Friday, August 31, 2012

Palestinian girls study at an Israeli checkpoint after soliders deny them access to their school

How to Respond to Charges of Anti-Semitism

From Mondoweiss

Yesterday the Jerusalem Post published an attack on the awarding of a major international prize to Judith Butler, the philosopher and Berkeley professor of comparative literature, because Butler favors boycotting Israel. Butler wrote this response and, unhopeful that the Post would publish it, sent it to us. --Mondoweiss Editors.

The Jerusalem Post recently published an article reporting that some organizations are opposed to my receiving the Adorno Prize, an award given every three years to someone who works in the tradition of critical theory broadly construed. The accusations against me are that I support Hamas and Hezbollah (which is not true) that I support BDS (partially true), and that I am anti-Semitic (patently false).

Perhaps I should not be as surprised as I am that those who oppose my receiving the Adorno Prize would seek recourse to such scurrilous and unfounded charges to make their point. I am a scholar who gained an introduction to philosophy through Jewish thought, and I understand myself as defending and continuing a Jewish ethical tradition that includes figures such as Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt. I received a Jewish education in Cleveland, Ohio at The Temple under the tutelage of Rabbi Daniel Silver where I developed strong ethical views on the basis of Jewish philosophical thought. I learned, and came to accept, that we are called upon by others, and by ourselves, to respond to suffering and to call for its alleviation.

But to do this, we have to hear the call, find the resources by which to respond, and sometimes suffer the consequences for speaking out as we do. I was taught at every step in my Jewish education that it is not acceptable to stay silent in the face of injustice. Such an injunction is a difficult one, since it does not tell us exactly when and how to speak, or how to speak in a way that does not produce a new injustice, or how to speak in a way that will be heard and registered in the right way. My actual position is not heard by these detractors, and perhaps that should not surprise me, since their tactic is to destroy the conditions of audibility.

I studied philosophy at Yale University and continued to consider the questions of Jewish ethics throughout my education. I remain grateful for those ethical resources, for the formation that I had, and that animates me still. It is untrue, absurd, and painful for anyone to argue that those who formulate a criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitic or, if Jewish, self-hating. Such charges seek to demonize the person who is articulating a critical point of view and so disqualify the viewpoint in advance. It is a silencing tactic: this person is unspeakable, and whatever they speak is to be dismissed in advance or twisted in such a way that it negates the validity of the act of speech. The charge refuses to consider the view, debate its validity, consider its forms of evidence, and derive a sound conclusion on the basis of listening to reason. The charge is not only an attack on persons who hold views that some find objectionable, but it is an attack on reasonable exchange, on the very possibility of listening and speaking in a context where one might actually consider what another has to say. When one set of Jews labels another set of Jews “anti-Semitic”, they are trying to monopolize the right to speak in the name of the Jews. So the allegation of anti-Semitism is actually a cover for an intra-Jewish quarrel.

In the United States, I have been alarmed by the number of Jews who, dismayed by Israeli politics, including the occupation, the practices of indefinite detention, the bombing of civilian populations in Gaza, seek to disavow their Jewishness. They make the mistake of thinking that the State of Israel represents Jewishness for our times, and that if one identifies as a Jew, one supports Israel and its actions. And yet, there have always been Jewish traditions that oppose state violence, that affirm multi-cultural co-habitation, and defend principles of equality, and this vital ethical tradition is forgotten or sidelined when any of us accept Israel as the basis of Jewish identification or values. So, on the one hand, Jews who are critical of Israel think perhaps they cannot be Jewish anymore of Israel represents Jewishness; and on the other hand, those who seek to vanquish anyone who criticizes Israel equate Jewishness with Israel as well, leading to the conclusion that the critic must be anti-Semitic or, if Jewish, self-hating. My scholarly and public efforts have been directed toward getting out of this bind. In my view, there are strong Jewish traditions, even early Zionist traditions, that value co-habitation and that offer ways to oppose violence of all kinds, including state violence. It is most important that these traditions be valued and animated for our time – they represent diasporic values, struggles for social justice, and the exceedingly important Jewish value of “repairing the world” (Tikkun).

It is clear to me that the passions that run so high on these issues are those that make speaking and hearing very difficult. A few words are taken out of context, their meaning distorted, and they then come to label or, indeed, brand an individual. This happens to many people when they offer a critical view of Israel – they are branded as anti-Semites or even as Nazi collaborators; these forms of accusation are meant to establish the most enduring and toxic forms of stigmatization and demonization. They target the person by taking the words out of context, inverting their meanings and having them stand for the person; indeed, they nullify the views of that person without regard to the content of those views.

 For those of us who are descendants of European Jews who were destroyed in the Nazi genocide (my grandmother’s family was destroyed in a small village south of Budapest), it is the most painful insult and injury to be called complicitous with the hatred of Jews or to be called self-hating. And it is all the more difficult to endure the pain of such an allegation when one seeks to affirm what is most valuable in Judaism for thinking about contemporary ethics, including the ethical relation to those who are dispossessed of land and rights of self-determination, to those who seek to keep the memory of their oppression alive, to those who seek to live a life that will be, and must be, worthy of being grieved. I contend that these values all derive from important Jewish sources, which is not to say that they are only derived from those sources. But for me, given the history from which I emerge, it is most important as a Jew to speak out against injustice and to struggle against all forms of racism. This does not make me into a self-hating Jew. It makes me into someone who wishes to affirm a Judaism that is not identified with state violence, and that is identified with a broad-based struggle for social justice.

My remarks on Hamas and Hezbollah have been taken out of context and badly distort my established and continuing views. I have always been in favor of non-violent political action, and this principle has consistently characterized my views. I was asked by a member of an academic audience a few years ago whether I thought Hamas and Hezbollah belonged to “the global left" and I replied with two points. My first point was merely descriptive: those political organizations define themselves as anti-imperialist, and anti-imperialism is one characteristic of the global left, so on that basis one could describe them as part of the global left. My second point was then critical: as with any group on the left, one has to decide whether one is for that group or against that group, and one needs to critically evaluate their stand. I do not accept or endorse all groups on the global left. Indeed, these very remarks followed a talk that I gave that evening which emphasized the importance of public mourning and the political practices of non-violence, a principle that I elaborate and defend in three of my recent books: Precarious Life, Frames of War, and Parting Ways.

 I have been interviewed on my non-violent views by Guernica and other on-line journals, and those views are easy to find, if one wanted to know where I stand on such issues. I am in fact sometimes mocked by members of the left who support forms of violent resistance who think I fail to understand those practices. It is true: I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have. This view makes me perhaps more na├»ve than dangerous, but it is my view. So it has always seemed absurd to me that my comments were taken to mean that I support or endorse Hamas and Hezbollah! I have never taken a stand on either organization, just as I have never supported every organization that is arguably part of the global left – I am not unconditionally supportive of all groups that currently constitute the global left. To say that those organizations belong to the left is not to say that they should belong, or that I endorse or support them in any way.

Two further points. I do support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in a very specific way. I reject some versions and accept others. For me, BDS means that I oppose investments in companies that make military equipment whose sole purpose is to demolish homes. It means as well that I do not speak at Israeli institutions unless they take a strong stand against the occupation. I do not accept any version of BDS that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their national citizenship, and I maintain strong collaborative relationships with many Israeli scholars.

One reason I can endorse BDS and not endorse Hamas and Hezbollah is that BDS is the largest non-violent civic political movement seeking to establish equality and the rights of self-determination for Palestinians. My own view is that the peoples of those lands, Jewish and Palestinian, must find a way to live together on the condition of equality. Like so many others, I long for a truly democratic polity on those lands and I affirm the principles of self-determination and co-habitation for both peoples, indeed, for all peoples. And my wish, as is the wish of an increasing number of Jews and non-Jews, is that the occupation come to an end, that violence of all kinds cease, and that the substantial political rights of all people in that land be secured through a new political structure.

Two last notes: The group that is sponsoring this call is the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a misnomer at best, that claims on its website that “Islam” is an “inherently anti-semetic (sic) religion.” It is not, as The Jerusalem Post has reported, a large group of Jewish scholars in Germany, but an international organization with a base in Australia and California. They are a right-wing organization and so part of an intra-Jewish war. Ex-board member Gerald Steinberg is known for attacking human rights organizations in Israel as well as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Their willingness to include Israeli infractions of human rights apparently makes them also eligible for the label, “anti-Semitic.”

Finally, I am not an instrument of any “NGO”: I am on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, a member of Kehillah Synagogue in Oakland, California, and an executive member of Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace in the US and The Jenin Theatre in Palestine. My political views have ranged over a large number of topics, and have not been restricted to the Middle East or the State of Israel. Indeed, I have written about violence and injustice in other parts of the world, focusing mainly in wars waged by the United States. I have also written on violence against transgendered people in Turkey, psychiatric violence, torture in Guantanamo, and about police violence against peaceful protestors in the U.S, to name a few. I have also written against anti-Semitism in Germany and against racial discrimination in the United States.

Judith Butler

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fresh discussion of one-state/two state, Iran, BDS and the meaning of democracy

From The Daily Beast 8/27/2012
How Bill Kristol and JVP Are Both "Israel-Agnostic"

by Peter Beinart Aug 27, 2012 10:30 AM EDT
Here we go again. The Republican Jewish Coalition and Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel are demanding that the Obama campaign renounce the endorsement of a California rabbi named Lynn Gottlieb because she supports boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against all of Israel and serves on the rabbinical council of Jewish Voices for Peace. (She’s also attended a dinner with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and visited Tehran). Last year, Brandeis refused to admit a Jewish Voices for Peace chapter into Hillel. In 2010, the Anti-Defamation Leaguelisted JVP as one of the top ten “anti-Israel” groups in America.
To continue reading: 

Some interesting comments on the article:
Alan Levin
I applaud Peter Beinert's long journey to some of the more sensible position that he's taken towards Israel's occupation and oppression of Palestinians from where he was a numberof years ago. Here, sadly, he is being clever and equating JVP's principled and sensible positions with a hard line right-wing ideologue. He could do better. If he continues to follow his heart and use his intelligence he'll soon be on the JVP board.

Alice Rothchild
There are serious problems with all of these arguments.  The first lies in the US where one's credibility as a Jew no longer is based on living a life consistent with Jewish teachings and a sense of moral values and justice, but rather that one supports the policies of the Israeli government without question. Thus we see the highpitched hysteria of the Billy Kristols of the world and a serious policy of muzzling dissent within the Jewish community. Then we have the State of Israel which has descended into a state of increasing militarism, racism, and oppression towards its indigenous Palestinian population and the Palestinians who live under occupation. This tragic history is proof enough that a country cannot be a liberal democracy and preference one group of people over another while treating every threat as a post Holocaust existential trauma. While most Jews wring their hands over Palestinian aggression, there are many of us that welcome the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions as a nonviolent, creative, and historically powerful tactic to bring Israel and its supportersto their senses and to focus work on building human rights for all in the region, moving beyond our usual frightened tribal posture.

America First
Thank you for another well written article. However, I don't even think you need to go this deep to analyze the absurdity of the zionist supremacists in the US. A country cannot bedefined as jewish and democratic at the same time. Just like it cannot be defined as christian and democratic. Israel has become an apartheid state. Nothing the propaganda machine does will change that reality.
The only relevant question for Americans is how can we save the US destroying itself by being the protecter of this apartheid regime?

Pure sophistry by Mr.Beinart.
Even Norman Finklestein recognizes that the BDS program and supporters of the BDS program are notagnostic in their antipathy to the Israeli state.  Mr. Finklestein clearly condemned the movement and their supporters for their dishonesty in arguing that BDS was agnostic in its support of an one or two state solution.  He recognized that the BDS movement supports an one state solution in which the state of Israel will be destroyed. Not only are some of its founders on record for calling for an one state solution, but also the movement's support for the return of 6 million refugees to Israel leadsto the destruction of the Jewish state. The fact that BDS argues that itis agnostic with respect to state arrangements, and does not support either a one or two state solution, is, as Finklestein stated, a deception hiding the real agenda of the BDS movement to bring about the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel and the formation of a new Palestinian Arab state in its place.
Likewise JVP and Lynn Gottlieb who support the BDS program cannot claim to be ambivalent about the continuation of Israel's existence when BDS' aims are the replacement of the Jewish state with a Palestinian Arab state. To suggest that the Republican Jewish Coalition or the Emergency Committee are "Israel-agnostic" is the product of a tortured logic which the writer ought to know is untrue.  The RJC and the Emergency committee are very supportive of the continual existence of the Israeli state as the nation state of the Jewish people.  To suggest otherwise is pure sophistry on Mr.Beinart's behalf. Using the same deceptivearguments of the BDS movement in supporting JVP and Lynn Gottlieb, Beinart displays his own intellectual shortcomings. I wonder if it was acoalition of Jewish Democrats calling on President Obama, would Beinart have suggested that the Jewish Democrats were Israel-agnostic using the same type of logic applied in this article?

Is the lobby that controls the foreign affairs agenda of the US congress an ‘Israel lobby’ or an ‘Israeli lobby’? The former is a pressure group controlled by American evangelical Christians whilst the latter is ostensibly controlled by the government of Israel.We do know from where the funding originates, but who actually controls the moneymen and is that a sufficiently legitimate reason to say that this lobby should actually be designated a foreign agent within the US and subject to rigorous supervision in order to prevent it from suborning the constitution and the lives of millions to the interests of a foreign state? These questionsare neither anti-American nor anti-European, anti-Republican nor anti-Democrat,anti-Jewish nor anti-Christian, anti-white nor anti-black, anti-Semitic nor anti-Muslim.They are pro-democracy, pro-civil and human rights and pro-religion. The warning is against either overt or covert manipulation of the democratic process that effectively gang-rapes the provisions of the American constitutionand the Bill of Rights, for which so many gave their lives so that we could enjoy freedom from the manipulation of power that we, unfortunately, see in government again today.

Bill Kristol is plain wrong. Funded and armed by an Israel-lobby-controlled US congress, the Netanyahu government feel invincible - able to attack the 75 millionIranian people, to bomb and kill as they see fit whilst the UN and the international community must stay silent as the hours and days tick by towards the start of an Israeli manufactured nuclear war that could contaminate the ME region, including the Gulf, for years. It would almost certainly cut Gulf oil supplies to Europe for a period of weeks or months, the consequence of which would be a doubling or trebling of the price of petrol and all transport costs throughout the EU. Eventually, the US would reopen any blockage in the Strait of Hormuz caused by the war, but not before immense damage would have been caused to European economies. The answer must be for the European parliament to warn Messrs Netanyahu, Barak & Lieberman that if they instigate an unlawful attack against Iran, then all bilateral trade between the EU and Israel will be immediately discontinued. In these potentially dangerous circumstances, it is necessary to use extraordinary economic force to prevent violent force that would affect all of us.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Israel Breaks Silence Over Army Abuses

How military occupation turns bored teenage recruits into sadistic abusers

From The Independent

Hafez Rajabi was marked for life by his encounter with the men of the Israeli army's Kfir Brigade five years ago this week. Sitting beneath the photograph of his late father, the slightly built 21-year-old in jeans and trainers points to the scar above his right eye where he was hit with the magazine of a soldier's assault rifle after the patrol came for him at his grandmother's house before 6am on 28 August 2007.
He lifts his black Boss T-shirt to show another scar running some three inches down his back from the left shoulder when he says he was violently pushed – twice – against a sharp point of the cast-iron balustrade beside the steps leading up to the front door. And all that before he says he was dragged 300m to another house by a unit commander who threatened to kill him if he did not confess to throwing stones at troops, had started to beat him again, and at one point held a gun to his head. "He was so angry," says Hafez. "I was certain that he was going to kill me."

This is just one young man's story, of course. Except that – remarkably – it is corroborated by one of the soldiers who came looking for him that morning. One of 50 testimonies on the military's treatment of children – published today by the veterans' organisation Breaking the Silence – describes the same episode, if anything more luridly than Hafez does. "We had a commander, never mind his name, who was a bit on the edge," the soldier, a first sergeant, testifies. "He beat the boy to a pulp, really knocked him around. He said: 'Just wait, now we're taking you.' Showed him all kinds of potholes on the way, asked him: 'Want to die? Want to die right here?' and the kid goes: 'No, no...' He was taken into a building under construction. The commander took a stick, broke it on him, boom boom. That commander had no mercy. Anyway the kid could no longer stand on his feet and was already crying. He couldn't take it any more. He cried. The commander shouted: 'Stand up!' Tried to make him stand, but from so much beating he just couldn't. The commander goes: 'Don't put on a show,' and kicks him some more."

Two months ago, a report from a team of British lawyers, headed by Sir Stephen Sedley and funded by the UK Foreign Office, accused Israel of serial breaches of international law in its military's handling of children in custody. The report focused on the interrogation and formal detention of children brought before military courts – mainly for allegedly throwing stones.

For the past eight years, Breaking the Silence has been taking testimonies from former soldiers who witnessed or participated in human rights abuses in the occupied territories. Most of these accounts deal with "rough justice" administered to minors by soldiers on the ground, often without specific authorisation and without recourse to the military courts. Reading them, however, it's hard not to recall the Sedley report's shocked reference to the "belief, which was advanced to us by a military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a 'potential terrorist'".

The soldier puts it differently: "We were sort of indifferent. It becomes a kind of habit. Patrols with beatings happened on a daily basis. We were really going at it. It was enough for you to give us a look that we didn't like, straight in the eye, and you'd be hit on the spot. We got to such a state and were so sick of being there."

Some time ago, after he had testified to Breaking the Silence, we had interviewed this soldier. As he sat nervously one morning in a quiet Israeli beauty spot, an incongruous location he had chosen to ensure no one knew he was talking, he went through his recollections about the incident – and several others – once again. His account does not match the Palestinian's in every detail. (Hafez remembers a gun being pressed to his temple, for example, while the soldier recalls that the commander "actually stuck the gun barrel in the kid's mouth. Literally".)

But in every salient respect, the two accounts match. Both agree that Hafez, on the run after hearing that he was wanted, had slipped into his grandmother's house before dawn. Hafez showed us the room in his grandmother's house, the last on the left in the corridor leading to her room, where he had been hiding when the soldiers arrived. Sure enough, the soldier says: "We entered, began to trash the place. We found the boy behind the last door on the left. He was totally scared."

Both Hafez – who has never read or heard the soldier's account – and the soldier recall the commander forcing him at one point during his ordeal to throw a stone at them, and that the boy did so as feebly as possible. Then, in the soldier's words "the commander said: 'Of course you throw stones at a soldier.' Boom, banged him up even more".

Perhaps luckily for Hafez, the second, still uncompleted, house is within sight of that of his aunt, Fathia Rajabi, 57, who told us how she had gone there after seeing the soldiers dragging a young man behind a wall, unaware that he was her nephew. "I was crying, 'God forbids to beat him.' He recognised my voice and yelled: 'My aunt, my aunt.' I tried to enter but the two soldiers pointed their guns at me and yelled rouh min houn, Arabic for 'go away'. I began slapping my face and shouting at passers-by to come and help. Ten minutes later the soldiers left. I and my mother, my brother and neighbours went to the room. He was bleeding from his nose and head, and his back."

The soldier, who like his comrades mistook Ms Rajabi for the boy's mother, recalls: "The commander said to [her]: 'Keep away!' Came close, cocked his gun. She got scared. [He shouted:] 'Anyone gets close, I kill him. Don't annoy me. I'll kill him. I have no mercy.' He was really on the edge. Obviously [the boy] had been beaten up. Anyway, he told them: 'Get the hell out of here!' and all hell broke loose. His nose was bleeding. He had really been beaten to a pulp."

Finally, Hafez's brother Mousa, 23, a stone cutter who joined his aunt at the second house, recalls a second army jeep arriving and one soldier taking Hafez's pulse, giving Mousa a bottle of water which he then poured over Hafez's face and speaking to the commander in Hebrew.

"I understood he was protesting," says Mousa. This was almost certainly the 'sensitive' medic whom the soldier describes as having "caught the commander and said: 'Don't touch him any more. That's it.'" The commander goes: 'What's with you, gone leftie?' And he said: 'No, I don't want to see such things being done. All you're doing to this family is making them produce another suicide bomber. If I were a father and saw you doing this to my kid, I'd seek revenge that very moment.'"

In fact Hafez, did not turn into a "suicide bomber". He has never even been in prison. Instead, the outcome has been more prosaic. He no longer has nightmares about his experience as he did in the first two months. But as a former mechanic he is currently unemployed partly because there are few jobs outside construction sites and the Hebron quarries, where he says his injuries still prevent him from carrying heavy loads, and partly because he often does "not feel I want to work again". And he has not – so far – received any compensation, including the more than £1,100 he and Mousa had to spend on his medical treatment in the two years after he was taken.

The report by Sir Stephen Sedley's team remarks that "as the United Kingdom has itself learned by recent experience in Iraq, the risk of abuse is inherent in any system of justice which depends on military force". Moreover, Britain, unlike Israel, has no organisation like Breaking the Silence that can document, from the inside, the abuse of victims like Hafez Rajabi who never even make it to court.

But as the Sedley report also says, after drawing attention to the argument that every Palestinian is a "potential terrorist": "Such a stance seems to us to be the starting point of a spiral of injustice, and one which only Israel, as the occupying power in the West Bank, can reverse."

Breaking the silence: soldiers' testimonies
First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade
Salfit 2009
"We took over a school and had to arrest anyone in the village who was between the ages of 17 and 50. When these detainees asked to go to the bathroom, and the soldiers took them there, they beat them to a pulp and cursed them for no reason, and there was nothing that would legitimise hitting them. An Arab was taken to the bathroom to piss, and a soldier slapped him, took him down to the ground while he was shackled and blindfolded. The guy wasn't rude and did nothing to provoke any hatred or nerves. Just like that, because he is an Arab. He was about 15, hadn't done a thing.

"In general people at the school were sitting for hours in the sun. They could get water once in a while, but let's say someone asked for water five times, a soldier could come to him and slap him just like that. I saw many soldiers using their knees to hit them, just out of boredom. Because you're standing around for 10 hours doing nothing, you're bored, so you hit them. I know that at the bathroom, there was this 'demons' dance' as it was called. Anyone who brought a Palestinian there – it was catastrophic. Not bleeding beatings – they stayed dry – but still beatings."

First Sergeant, Combat Engineering Corps
Ramallah 2006-07
"There was this incident where a 'straw widow' was put up following a riot at Qalandiya on a Friday, in an abandoned house near the square. Soldiers got out with army clubs and beat people to a pulp. Finally the children who remained on the ground were arrested. The order was to run, make people fall to the ground. There was a 10- to 12-man team, four soldiers lighting up the area. People were made to fall to the ground, and then the soldiers with the clubs would go over to them and beat them. A slow runner was beaten – that was the rule.

"We were told not to use it on people's heads. I don't remember where we were told to hit, but as soon as a person on the ground is beaten with such a club, it's difficult to be particular."

First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade
Hebron 2006-07
"We'd often provoke riots there. We'd be on patrol, walking in the village, bored, so we'd trash shops, find a detonator, beat someone to a pulp, you know how it is. Search, mess it all up. Say we'd want a riot? We'd go up to the windows of a mosque, smash the panes, throw in a stun grenade, make a big boom, then we'd get a riot.

"Every time we'd catch Arab kids.You catch him, push the gun against his body. He can't make a move – he's totally petrified. He only goes: 'No, no, army.' You can tell he's petrified. He sees you're mad, that you couldn't care less about him and you're hitting him really hard the whole time. And all those stones flying around. You grab him like this, you see? We were mean, really. Only later did I begin to think about these things, that we'd lost all sense of mercy."

Rank and unit unidentified in report
Hebron 2007-08
"One night, things were hopping in Idna village [a small town of 20,000 people, about 13km west of Hebron], so we were told there's this wild riot, and we should get there fast. Suddenly we were showered with stones and didn't know what was going on. Everyone stopped suddenly; the sergeant sees the company commander get out of the vehicle and joins him. We jump out without knowing what was going on – I was last. Suddenly I see a shackled and blindfolded boy. The stoning stopped as soon as the company commander gets out of the car. He fired rubber ammo at the stone-throwers and hit this boy.

"At some point they talked about hitting his face with their knees. At that point I argued with them and said: 'I swear to you, if a drop of his blood or a hair falls off his head, you won't sleep for three nights. I'll make you miserable.'

"They laughed at me for being a leftie. 'If we don't show them what's what, they go back to doing this.' I argued with them that the guy was shackled and couldn't do anything. That he was being taken to the Shabak [security service] and we'd finished our job."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Quakers Divest from Caterpillar

Stop Caterpillar
Above: Click to learn about Caterpillar
Have you heard the wonderful news? After a roller coaster United Methodist divestment campaign ending in partial victory, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is so excited to announce that the Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC), which holds over $200 million in assets, has divested from Caterpillar! FFC divested $900,000 in shares of Caterpillar, which continues to feel the pressure from all sides for its production and sale of weaponized bulldozers to Israel, used to violate Palestinian rights and destroy Palestinian homes, schools, hospitals, olive groves, and lives.

Ann Arbor Quakers asked FFC to divest and issued this warm statement of thanks:
"Ann Arbor Friends welcome the decision by Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC) to divest from Caterpillar Corp. This is a significant step since FFC handles investments for over 250 Quaker meetings, schools, organizations, trusts, and endowments around the US. In taking this action, FFC is truly upholding the core commitment of the Society of Friends to peace. We ask Friends and people of faith everywhere to join us in expressing thanks to FFC and asking them to continue divesting from all companies that are helping to sustain the Israeli occupation."

FFC has a "zero tolerance for weapons and weapons components," and said, "We are uncomfortable defending our position on this stock."

FFC is not the first Quaker institution to avoid companies that support the Israeli occupation. In March 2008, the Board of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a US Campaign member group, approved an Israel/Palestine investment screen, stating:
"Investments should not be made in any company that provides products or services, including financial services, to Israeli governmental or military bodies… or to Israeli or Palestinian organizations or groups that are used to facilitate or undertake violent acts against civilians or violations of international law."
The AFSC investment screen is based on a 29-company "no-buy" list -- originally compiled by the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church -- which includes Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, Veolia, and Hewlett Packard. In June 2011, AFSC also joined the "We Divest Campaign," which calls on financial giant TIAA-CREF to divest from the Israeli occupation.

We Divest
Illinois Yearly Meeting and St Louis Monthly Meeting support the "We Divest Campaign."
And that's not all. Illinois Yearly Meeting and St. Louis Monthly Meeting of Friends also came out in support of the "We Divest Campaign," Sandy Springs Monthly Meeting called on FFC to divest from all companies profiting from violence in Israel/Palestine, and the Ann Arbor Meeting agreed to a call from its Palestine-Israel Action Group (PIAG) -- a member of the US Campaign -- to boycott companies supporting the Israeli military and Israeli settlement products, building on a similar decision by Britain Yearly Meeting.
House Demolition
Photo by PIAG member SOL METZ of devastation wrought by Caterpillar.
We are hopeful that these actions will put wind in the sails of the exciting divestment campaign at Earlham College, another Quaker institution. The campaign, led by US Campaign member group BDS Earlham, aims for "Earlham to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard because they are profiting from Israeli violations of international law and principles of human rights."

The snowball is gathering momentum. Let us continue our support for courageous churches and other institutions that are putting their money where their mouths are.

RECOMMENDED: From Stephen Zunes

Obama Ad Condemns Israel Aid Opponents

Stephen Zunes
Stephen Zunes
An ad on my Facebook page from reads, "Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich say they would start foreign aid to Israel at zero. Reject their extreme plan now!"
This struck me as odd for two reasons:
First, it is disingenuous and misleading. The actual position taken by these Republican presidential candidates is that all foreign aid should initially start at zero as means of reducing the deficit, to be immediately followed by the resumption of aid on a case-by-case basis. As they themselves have acknowledged, they would immediately resume aid to Israel and perhaps even increase it. Ironically, U.S. "aid for Israel" goes almost exclusively to U.S. arms manufacturers, with which the Republican candidates have a close relationship.

Secondly, millions of Americans—particularly younger voters who are the primary users of Facebook—support zeroing out aid to Israel on human rights grounds. The Obama campaign, therefore, is effectively labeling those of us who oppose the use of our tax dollars to arm the right-wing Netanyahu government, which has repeatedly used U.S. weapons against civilians, as "extreme." Presumably, they feel the same way about those of us who support a cutoff of aid to other governments that violate international humanitarian law as well.

In 2009, Amnesty International, citing war crimes committed by both Israeli forces and the armed wing of Hamas earlier that year, called on nations to suspend arms shipments to both. The Obama administration categorically rejected the proposal. The administration has also rejected calls by human rights groups to condition military aid and arms transfers to other countries that use U.S. weapons against civilians, including Colombia, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Azerbaijan, and Morocco. Recently, the Obama administration requested a waiver on human rights restrictions in the forthcoming foreign appropriations bill in order to resume arming the Karimov dictatorship in Uzbekistan, which has massacred hundreds of pro-democracy protesters and has literally boiled its opponents alive.

One can speculate whether, if Obama were seeking re-election in 1984, his campaign would similarly label those who opposed aid to the murderous Salvadoran junta as “extreme.” Or, if it were 1996, his campaign would have marginalized opponents of U.S. aid to the genocidal Suharto regime in Indonesia. The president’s re-election team for 2012 sure appears to think of us that way.
Republican candidates certainly have taken a number of extreme positions regarding Israel and Palestine. Gingrich, Perry, and Romney, for example, have aligned themselves with the far right of the Israeli political spectrum, opposing Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and opposing a freeze on illegal Israeli settlements. Gingrich has even said the Palestinians are an “invented people” and implied his support for mass population transfers.

I’ve searched and elsewhere, and nowhere does the Obama campaign appear to label such positions or similarly outrageous statements as “extreme.” However, if you oppose sending billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded aid to Israel—whether as a means of cutting the deficit, reducing cuts in social programs, or defending human rights—the Obama campaign considers it an “extreme plan” that should be rejected.

What is so bizarre about the Obama campaign’s hostility toward those who oppose aid to Israel is that Israel doesn’t need U.S. assistance to begin with. Israel, the region’s only nuclear power, has by far the strongest military capability in the greater Middle East, and it possesses the only significant domestic arms industry in the region. Israel also has, by far, the region’s highest standard of living, comparable to that of most European countries. Even putting human rights concerns aside, questioning why American taxpayers should be spending over $3 billion annually in aid to Israel at a time of massive cutbacks at home doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Furthermore, public opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans believe U.S. military aid should be made conditional to human rights.

Most people for whom providing unconditional support for the Netanyahu government is their top priority are going to support the Republican nominee anyway. Meanwhile, there are millions of Democrats, independents, and even Republicans who question spending billions of taxpayer dollars to prop up that rightist Israeli government every year. Why risk alienating these voters by labeling their position “extreme”? Is it simply a headline thrown together by an overzealous young wonk in the campaign? Or is this part of a larger effort to stifle debate on the Obama administration’s policies of aiding governments that violate human rights?

Either way, it sends the message that the Obama campaign does not welcome concerns about human rights. In addition, it serves as a reminder for Americans who do care about human rights that neither party will provide a presidential nominee we can vote for.