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Divestment Now: Passing the Torch
by William Pleasant,
Green Party of Chatham County (Georgia)
Last year, students at the University of California-Berkley initiated a drive to force their institution to divest its holdings in companies with business ties to the government of Israel. This grassroots response to Israeli military subjugation of the Palestinians won an immediate and widespread following.
Opposition to US foreign policy in the so-called Middle East is mounting. Neither the Democratic nor Republican Parties will touch the issue beyond delivering vacuous moral platitudes about violence and peace. The student-led divestment movement is poised to intersect opposition to the US political and financial blank check afforded the Israelis and bring the entire US foreign policy strategy under mass, strategic criticism.
Easy but superficial parallels can be drawn between today’s anti-Zionist divestment movement and the anti-apartheid movement nearly 25 years ago. Forged in the wake of the summer 1977 Soweto youth uprising, the US student-led South African liberation movement took hold of major university campuses across the country. But in 1977, there was little support for the anti-apartheid movement, even among Black elected officials and pundits. It was generally dismissed as an obscure, “foreign” issue. Moreover, the South African opposition movement was fractured into numerous sectlets and thoroughly infiltrated by BOSS, the apartheid secret police.
When confronted with the student demand that universities withdraw their financial support of apartheid, university officials generally sneered that they had fiduciary responsibilities to the institution. In plain talk, that meant that the institutions would not even consider relinquishing their lucrative stockholdings in the slave labor-fueled South African economy.
But in the space of 10 years, after much more blood in the streets of South Africa and as a consequence of the dogged determination of student and Black radical activists to take the divestment movement off campus and into the streets, universities, labor unions, religious organizations and even state governments purged their portfolios of the offending apartheid stocks. Being anti-apartheid became chic among Democratic Party hacks like New York Governor Mario Cuomo and Congressman Charlie Rangel, after Jimmy Carter’s daughter Amy allowed herself to be arrested for demonstrating at the South African Embassy in Washington, DC. Even corporations like Ford Motors fell over themselves to put the best face possible on their exploitation of Black South African slaves through the Sullivan Principles, a weird combination of public relations hype and reform apartheid, allegedly hatched and made kosher by the deceased Black American preacher Leon Sullivan. As US institutional political support for apartheid crumbled, South Africa’s herrenvolk settler regime sank into the dustbin of history. The new divestment movement seeks the same result on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The swiftness with which the pro-Israel establishment and University of California officials pounced on the anti-Zionist divestment activists is a clear signal that the government’s commitment to the current Middle East policy is greater in magnitude and depth than its love affair with anti-communist Pretoria at the height of the cold war in the 1980s. Indeed, a student-led anti-Zionist movement can succeed in breaking the back of Washington’s reactionary policies in Southwest Asia and North Africa, the so-called Middle East. But when compared to the bygone days of the anti-apartheid divestment movement, the current movement may involve building a similar oppositional coalition, but the foe and the landscape of this battle are decidedly different.
…the government’s commitment to the current Middle East policy is greater in magnitude and depth than its love affair with anti-communist Pretoria…
Can a student-initiated anti-Zionist movement produce political results similar or superior to the 1980s anti-apartheid crusade? We believe that it can; but it must be grounded in a thorough appreciation of the strategies required to engage an alliance of the Bush regime, its corporate patrons, the combined corruption of the Democratic and Republican Parties and, last but not least, the politically deadly Israel Lobby.
Unlike the anti-apartheid divestment movement that morally targeted corporations that directly or indirectly exploited the labor force and natural resources of South Africa, the anti-Zionist divestment movement must engage direct US government investment in maintaining the status quo, i.e., support of Israel in its decades-old campaign of military pacification and ultimate extermination of the indigenous peoples of Palestine. US support for South Africa’s apartheid regime ran little deeper than a taste in some corporate quarters for short term mega-profits derived from the the dehumanization of Black laborers. On the other hand, US Middle East policy is a political institution in which the executive and legislative branches of government, corporate-owned media and pro-Israel Jewish-Americans have profound investment and which they will defend at all costs. The new divestment movement must confront, destabilize and ultimately overthrow this political institution.
Wholesale degradation of human rights, economic stagnation and the special oppression of girls and women are but a few of the grievances that enrage the Arab masses. The region requires military pacification. Israel’s role in infiltration and covert military strikes against secular/nationalist and socialist-led popular movements in the region on behalf of Uncle Sam and his Arab reactionary lackeys exposes the fundamental goal of US Middle East policy, namely, making the region safe for the wholesale exploitation of mineral resources and a profitable market for arms manufacturers and commercial banks. This is the bloody root of America’s “strategic” relationship with the Israelis. As the Israeli satirist B. Michael described his government’s relationship to Washington: “My master gives me food to eat and I bite those whom he tells me to bite. It’s called strategic cooperation.”
There are three tiers of reactionary resistance to the anti-Zionist divestment movement in the US. The first is, of course, the Bush regime. It is responsible for servicing its patrons in the petrochemical, armaments and commercial banking sectors. But it is a mistake to assume that Bush and his sponsors are ideologically pro-Zionist. They are not. The so-called War on Terrorism is, in fact, a strategy for imposing a Pax Americana on Southwest Asia and North Africa based upon politically dumping the Israelis and distributing Israel’s once-exclusive cop status among the region’s reactionary regimes. The resistance of the Palestinians and the consequent ruthlessness of the Israeli settler regime in suppressing the Arab uprising is an impediment to this overall pacification program. In the end, Bush’s Arab/Muslim alliance against terrorism is merely a domestic public relations veil over the process of industrial rationalization and coordination of the military suppression of all opposition (Muslim fanatic, Pan-Arab nationalist, ethnic nationalist and socialist-led) to the status quo. The Israelis, in this process, are a political liability. This appears to be the motive behind Bush’s rush to get the Palestinian/Israeli civil war out of sight and out of mind, at the expense of international law and human rights.
The so-called War on Terrorism is…a strategy for imposing a Pax Americana on Southwest Asia and North Africa based upon…distributing Israel’s once-exclusive cop status among the region’s reactionary regimes.
The so-called peace settlement that Bush is attempting to impose upon the Palestinians is but a microcosmic version of the US regime’s overall Middle East strategy: i.e., militarily obliterate all political opposition to US economic and political assets in the region by essentially converting the police and military institutions of America’s Arab/Muslim client regimes into a sort of tribal constabulary (like the US Bureau of Indian Affairs) under US command/control and political scrutiny. Locked down on the reservations/bantustans of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the security forces of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine National Authority were expected to play this role by providing anti-Palestinian security for the Israeli settler regime. Needless to say, the Palestinian masses refuse to go along with that program.
To the extent that the anti-Zionist divestment movement hammers away at Bush’s “War on Terrorism” as merely a US-led, coordinated attack on political opposition to America’s reactionary client regimes—in Palestine and elsewhere in Southwest Asia and North Africa—greater public scrutiny of US Middle East policy will evolve.
The second tier consists of the electoral political system. Democracy and fairness should become the rallying cry of the anti-Zionist divestment movement. The American public is well aware of the corruption of the electoral parties and its basic exclusion from the policymaking process. Neither monopoly political party will tolerate candidates who voice even the mildest dissent in respect to Middle East policy. Democrats and Republicans claim that they are enslaved by campaign contributions from pro-Israel Jews. They argue that they cannot risk alienating pro-Zionist voting blocks in a few urban centers by deviating from the status quo in the so-called Middle East. In short, they whine that they are helpless vassals of The Jews. This is a pure political fantasy, aided and abbetted by the corporate-owned media. It is also an act of bipartisan, objective, political anti-Semitism. Scapegoating Jewish Americans for the exclusion of the American public from any role in the formulation of a critical foreign policy is simply racist.
The truth of the matter is that Republican and Democratic Party legislators are merely a component of a policy institution that profit neither Jewish Americans nor even the Israeli settler colony but instead the US petrochemical, arms manufacturing and commercial banking sectors. Federal legislators serve the same masters as the Bush regime. Pro-Israel votes and campaign money are superfluous when compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars supplied over and under the table to legislators by corporations to maintain their access to what amounts to a tax-funded welfare program for businesses engaged in exploiting the lands and peoples of Southwest Asia and North Africa.
The American public is aware that billions of its tax dollars are being squandered on propping up an unsustainable settler colony, with little to no accountability at any level of government. That state and local governments are permitted to directly invest public funds in the repressive apparatus of the Israeli state in ways that preclude the same privileges being offered to other nations that have large ethnic presences in the US speaks to the fundamental unfairness of the current policy. For example: Why is the New York State employee pension fund directly invested to the tune of $700 million in the Israeli government when it has zero similar investments in Poland, Ireland, Thailand, South Africa, etc? Why does the IRS permit fundraising on behalf of the government of Israel to enjoy tax-deductible status? If the government of Israel can be a de facto IRS-designated charity, then why can’t Turkey or China or Morocco or Austria or...? It takes very little to coax the American people to demand accountability from their elected officials on every matter, including US support of the Israeli settler colony. The anti-Zionist divestment movement can easily become the popular lightening rod for the demand for fairness, equality and democracy in respect to all US foreign aid.
The truth of the matter is that Republican and Democratic Party legislators are merely a component of a policy institution that profit neither Jewish Americans nor even the Israeli settler colony but instead the US petrochemical, arms manufacturing and commercial banking sectors.
The last tier in the defense of the indefensible US Middle East policy is the so-called Israel Lobby. The Israel Lobby is an array of pro-Israel Jewish organizations and their non-Jewish supporters who act as the political attack dogs for US Middle East policy in exchange for a franchise in the lucrative direct and indirect transfer of funds between Washington and Tel Aviv. For example, they run the tax-exempt agencies that launder charitable contributions to the government of Israel (at least $1 billion per year)—for a percentage of the action, of course. They are the platoons of pundits who nest in the media and academia who denounce any criticism of US policy as an anti-Semitic assault on Jews everywhere. And in the case of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai Brith, they actively spy upon, infiltrate and disrupt organizations, no matter how innocuous their opposition to the policy, in the name of combating anti-Semitism. How these political parasites came to enjoy their current status is a rather tortuous story and beyond the scope of this piece. Nonetheless, they serve as the domestic political police for US Middle East policy.
The Israel Lobby does not own or operate the policy, it merely opportunities, as does the Israeli settler colony itself, on Washington’s determination to suppress, by any means necessary, any challenge to the way it exploits the Arab/Muslim-owned mineral resources. They are neither the spokesmen for the Israeli government, the Israeli settlers nor even American Jews. But they are the folks who will employ any method of slander and political intimidation to silence dissent by posturing—with the self-serving support of the government—as the voice of “The Jews” who guard the nation from anti-Semitism. Of course, that term anti-Semitism has been conveniently equated with criticizing the corporate agenda in Southwest Asia and North Africa.
Once gratuitously smeared with Israel Lobby’s anti-Semite tarbrush, few activists, intellectuals or even lay people escape public repudiation and instantaneous marginalization. If South Africa’s apartheid regime had enjoyed the services of an “Israel Lobby,” then the anti-apartheid divestment movement would have probably never gotten off of the ground.
The anti-Zionist divestment movement will flounder and fizzle if it fails to ruthlessly engage the Israel Lobby. The right to free speech cannot be abridged by the government under the US Constituion. It certainly cannot be suppressed by a reactionary political gendarmerie like the Israel Lobby. Battling the ADL and other public elements of the Israel Lobby is a free speech issue that many Americans can appreciate. No piece of US domestic or international policy should be sacrosanct in the public forum. And no litmus test (par ex. supporting continued military and financial aid to Israel) can be the admission ticket to discussion. To the extent that the ADL and its epigones continue to engage in invasions of privacy, libel and slander against progressive individuals and organizations, the new divestment movement should vigorously pursue them in state and federal civil courts. Very little effort is required to expose the Israel Lobby as merely political hit men for the Bush regime. Generally, Americans, particularly young people, do not support attempts to muzzle free expression of any sort. The divestment movement should work to make free speech on foreign policy issues a central theme of its organizing.
Whether directed at universities and other social institutions that hold corporate investments which underwrite Israeli repression of the Palestinians or more sharply aimed at state and local governments that directly invest public funds in the military and civil infrastructure of the State of Israel, the divestment movement for Palestinian human rights and peace in the Middle East will have a profound and permanent impact on US Middle East policy. Never before has there been an opportunity to rally such broad popular support for the strategic overthrow of this failed foreign policy.
The divestment movement can become the focal point for the mass organization of millions of Americans who see in the political, military and financial carte blanche afforded the Israeli settler colony by the Bush regime and its predecessors an affront to international law and human rights, democracy and fairness, and the right of all Americans to free speech without fear of judicial or extra-judicial retaliation. The divestment movement should never be about a war between a few Arabs and a few Jewish colonists over some Mediterranean beachfront real estate. It must be about Americans insisting upon a foreign policy in every corner of the globe that promotes our best interest and best values.
To the courageous student militants of UC-Berkley and other campuses where the divestment movement has taken hold, the anti-apartheid divestment movement passes the torch.
Michigan Divestment Conference: http://www.divestmentconference.com
SAFE, University of Michigan: http://www.studentsallied.com
U-M President's Statement on the Divestment Conference: http://www.umich.edu/pres/coleman/PSC.html
Harvard and M.I.T. divestment petition: http://www.harvardmitdivest.org
University of California's faculty petition: http://www.ucdivest.org
Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa: http://mandla.co.za/psc/Default.htm