For the past couple of weeks I have been reading articles and letters written by leaders of Jewish organizations and activists urging the US Presbyterian Church not to vote to divest from three companies that profit off of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Tuesday, after a long debate, committee 15 of the Church’s General Assembly voted in favor of a motion calling for divestment from those companies. Today the entire plenary is expected to vote on the matter.
It is specifically when I read articles and letters that argue against using any form of boycotts, divestment campaigns or calls on our government for sanctions (i.e. BDS) from people who are opposed to Israel’s continued policy of growing settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that I am perplexed. It is when I hear those who are genuinely concerned with Israel’s future and democratic character refer to the non violent BDS movement as a threat to resolving the conflict, I have to shake my head in wonder. I am sure they are aware of Israel’s Prime Minister recently announcing the building of hundreds of new homes in a Jewish only settlement in the West Bank. In my opinion, that is what should be labeled as a “Threat to Conflict Resolution,” not friends making decisions of conscience about where they invest their retirement funds.
When I see the Global BDS movement characterized as extreme or as using extreme rhetoric, it truly gives me pause. It does so because what I read from many who are opposed to the use of these non violent tools of political dissent is the characterization that those of us engaged in BDS are “anti-Israel,” “self hating Jews,” and trying to “delegitimize the state of Israel.”
In my opinion, THAT is extreme rhetoric.
I don’t consider those who choose not to purchase goods produced in Jewish only settlements built on Palestinian land which has been occupied by the Israeli military forces since 1967 in violation of international law to be extreme. Nor do I consider those who decide not to invest and profit from the gains of companies which willingly and defiantly choose to enrich themselves off of the demolition of people’s homes or other human suffering to be extreme.
Would you choose to make money off of an investment in a company which knowingly supplies the equipment used to violate the human rights of people by destroying the homes of over 24,000 Palestinian families? In my opinion, 24,000 homeless Palestinian families is extreme.
Let’s face it, in our modern global economy where we choose as individuals and communities to spend our money and where we choose NOT to are among our strongest political tools. Frankly, I think threatening people’s freedom to make those decisions based on personal values is extreme. Threatening a friendship or an alliance if someone makes a decision about what they buy (or don’t) or where they invest their money (or don’t) is extreme. It is not how I was taught true friends treat each other.
Yes, this week the Presbyterian Church is once again considering divesting from companies that directly profit off of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and people. After years of engaging with the those companies unsuccessfully, they will vote once again on whether or not to apply their stated values to their investments. As an activist, a proud Jewish American, the daughter of a proud Israeli father and one to whom the future of Israel and Palestine matters greatly, I am hoping they will follow their hearts and apply their values to their investment choices. But if they don’t, it won’t affect my friendships with Presbyterians one bit.
Estee Chandler is the Los Angeles Organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace