In addition to the Member Forum, members can direct comments to email@example.com or call 360-357-1106 x13.
I'd like to highlight some recent boycott conversation comments as helpful suggestions:
... try addressing the stated concerns of the opposition - 1. the decision making process at the Co-op, 2. the criteria for ending the boycott, and 3. the broad targeting of all Israeli businesses. You might find a lot more common ground than you expect. source
Can we stop with the sarcasm and the pidginholing of people who are not enthusiastic, for a variety of reasons, in their support of the current boycott. source
All of us (on all sides and variations of) can decide to listen and communicate without sniping at each other. We can put down our metaphorical weapons and talk as equals.
Olympia BDS Why Boycott, Why Divest
Wednesday 4 August 2010
Olympia BDS presentation at Traditions about their work advocating for the Olympia Food Co-op to boycott products from Israel. It was a full house at Traditions last night. The above photo is from about 9:30, near the end of the night, after when people began to trickle out around 9 or so. I estimate that there were 80 or more people in attendance. Members of the organizing group presented for about an hour and a half or so, and then the floor was opened up for Q & A.
In this photo, Muhammad Ayub asks a question of the Olympia BDS movement organizers.
This photograph doesn't really capture the spirit of the vigil, because it was a very festive affair today. Dancing and singing in the street to the music of the Artesian Rumble Arkestra—the music was a lot of fun!
The Friday evening vigil has been ongoing since November 1998. It happens every week.
It's a great opportunity to express your desire for a peaceful, just, and nonviolent world. Whether you're angry, sad, frustrated, in despair, confused, confident, hopeful, joyous, just plain happy, or any mixture of the above—or other (minus homicidal!)—you are welcome at the vigil. So please don't hesitate to stop by. Signs are provided or please feel welcome to bring your own!
p.s. We who vigil for peace love it when people wave and say hello and give us the peace sign (and sometimes I even like it when people object!), but what we would really like would be for passer by to stop and join us. Consider it. Consider joining us sometime. Line the streets. For peace.
Now my thoughts turn to the situation with the co-op.
Thursday 5 August 2010
view larger Westside Food Co-op, Olympia—There were a couple people tabling to gather signatures for a co-op member initiative to rescind the decision Board of Directors' decision to boycott Israeli product.
I have been thinking about the decision more. I fully support the decision to boycott Israel, because the need for change is urgent. The situation is unacceptable, and the way the state of Israel treats Palestinians is wrong under any system of moral or legal measure.
I am very glad to be a member of the co-op, and I am thankful for the board's courageous decision.
I have heard people's concerns over the process of the decision, that there wasn't adequate space for people to register their concerns or objections.
And while I support the boycott, whole-heartedly, I also acknowledge that people need to be heard, and their concerns need to be aired and responded to in a respectful and inclusive manner.
With that in mind, there are two important upcoming events relating to the boycott that everyone in the community is welcome to attend.
One is this Sunday, the 8th, 7pm at First Christian Church, where Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, who has been working for peace in Israel/Palestine for many years, will speak about the potential for BDS to deliver the social change that is so necessary. more info
The other is a co-op member forum (open to members of the co-op) on Thursday the 12th of August. I have some thoughts and concerns about this forum.
I am concerned, after previous experiences, in Olympia, surrounding the issue of conflict in Israel/Palestine, that people will bring a lot of emotion to this event, and that may interfere with peoples needs to be heard and treated with respect.
In the wake of certain community disagreements, for example the public hearing that happened a few years ago at City Hall regarding a proposal to establish a Sister City relationship between Olympia and Rafah, Gaza, Palestine, I am concerned about a forum that would essentially allow people to stand up in front of everyone else and say things that essentially aren't constructive toward a mutually beneficial resolution of conflict (neither locally, nor in Israel/Palestine.)
Therefore, rather than a traditional public hearing, I think I favor a "community conversation" approach to this disagreement.
That being the case, I am also additionally concerned, because I have also had somewhat negative experiences with community conversations in the past. I participated in one regarding the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance efforts to prohibit the tools of immoral and illegal occupation to pass through our community. And while this series of community conversations were beneficial in some ways, I had some serious problems with the way they took place. My biggest complaint is that the conversations were not open. They were closed, they were not inclusive.
So if the co-op could organize conversations that were open, I think that would be good. I think the co-op working model would really lend itself to a functional and effective, and open community conversation.
My idea right now for the forum on the 12th, and I have not discussed this yet with anyone at the co-op, including the board, would be to have a series of tables that would include a variety of people with varying perspectives, and then after conversations at the tables, to have a space for each group to report back to the whole.
I don't know what the details would look like in specific, but the idea of a public forum where people stand up before the board, and before everyone else, and get to speak their piece of mind for two or three minutes, doesn't sound good to me.
Wednesday 4 August 2010
There is beauty in decay. There is beauty in death.
May all beings have happy lives, and deaths.
Photos from Yesterday
Yesterday I went to Seattle to support a couple of friends who are in the midst of a dispute with a land-lord. A group of about 35 people from the Olympia, Tacoma, and Seattle Solidarity Networks were on hand to witness the delivery of a reparations demands letter. Here's the Seattle Solidarity Network website (I think the Olympia group has a website on the way.)
Here's an arch at the Seattle Chinatown/International District
After returning in heavy traffic on I-5 we stopped at the Eastside Co-op, and I saw the protest. You can find more information about the Co-op Board of Directors decision to boycott products from Israel at www.olympiafood.coop, and www.olympiabds.org. (I'm not aware of any local anti-bds websites.)
Protest at the Oly Food Co-op, July 23, 2010
Then I jumped on the bus.
The bus driver asked me, "how are you," and I replied, "I'm well, thank you." (Although that was really not true, because I was really not well, pretty uncomfortable actually, although I was feeling happy about the BDS. I was saddened and distressed after seeing the protest against the co-op. And I was also late to the peace vigil. The reason that I said I was "well" was because I don't like to be judged by people for being sad, and I got the feeling that this bus driver was going to be disappointed if I told the truth. But this world makes me feel sad, and discouraged, and invalidated, etc., all the time. So There!)
Then I asked the driver, "and how are you?"
The driver said, "great!" (I wonder if the driver was lying too. Because maybe the driver was really bored. Too bad! We could have laughed about that.)
Security Surveillance Cameras on the Intercity Transit Bus
Then I went to the Oly FOR peace vigil. There are some new signs. Check them out.
You're also free to make your own sign and bring it, like Richard's here:
Stop preaching hate and racism in the church.
Friday 30 July 2010
I went to the protest at the co-op. I was really impressed by the community. It was obvious to me how much people, on both sides of the boycott issue, care about each other, and care about the co-op.
There were some great conversations. And while tensions certainly run high, I am hopeful that differences amongst the co-op community can be reconciled and that a mutually beneficial solution can be found.
I witnessed people listening to each other, really listening to each other. And I think a lot of people gained some ground in understanding each other—which is amazing, because it was a protest.
People who are opposed to the boycott decision expressed some concerns that make a lot of sense to me. For example, the fact that the statement indicates a need to return "all occupied Arab lands." That's a very vague statement. And it could be interpreted as the destruction of the state of Israel.
Fortunately, that is not what is intended. Given the persecution that Jews have faced (and continue to face,) I, personally, support the right of Israel to exist. And I think most people who support the boycott are not trying to deny the fact that there is Anti-Jewish oppression in the world. And I also think that most people who are working in solidarity with Palestinians do not deny the right of Israel to exist.
So, perhaps the statement could be amended to acknowledge the right of the state of Israel to exist. I think there is a middle ground that everyone can agree to.
Because I also heard those who are opposed to the boycott acknowledge the human rights violations of Israel. Many people who oppose the current boycott decision are not in favor of settlement expansion, for example.
What it looks like to Palestinians, who are being kicked out of their homes and neighborhoods, and subjected to blatant and overt discriminatory treatment on a daily basis, is understood by people on both sides of this.
It's a touchy issue. And the situation in Israel/Palestine is not good—for both Jews and Palestinians. These are two groups of oppressed people. And it really doesn't make sense for oppressed groups to fight each other.
Bottom-line: people who are pro-BDS are not anti-Israel, or anti-Jewish—they are pro-Palestine, and pro-human rights. And people who are against the co-op boycott are not anti-Palestinian, or anti-human rights—and they have legitimate concerns about the wording of the boycott statement that deserve to be addressed.
Thanks again to the co-op for providing an opportunity for the community to address this important issue, and providing a framework where everyone's concerns can be brought to the table and exposed to the light of day, so that a mutually beneficial solution can be arrived at.
So, anyway, that's my take on it, and I hope that people can keep talking. Because this is really about doing what is best for everyone.
No to oppression of Palestinians! And No to oppression of Jews!
p.s. so, again, I think an effort to rescind the vote would be unproductive and would cause perhaps irreconcilable division and hurt feelings amongst co-op memberships. So I would encourage people to look toward other avenues to resolve this conflict.
p.p.s. I still stand by my statements that the problem here are the hegemonic international policies of the USA, and that ultimately what those policies do is prey upon Jewish fear of persecution. I view Israel as an exploited partner of US policies of global dominance. Jewish people deserve to be treated well, and to live in peace. [more here]
The fact that the USA gives Israel nearly $3B every year, and turns its head away from the crimes of occupation of Palestinian lands, is a crime of the most egregious nature. Palestinians deserve to be treated well, and to live in peace.
The USA must change. It must stop abusing Israel and Israelis, and condoning, enabling, and supporting the state of Israel's abuse of Palestinians. [more here]
[also see this story about Stand With Us in Olympia: here]
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb Discusses Jewish and Palestinian Nonviolence
If you have concerns about the recent decision by the Oly Food Co-op Board to boycott Israeli product, then please consider attending this event.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb Discusses Jewish and Palestinian Nonviolence
Sunday August 8 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at First Christian Church, 701 Franklin Street SE, Olympia
Internationally respected Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb will speak about “Jewish and Palestinian Non-Violence in Desperate Times: A Step Towards Solutions” at 7:00 pm Sunday August 8, at First Christian Church, 701 Franklin Street SE, in downtown Olympia.
Rabbi Gottlieb will speak about her most recent trip to Israel/Palestine and why she supports the growing international movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) to end human rights abuses against Palestinians. She will share stories and insights from her travels in Israel/Palestine and the wisdom of working for nonviolent actions to end the conflict. She has traveled and worked for peace in the Middle East for many years.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in the Jewish Renewal movement and is the third member of her family to found a synagogue. She founded Interfaith Inventions, Bat Kol National Jewish Feminist Theater Troupe, Shomer Shalom Institute for Jewish Non-Violence, and is the co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish Peace Walk. She is listed as one of the Top 50 Most Influential Rabbis in the U.S.
She is a longtime active member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a nationwide and international pacifist organization that is broadly interfaith. It has been active since 1914 in Europe and 1915 in the U.S. Her speaking engagement is sponsored by the Olympia FOR, which was founded in 1976.
Rabbi Gottlieb will be visiting our community from Sunday through Tuesday August 8 through 10.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is planning to visit Olympia, and is scheduled to appear at First Christian Church on Sunday the 8th of August, 7pm. Stay tuned for more information.
Rabbi Lynn's Presentation
Monday 9 August 2010
Olympia—Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is currently on a visit to Olympia, and last night made a presentation in support of the Olympia Food Co-op decision to boycott Israeli goods.
The hall at First Christian Church was packed to hear Rabbi Lynn explain her support for the work of Olympia BDS and the co-op.
The Rabbi spoke of her experience being ordained as the first female Rabbi in the Jewish Renewal Movement, and of travel to Israel/Palestine. She presented slides showing the situation, and focused mostly on the West Bank.
Given the work of the Rachel Corrie Foundation to educate the community about the situation in Gaza, I appreciated the focus on the West Bank. The presentation served to flesh-out what people mean when they use words like "occupation" and "apartheid."
One slide sticks out to me. It was of a landscape dotted with the stumps of former olive trees, all of which were cut down due to their proximity to a "Jewish only" access road between settlements on the West Bank. The government of Israel now controls most of the land in the Palestinian Territory of the West Bank, and there are many Israeli settlements there.
The discrepancy in living conditions between Israelis and Palestinians is stark. For example, many Palestinians have irregular access to water. And poverty amongst the Palestinian population is rampant and severe, one way the toll of this is shown is in short life-spans. This poverty is directly due to the unjust and unacceptable policies of the occupying government.
The apartheid is real. The situation is supported by US tax dollars and US political power internationally. So we, as Americans, really are complicit.
I thank the Rabbi for visiting, and for the educational presentation in support of bds, and the explanation of why the bds effort is correct.
Group photo with Oly BDS and Rabbi Gottlieb
Stand With Us Anti-BDS Flyer
July 2010 Islamophobia in Olympia
I have been submitting this image to The Olympian newspaper reader submitted photos page for a few days now, but for some reason it is not appearing there (although other of my submissions have been posted.)
[update, 29 July '10: I saw the flyer in the stairwell of The Martin apartment building, in the early evening hours of Saturday 24 July. original photo of the flyer posted in comments below]
I was recently disturbed when I saw an anti-BDS (boycott divestment sanctions) flyer in an apartment building in downtown Olympia.
The statements and accusations on this flyer were very hurtful to me, and I am not even Palestinian or Arab. But I am someone who supports BDS. The flyer was produced by Stand With Us, an organization with a questionable reputation.
For example, members and associates of Stand With Us have been observed engaging in hateful behavior. See this video on Jewish Voice for Peace blog, Muzzlewatch, here.
This flyer was disturbing to me in a number of ways, for a number of reasons. Among those reasons: it called BDS "biased, dishonest and self-defeating." Then listed a bunch of statements, for example to paraphrase some of the highlights:
It alleges that BDS seeks to demonize Israel. That is questionable at best! And I believe that is simply not true. BDS does not seek to demonize Israel, but instead seeks to pressure Israel to change its policies toward Palestine (which in turn would actually work to the real world benefit of Israelis, who also suffer because of the anti-human policies of their government.)
It says that BDS ignores terrorism. When in fact, BDS is one of the greatest ways to combat terrorism—because BDS gives people an opportunity to resist nonviolently.
And as far as terrorism goes, maybe a good question to ask is: which came first, terrorism—or occupation and oppression? And doesn't it seem possible that terrorism against Israel might be the product of a resistance movement that is so economically repressed and oppressed that people are desperate and maybe feeling that there are no other viable methods of resistance...
Those are just a couple of examples. The whole flyer is rife with statements which seem to obfuscate reality—ideas that fly in the face of basic common sense, ideas that go against rational thought. (Unless you think Palestinians deserve to be treated as second-class citizens.)
I believe that the organization Stand With Us is essentially destructive to the cause of reconciliation and a truly just and mutually beneficial peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
I allege that SWU, at least as far as this flyer goes, engages in obfuscation and defamation. The very same activities which it purports to be against. It's straight out of a play book that may have been derived from Orwell's 1984. And I think it smells like Karl Rove.
I allege that SWU propagates fear, distrust, hate, and prejudicial attitudes toward Arabs and Palestinians. I allege that efforts by SWU amount to racism against Arabs and Palestinians.
You can see a photo of the flyer—although please be warned that you, like me, might find this to be disturbing material. It's here.
I am deeply concerned that this type of information is circulating locally, and affecting people's thinking about the boycott.
In front of the Olympia Food Co-op Eastside Location Friday 23 July 2010
State Suppression of Media
Watch this video about a dehumanizing raid by IDF forces that has embarrassed the state of Israel. It is wrong that the US government is supporting this, and making Americans complicit in these crimes.
Statements of Two Long Time Jewish Members of the Co-op in Support of the Board's Decision to Boycott
If you have been around the movement for social justice in Olympia for long, you probably know Ruth and Gar Lipow. These two have offered consistent, and consistently eloquent, nuanced, deep, and important perspectives on issues of social and economic/ecological justice. The following are their statements, preceded by a background of the BDS issue in Olympia, by Gar. Re-posted here with permission:
Thursday (Aug-12-2010) both me and my 88 year old Mother attended a forum discussing the Olympia food co-ops decision to join the B.D.S (Boycott Divest Sanctions) movement to pressure Israel to stop violating Palestinian human rights. The Olympia B.D.S. site can be found at http://www.olympiabds.org/. An article on this forum can be found on The Olympian site.
The article is pretty typical quality for a small town paper. The main thing the Olympian get's wrong is portraying this as BDS supporters vs. Olympia's Jews. Plenty of Olympia Jews support BDS. Jewish supporters of BDS include Pete Bohmer the son of a Holocaust survivor, Amy Levinson, Noah Sochet (a coop employee and a major BDS organizer), Anne Fischel, me, my Mom. Not going to list more, but a substantial part of the Olympia Jewish community. I'm going to post my Mom's speech and my speech at forum, but as separate posts. Since the forum cut speaker time at the last moment, I'm going to post the full 2 minute speeches we intended to give rather than the abbreviated versions we had time to give.
The following speech was given by my Mother at a meeting the our local Olympia food co-op which has decided to stop carrying certain Israeli product as part of the BSD movement. To learn more about both the BDS movement and the role Olympia is playing in that movement follow the links in my previous post.
Hello. I'm Ruth Lipow, an 88 year old Jewish co-op member here to speak in favor of the Co-op's Boycott to help support Palestinian rights as part of a long co-op tradition of honoring such boycotts.
I know some opponents of B.D.S. have special names they call Jews who support B.D.S., but names are not new to me. I was called names when I opposed selling scrap metal to Japan before WWII, the same scrap metal that later rained on Pearl Harbor. I was called names for circulating petitions in support of the nuclear test ban treaty that helps keep strontium 5 out of our milk today. I won't tell you the names I was called for supporting integration and civil right back when New York Times editorials called that an "extremist" position. I was called names for opposing the Vietnam War. I was called names for supporting B.D.S. against South African Apartheid, for opposing the Iraq war, and for advocating a pullout from Afghanistan.
B.D.S. is a way to non-violently oppose the torment Palestinians are subjected to. The siege of Gaza (which has not ended in spite of the change in rhetoric) produces a rate of infant death comparable to that of the poorest nations of Africa. Pregnant West Bank Palestinian women end up delivering their babies at checkpoints because Israeli soldiers won't let them through to hospitals. And, though the main victims of this are Palestinians, the rot from being an occupying power has spread throughout Israel.
Roving Israeli gangs harass and intimidate couples that consist of Arab men dating Jewish women, as though they lived in the old Jim Crow South. Israel's long standing tolerance of ultra-orthodox vigilantes violently enforcing modesty codes now extends out of ultra-orthodox neighborhoods. Wires are strung and used to trip women showing more cleavage or leg than these ultra-orthodox approve of even on secular streets. I hope everyone here cares about Palestinian rights. But even if that is not a priority to you, consider this: If you had a friend who had become an alcoholic, would you gift them with bottles of whiskey? Or would you join with their other friends who staged an intervention and told them they had a problem. Much of Israel has an addiction to racism. Much of Israel has an addiction to oppression. Much of Israel has an addiction to violence. And if you care about Israel's survival you will join in this non-violent B.D.S. campaign both to
support Palestinian human rights and also to save Israel from itself.
Sources (links available on original post)
Harassment of couples:
Official municipal program against Arab men dating Jewish women:
Trip wires for women in secular parts of Israel not meeting orthodox modesty standards: Hollaback Israel which will go live August 19th.
Can put anyone who has a good reason why that is not soon in touch enough with founder of Hollaback Israel which goes lives August 19th 2010.
Hollaback is a feminist movement encouraging women to fight back against street harassers in various ways, especially through digital and social media.
My speech. (I'm Gar Lipow)
As noted in previous entries, both my 88 year mother and myself gave speeches at a recent forum on our local co-op's decision to boycott certain Israeli products to help pressure Israel to stop violating Palestinian human rights. My previous entries included a post containing links to explanations of BDS and of Olympia's role in that movement (bigger than you'd expect for a little town). I also posted a version of my Mother's speech at a forum discussing that decision, which include sections of the speech that were cut out for lack of time. What follows is the speech I intended to give at the same forum, but of which only about 10% was actually delivered.
My name is Gar Lipow. I'm a co-op member. I want to deal with some of the charges we see of Antisemitism, and those who want to silence any support for Palestinian rights on grounds that it cause discomfort.
If a woman landlord was throwing all the tenants out of a trailer park to make way for luxury condos, the priority would be the preserving the ability of the tenants not to be homeless and not to be displaced. If some macho lefty made a misogynist remark that would be terrible, and everyone should (and I hope would) condemn it. But that would not mean that we should stop concentrating on defending the people in the trailers from losing their home.
The issue right now is that Palestinians in both the occupied territories and in the pre-1967 borders are denied basic human rights. I won't accept that Palestinians must continue to suffer this until no one anywhere on earth, or even until no one anywhere in Olympia, is Antisemitic. I can walk and chew gum at the same time. I can oppose Antisemitism without giving up one iota of my commitment to human rights for Palestinians. Anyone whose opposition to Antisemitism requires them to tolerate racism against Palestinians is doing it wrong.
Support for the Olympia Food Coop Boycott of Products from Israel
The decision by the board of the Olympia Food Coop to not buy Israeli made goods and boycott them is a positive and important contribution towards ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is part of a global grassroots boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement to pressure the United States and Israel to fundamentally change their policies. I strongly support this courageous and important decision made by consensus by the Olympia Food Coop board on July, 15th, 2010.
Since, 1967, when Israel seized and occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Israel has continued to expand colonial settlements of Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, depriving Palestinians of more and more of their land as well as subjecting them to military occupation. In Gaza, although Israel withdrew their settlements in 2005, they have since 2006, blockaded Gaza by sea, air and land. This blockade has made it impossible for most of the 1.4 million people in Gaza to meet their daily needs. On December 27th, 2008, Israel invaded Gaza, killing over 1400 residents there and further devastating the land and infrastructure. Massive war crimes were committed by Israel. The Israel destruction was totally disproportionate to any attacks from Gaza against Israel. This was documented in the U.N. report commonly referred to as the Goldstone report. This May 31st, 2010, the Israeli military (IDF) brutally attacked the Gaza peace flotilla, which were bringing food and humanitarian aid to Gaza. The IDF killed nine people on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara.
Israel with U.S. support has continued to take Palestinian land, humiliate and oppress Palestinian people and refuse to accept a fully functioning and independent Palestinian society and state. Israel has served U.S. imperialist needs in the Middle East by attacking movements and governments, e.g., Egypt under President Nasser, who have tried to assert independence from U.S. domination.
Israel depends on U.S. military support for its consistent violation of international law and Palestinian rights.Just as the apartheid government in South Africa felt free to oppress the black majority as long as it had U.S. support, so does the Israeli government consider itself “free” to act with impunity. The strength and potential of the BDS movement, particularly in the United States is that it will force U.S. policy in the Middle East to become increasingly exposed and understood by the population here, and to undermine U.S. supported Israeli aggression.
The boycott of Israeli goods by the Olympia Food Coop is a step towards shaking the self-confidence of the Israeli elites and population that they can act with impunity and will always be supported by the United States. Hopefully, these boycotts will spread to other food coops, grocery stores and other places where Israeli goods are sold. Hopefully we will also develop successful organized boycotts against U.S. companies such as Motorola who are integrally involved in supporting and profiting from the Israeli occupation. The developing movement to pressure institutions such as the TIAA-CREF Pension fund and U.S. universities to sell their holdings in Israeli companies and perhaps, even more importantly, complicit U.S. companies can play a major role in ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
For this movement to be successful, we need to have a long run strategy that builds grassroots power and popular understanding about Israel, and U.S. foreign policy in support of Israel. There are no shortcuts. That has been one weakness of the Palestine solidarity movement in the U.S. We are justifiably, so outraged by what Israel does against Palestinians that we do not methodically and effectively and sustainably counter the pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian stance of the majority of the population in the United States. It will be a long struggle but can be successful.
There is a growing openness to a new and different narrative. The recent Israeli aggressions create some real opportunities to change popular understanding about the justness of the Palestinian cause, and in the longer run, U.S. policy. The boycott of Israeli goods by the Olympia Food Coop and the organized reaction against this decision gives us a real opportunity to explain the history of the struggle in Palestine-Israel, and the justness of the Palestinian cause.
These are some of the arguments I have been trying to deal with in supporting Palestine and the related food coop boycott of Israeli goods.
1. Israel is just defending itself by its military attacks in the West Bank and Gaza, e.g. Operation Cast Lead in January 2009 because of Palestinian rocket or suicide attacks against Israelis.
My response—First, the context is of a horrific Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and its turning Gaza into the largest prison in the world. This is the fundamental issue and much of Palestinian armed actions are being done out of weakness and to resist the Israeli occupation. The Israeli response in Gaza is collective punishment of the entire population which is illegal by international law and immoral, and totally disproportionate to any harm being done to Israelis.
2. The claim that Palestinians, particularly Hamas, want to drive Israel and Israelis into the sea. It is not clear that this is Hamas policy. Hamas has recently said they wouldn’t recognize Israel but that is very different from sating that it has committed itself to fighting a war to destroy Israel. Since being elected as the government of Gaza in 2006, they have waged very few attacks against Israeli civilians. More importantly, if there was an economically and politically independent Palestinian nation, not controlled by Israel, with its capital in East Jerusalem, and full rights to its water, land, resources, airspace, and development, the focus of Palestinians will be to develop this society, not to attack Israel. Those who would want to militarily attack Israel under these conditions would have little popular support by Palestinian society. Moreover, Israel is not in danger of being militarily defeated; it has the most powerful military in the middle East with 200-300 nuclear weapons.
3. A contentious issue is that the boycott that the Food Coop board voted for, stated that the boycott would not end until the Israeli occupation ended and Palestinians had the right of return. What this means is that Israel would have to ends its occupation of the Palestinian land it seized in the 1967 war. It also means that Palestinians who were forced out of what became Israel’s 1948 borders, inside the so-called Green Line, would have the right to return together with their descendants to Israel. Zionism has been on a Jewish dominated state and society, and where any Jewish person from around the world has a right to move to Israel. On the other hand, Palestinians who were forced out in 1948 cannot even visit Israel, much less move back. If most Palestinians, whose origins are from inside Israel, moved back, within 20 years Jewish people might be a minority within Israel. The right of Palestinians to return follows international laws and most concepts of morality so needs to be supported. A possible resolution might be to assert the principle of the right of Palestinians to return with offers of money, or permanent residence in other countries such as the United States to those Palestinians who agree not to move back permanently to Israel. This might preserve a Jewish majority in Israel although the right of Jewish people to return to Israel before Palestinians would also have to be modified. Hopefully, over time, with these two nations of Palestine and Israel living in peace, much of the hostility between these Semitic people could be overcome and good relations and even one nation, perhaps a binational Palestine-Israel could emerge.
4. A fourth claim is that here are two equally just sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian, in this conflict and we shouldn’t take sides, and that the boycott of Israeli goods is taking the Palestinian side. I am reminded by a wise comment by Khader Hamide, a Palestinian-American whom the United States was trying to deport,when he was asked to comment on thisperspective. Hamide said “that Palestinians are losing their lives and their land while Israelis are losing their humanity by the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.” Palestinians are the oppressed group, and the U.S. and Israel are the main oppressors.
We Should Take Sides in favor of the boycott and Palestine. Doing nothing is taking sides in favor of the status quo. The Olympia Food Coop has taken a stand by deciding to boycott Israeli goods. Thank You! Let us all take steps big and small that further Palestinian self-determination and justice, and that increase the numbers and power of those committed to ending the Israeli occupation of all of the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
The anti-Arab group StandWithUs is planning to protest the Eastside Co-op in an attempt to bully the staff into recinding the boycott of Israeli goods.
We need to make our presence felt in support of the Co-op's stand for human rights!.
We will line the sidewalks along Pacific Ave. in front of the EASTSIDE CO-OP and show some love to our Co-op!
Signs should signify support for the Co-op. I Love the Olympia Food Co-op The Olympia Food Co-op Rocks My World Olympia Food Co-op + Me BFF! You get the drift.
IMPORTANT! Please be respectful and POSITIVE! Please do not engaging in any shouting contests or other forms of escalation that the pro-Israel protesters may put forth. We do not want to get political! This is about supporting the Co-op in the face of opposition. We do not want to disrupt the operation of the Co-op in anyway. Thanks!
The Olympia Food Co-op keeps stepping in it
I came across this in the evening on line edition of the Olympian
This is from a blog the Co-op has put up to address boycott issues
“Because our highest priority is our members, non-member reporters will be asked to wait until all members have been seated to determine whether there is room for them. As a safety precaution and to encourage open dialogue, we request that members of the press do not record or take photographs, and that they do not quote anyone by name, unless given specific permission to do so. Press packets will be available.”
No pictures and no quotes. Like that is gonna, or even should, happen. The Olympia Community center is a public space so I wonder just who intends to enforce the membership requirement and/or the press blackout. Are they gonna freeze out Berd!?!
Worst of all. The board has invoked fear to hide behind the imprimatur of Safety. This is the same Homeland Security logic that Sgt Villahermosa used to deny Drew H. his civil rights.
If the Co-op desires a membership meeting at which they can control attendance and press coverage, then they need to hold that meeting a private space.
Lately, I have been quite consumed with the issue of the conflict between the state of Israel and Palestinians.
The issue has long been a hot topic in Olympia Washington, and the most recent event to bring it to the fore of the consideration of many people is a decision by the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors to boycott products from Israel.
The co-op previously stocked four different items that are produced in Israel. Gluten-free ice cream cones, gluten-free crackers, skin cream, and an olive oil called Peace Oil. Peace Oil is still distributed at the co-op because it is made in joint effort between Israelis and Palestinians.
I have been digging to figure out what is at the roots of the conflict over the past 60+ years.
Here are some of my thoughts that reflect that.
Is it possible that the problem with Zionism in Israel is its nationalism,
Is it possible that at the root of problem is the fact that since 1948 the state of Israel has adopted and participated in a pattern, inherited from Western Europe (including Britain and the USA,) of colonialism, which at its core involves systematic violence—oppression and injustice—the subjugation of land and of the indigenous population, the Palestinian people.
I am currently reading the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Stride Toward Freedom. The book is an account of the bus boycott of 1955-56 in Montgomery Alabama. It's a fascinating read, and I recommend it to anyone and everyone. There are some interesting parallels between the situation in the South in the 1950s and the situation today in Israel/Palestine. Some of the ideas in Dr. King's account helped me to formulate this statement to the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors in regard to the ongoing boycott of products from Israel:
Thank you to the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors for holding fast on the boycott of products from Israel.
This boycott amounts to noncooperation with injustice. The way that the government of Israel and some Israelis are treating Palestinians is unacceptable.
The decision to boycott was correct. Israel needs to change, for the good of both Palestinians and Jews.
When our government is unaccountable to the interests of human rights (and even life itself,) a courageous and principled and strong stand like this of the co-op is truly awesome and inspiring—and necessary.
Human rights are for everyone.
Thank you again for this courageous act of noncooperation!
Sincerely, Berd Whitlock
UPDATED 7/23: More news about the Olympia Food Co-op boycott of Israeli goods
Here is a brief news round up of the media's take on Olmypia Food Co-op Boycott of Israeli goods.
There are lots and lots of anti co-op posts on crazy right wing blogs and news sources that I will not repost.
Also, there have been a ton of horribly, hateful phone calls to the Co-op staff. They did not make the decision and it is harrassment. These are NOT supporters of the boycott who are doing this.
Those that support the boycott are directed to contact the board or sign the petition. Visit www.olympiabds.org on directions how to do so. The flood of calls do not represent the sentements of our community.
What do Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Roger Waters have in common? They love the Olympia Food Co-op!
Desmond Tutu has released a statement supporting the Olympia Food Co-op Boycott of Israeli goods. It was published in Ha'aretz here. Also, Roger Water's from Pink Floyd has signed on as a support of the boycott. He did a version of We Shall Overcome about the situation in Palestine.
...and don't forget the Palestinians (which are invisible in many local conversations about this). All the major Palestinian Agricultural Unions have endorsed the boycott (here). That means something to folks who work for food and environmental issues here in Olympia.
"Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Who is really behind the lawsuit against the Olympia Food Co-op?
The Olympianreports that five people are suing the Olympia Food Co-op over its boycott of Israeli products. According to the Olympian, the civil complaint states that the Co-op board violated policy by implementing the boycott. In other words, the plaintiffs are supposedly suing over “process.”
Some things to note:
1. Three of the five plaintiffs ran for the Olympia Food Co-op board late last year.
2. All three lost by a wide margin.
3. After they lost, they spread rumors that the reason they lost was because there was cheating in the board elections.
4. They carried this rumor over to Jon Haber’s silly blog.
5. On Dec. 16, 2010, one of the plaintiffs went to the Co-op board meeting where she tried to get one of the winning candidates disqualified.
6. This plaintiff also stated that the election was “the dirtiest election since the Bush dynasty.” She compared it to “a third world country with ancient blood feuds bubbling to the surface.” (She really said that. I took notes.)
Rob and Carolyn in Olympia with Olympia activists, Akiva Tor and Avi Lipman on Thursday - Presentation of legal case, discussion of Evergreen strategy and Olympia community speaker opportunities.
Rob = Rob Jacobs, director of StandWithUs Northwest, based in Seattle Carolyn = Carolyn Hathaway, then co-chair of StandWithUs, based in Bellevue Akiva Tor = Israeli Consul General, whose office is in San Francisco Avi Lipman = attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, based in Seattle
Indeed, Akiva Tor was in Olympia on Thursday, March 10. I and others encountered him that evening.
And just what kind of “legal case” presentation was given on March 10? In the Electronic Intifada article, both Rob Jacobs and attorney for the plaintiffs Avi Lipman cite “attorney-client privilege.” So what kind of “attorney-client” privilege is there in a “presentation” for a “legal case” in which the participants include the plaintiffs, their attorney, the director of StandWithUs, and the Israeli Consul General? Who’s the “client” here? Is it the official plaintiffs, is it a pro-Israel group with close ties to the Israeli government, or is it the government of Israel?
If it was the attorney who gave the legal presentation, then he unprofessionally voided his attorney-client privilege—unless, of course, they were all his clients.
If it wasn't Avi Lipman who gave the legal presentation to StandWithUs and the Israeli Consul General, then perhaps it was all of them giving a legal presentation to the Olympians present, hoping they would jump on to a proposal to sue the Olympia Food Co-op.
Surely they must realize that with attorney-client privilege invalidated by the presence of “unofficial” plaintiffs at the March 10 meeting, the substance of the meeting is open to disclosure.
Are the plaintiffs aware that they can be fined for filing a frivolous lawsuit? Not to mention laughed at?
And finally, what is It’s Our Co-op’s position on the lawsuit—particularly in light of the fact that the plaintiffs are founding members of that organization and one of the plaintiffs is a member of the IOC organizing committee?
Why Boycott? Why Divest?
The Olympia Food Co-op is honoring the boycott of Israeli goods. The Evergreen student body voted overwhelmingly in support of divestment and boycotting Caterpillar.
Find out how Boycott Divestment and Sanctions can help to end the Israel/Palestine conflict and what the actions in Olympia mean to the rest of the world.
In the United States and around the world, many are questioning why, despite some mild rebukes, Washington has maintained its large-scale military, financial, and diplomatic support for the Israeli occupation in the face of unprecedented violations of international law and human rights standards by Israeli occupation forces. Why is there such strong bipartisan support for Israel’s right-wing prime minister Ariel Sharon’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories?
The close relationship between the U.S. and Israel has been one of the most salient features in U.S. foreign policy for nearly three and a half decades. The well over $3 billion in military and economic aid sent annually to Israel by Washington is rarely questioned in Congress, even by liberals who normally challenge U.S. aid to governments that engage in widespread violations of human rights–or by conservatives who usually oppose foreign aid in general. Virtually all Western countries share the United States’ strong support for Israel’s legitimate right to exist in peace and security, yet these same nations have refused to provide arms and aid while the occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war continues. None come close to offering the level of diplomatic support provided by Washington–with the United States often standing alone with Israel at the United Nations and other international forums when objections are raised over ongoing Israeli violations of international law and related concerns.
Although U.S. backing of successive Israeli governments, like most foreign policy decisions, is often rationalized on moral grounds, there is little evidence that moral imperatives play more of a determining role in guiding U.S. policy in the Middle East than in any other part of the world. Most Americans do share a moral commitment to Israel’s survival as a Jewish state, but this would not account for the level of financial, military, and diplomatic support provided. American aid to Israel goes well beyond protecting Israel’s security needs within its internationally recognized borders. U.S. assistance includes support for policies in militarily occupied territories that often violate well-established legal and ethical standards of international behavior.
Were Israel’s security interests paramount in the eyes of American policymakers, U.S. aid to Israel would have been highest in the early years of the existence of the Jewish state, when its democratic institutions were strongest and its strategic situation most vulnerable, and would have declined as its military power grew dramatically and its repression against Palestinians in the occupied territories increased. Instead, the trend has been in just the opposite direction: major U.S. military and economic aid did not begin until after the 1967 war. Indeed, 99% of U.S. military assistance to Israel since its establishment came only after Israel proved itself to be far stronger than any combination of Arab armies and after Israeli occupation forces became the rulers of a large Palestinian population.
Similarly, U.S. aid to Israel is higher now than twenty-five years ago. This was at a time when Egypt’s massive and well-equipped armed forces threatened war; today, Israel has a longstanding peace treaty with Egypt and a large demilitarized and internationally monitored buffer zone keeping its army at a distance. At that time, Syria’s military was expanding rapidly with advanced Soviet weaponry; today, Syria has made clear its willingness to live in peace with Israel in return for the occupied Golan Heights–and Syria’s military capabilities have been declining, weakened by the collapse of its Soviet patron.
Also in the mid-1970s, Jordan still claimed the West Bank and stationed large numbers of troops along its lengthy border and the demarcation line with Israel; today, Jordan has signed a peace treaty and has established fully normalized relations. At that time, Iraq was embarking upon its vast program of militarization. Iraq’s armed forces have since been devastated as a result of the Gulf War and subsequent international sanctions and monitoring. This raises serious questions as to why U.S. aid has either remained steady or actually increased each year since.
In the hypothetical event that all U.S. aid to Israel were immediately cut off, it would be many years before Israel would be under significantly greater military threat than it is today. Israel has both a major domestic arms industry and an existing military force far more capable and powerful than any conceivable combination of opposing forces. There would be no question of Israel’s survival being at risk militarily in the foreseeable future. When Israel was less dominant militarily, there was no such consensus for U.S. backing of Israel. Though the recent escalation of terrorist attacks inside Israel has raised widespread concerns about the safety of the Israeli public, the vast majority of U.S. military aid has no correlation to counterterrorism efforts.
In short, the growing U.S. support for the Israeli government, like U.S. support for allies elsewhere in the world, is not motivated primarily by objective security needs or a strong moral commitment to the country. Rather, as elsewhere, U.S. foreign policy is motivated primarily to advance its own perceived strategic interests.
Strategic Reasons for Continuing U.S. Support
There is a broad bipartisan consensus among policymakers that Israel has advanced U.S. interest in the Middle East and beyond.
* Israel has successfully prevented victories by radical nationalist movements in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as in Palestine.
* Israel has kept Syria, for many years an ally of the Soviet Union, in check.
* Israel’s air force is predominant throughout the region.
* Israel’s frequent wars have provided battlefield testing for American arms, often against Soviet weapons.
* It has served as a conduit for U.S. arms to regimes and movements too unpopular in the United States for openly granting direct military assistance, such as apartheid South Africa, the Islamic Republic in Iran, the military junta in Guatemala, and the Nicaraguan Contras. Israeli military advisers have assisted the Contras, the Salvadoran junta, and foreign occupation forces in Namibia and Western Sahara.
* Israel’s intelligence service has assisted the U.S. in intelligence gathering and covert operations.
* Israel has missiles capable of reaching as far as the former Soviet Union, it possesses a nuclear arsenal of hundreds of weapons, and it has cooperated with the U.S. military-industrial complex with research and development for new jet fighters and anti-missile defense systems.
U.S. Aid Increases as Israel Grows Stronger
The pattern of U.S. aid to Israel is revealing. Immediately following Israel’s spectacular victory in the 1967 war, when it demonstrated its military superiority in the region, U.S. aid shot up by 450%. Part of this increase, according to the New York Times, was apparently related to Israel’s willingness to provide the U.S. with examples of new Soviet weapons captured during the war. Following the 1970-71 civil war in Jordan, when Israel’s potential to curb revolutionary movements outside its borders became apparent, U.S. aid increased another sevenfold. After attacking Arab armies in the 1973 war were successfully countered by the largest U.S. airlift in history, with Israel demonstrating its power to defeat surprisingly strong Soviet-supplied forces, military aid increased by another 800%. These increases paralleled the British decision to withdraw its forces from “east of the Suez,” which also led to the massive arms sales and logistical cooperation with the Shah’s Iran, a key component of the Nixon Doctrine.
Aid quadrupled again in 1979 soon after the fall of the Shah, the election of the right-wing Likud government, and the ratification of the Camp David Treaty, which included provisions for increased military assistance that made it more of a tripartite military pact than a traditional peace agreement. (It is noteworthy that the additional aid provided to Israel in the treaty continued despite the Begin government’s refusal to abide by provisions relating to Palestinian autonomy.) Aid increased yet again soon after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In 1983 and 1984, when the United States and Israel signed memoranda of understanding on strategic cooperation and military planning and conducted their first joint naval and air military exercises, Israel was rewarded by an additional $1.5 billion in economic aid. It also received another half million dollars for the development of a new jet fighter.
During and immediately after the Gulf War, U.S. aid increased an additional $650 million. When Israel dramatically increased its repression in the occupied territories–including incursions into autonomous Palestinian territories provided in treaties guaranteed by the U.S. government–U.S. aid increased still further and shot up again following the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.
The correlation is clear: the stronger and more willing to cooperate with U.S. interests that Israel becomes, the stronger the support.
Ensuring Israel’s Military Superiority
Therefore, the continued high levels of U.S. aid to Israel comes not out of concern for Israel’s survival, but as a result of the U.S. desire for Israel to continue its political dominance of the Palestinians and its military dominance of the region. Indeed, leaders of both American political parties have called not for the U.S. to help maintain a military balance between Israel and its neighbors, but for insuring Israeli military superiority.
Since the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, there has again been some internal debate regarding how far the United States should back Israeli policies, now under the control of right-wing political leader Ariel Sharon. Some of the more pragmatic conservatives from the senior Bush administration, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, have cautioned that unconditional backing of Sharon’s government during a period of unprecedented repression in the occupied territories would make it more difficult to get the full cooperation of Arab governments in prosecuting the campaign against terrorist cells affiliated with the al Qaeda network. Some of the more right-wing elements, such as Paul Wolfowitz of the Defense Department, have been arguing that Sharon was an indispensable ally in the war against terrorism and that the Palestinian resistance was essentially part of an international terrorist conspiracy against democratic societies.
Other Contributing Factors
Support for Israel’s ongoing occupation and repression is not unlike U.S. support for Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of and repression in East Timor or Morocco’s ongoing occupation of and repression in Western Sahara. If seen to be in the strategic interests of the United States, Washington is quite willing to support the most flagrant violation of international law and human rights by its allies and block the United Nations or any other party from challenging it. No ethnic lobby or ideological affinity is necessary to motivate policymakers to do otherwise. As long as the amoral imperatives of realpolitik remain unchallenged, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere will not reflect the American public’s longstanding belief that U.S. international relations should be guided by humanitarian principles and ethics.
Some of the worst cases of U.S. support for repression have not remained unchallenged, leading to reversals in U.S. policy on Vietnam, Central America, South Africa, and East Timor. In these cases, grass roots movements supportive of peace and justice grew to a point where liberal members of Congress, in the media and elsewhere, joined in the call to stop U.S. complicity in the repression. In other cases, such as U.S. support for Morocco’s invasion and occupation of Western Sahara, too few Americans are even aware of the situation to mount a serious challenge, so it remains off the radar screen of lawmakers and pundits.
The case of Israel and Palestine is different, however. There are significant sectors of the population that question U.S. policy, yet there is a widespread consensus among elite sectors of government and the media in support of U.S. backing of the Israeli occupation. Indeed, many of the same liberal Democrats in Congress who supported progressive movements on other foreign policy issues agree with President George W. Bush–or, in some cases, are even further to the right–on the issue of Israel and Palestine. Therefore, while the perceived strategic imperative is at the root of U.S. support for Israel, there are additional factors that have made this issue more difficult for peace and human rights activists than most others. These include the following:
* The sentimental attachment many liberals–particularly among the post-war generation in leadership positions in government and the media–have for Israel. Many Americans identify with Israel’s internal democracy, progressive social institutions (such as the kibbutzim), relatively high level of social equality, and its important role as a sanctuary for an oppressed minority group that spent centuries in diaspora. Through a mixture of guilt regarding Western anti-Semitism, personal friendships with Jewish Americans who identify strongly with Israel, and fear of inadvertently encouraging anti-Semitism by criticizing Israel, there is enormous reluctance to acknowledge the seriousness of Israeli violations of human rights and international law.
* The Christian Right, with tens of millions of followers and a major base of support for the Republican Party, has thrown its immense media and political clout in support for Ariel Sharon and other right-wing Israeli leaders. Based in part on a messianic theology that sees the ingathering of Jews to the Holy Land as a precursor for the second coming of Christ, the battle between Israelis and Palestinians is, in their eyes, simply a continuation of the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines, with God in the role of a cosmic real estate agent who has deemed that the land belongs to Israel alone–secular notions regarding international law and the right of self-determination notwithstanding.
* Mainstream and conservative Jewish organizations have mobilized considerable lobbying resources, financial contributions from the Jewish community, and citizen pressure on the news media and other forums of public discourse in support of the Israeli government. Although the role of the pro-Israel lobby is often greatly exaggerated–with some even claiming it is the primary factor influencing U.S. policy–its role has been important in certain tight congressional races and in helping to create a climate of intimidation among those who seek to moderate U.S. policy, including growing numbers of progressive Jews.
* The arms industry, which contributes five times more money to congressional campaigns and lobbying efforts than AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups, has considerable stake in supporting massive arms shipments to Israel and other Middle Eastern allies of the United States. It is far easier, for example, for a member of Congress to challenge a $60 million arms deal to Indonesia, for example, than the more than $2 billion of arms to Israel, particularly when so many congressional districts include factories that produce such military hardware.
* The widespread racism toward Arabs and Muslims so prevalent in American society, often perpetuated in the media. This is compounded by the identification many Americans have with Zionism in the Middle East as a reflection of our own historic experience as pioneers in North America, building a nation based upon noble, idealistic values while simultaneously suppressing and expelling the indigenous population. The failure of progressive movements in the United States to challenge U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine in an effective manner. For many years, most mainstream peace and human rights groups avoided the issue, not wanting to alienate many of their Jewish and other liberal constituents supportive of the Israeli government and fearing criticism of Israeli policies might inadvertently encourage anti-Semitism. As a result, without any countervailing pressure, liberal members of Congress had little incentive not to cave in to pressure from supporters of the Israeli government. Meanwhile, many groups on the far left and others took a stridently anti-Israel position that did not just challenge Israeli policies but also questioned Israel’s very right to exist, severely damaging their credibility. In some cases, particularly among the more conservative individuals and groups critical of Israel, a latent anti-Semitism would come to the fore in wildly exaggerated claims of Jewish economic and political power and other statements, further alienating potential critics of U.S. policy.
While U.S. support for Israeli occupation policies, like U.S. support for its allies elsewhere, is primarily based upon the country’s support for perceived U.S. security interests, there are other factors complicating efforts by peace and human rights groups to change U.S. policy. Despite these obstacles, the need to challenge U.S. support of the Israeli occupation is more important than ever. Not only has it led to enormous suffering among the Palestinians and other Arabs, ultimately it hurts the long-term interests of both Israel and the United States, as increasingly militant and extremist elements arise out of the Arab and Islamic world in reaction.
Ultimately, there is no contradiction between support for Israel and support for Palestine, for Israeli security and Palestinian rights are not mutually exclusive but mutually dependent on each other. U.S. support of the Israeli government has repeatedly sabotaged the efforts of peace activists in Israel to change Israeli policy, which the late Israeli General and Knesset member Matti Peled referred to as pushing Israel “toward a posture of calloused intransigence.” Perhaps the best kind of support the United States can give Israel is that of “tough love”–unconditional support for Israel’s right to live in peace and security within its internationally recognized border, but an equally clear determination to end the occupation. This is the challenge for those who take seriously such basic values as freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.