Central to today’s activism is the decade-old Palestinian civil society initiative called the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel that seeks its compliance with international law and Palestinian rights.
Time is with justice for the Palestinians and equal rights for both peoples. A majority of Americans, polls confirm, share this desire for their government to be even-handed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A dozen mainstream American churches, unions, and academic associations in the past four years have voted for boycotts and sanctions of Israeli institutions that subjugate Palestinians. In the previous half-century, even discussing the Palestine rights issue in public was virtually impossible.
“The pattern has become clear,” one university professor who is active in BDS initiatives told me on Monday. “At first an organisation’s members refuse even to discuss Israeli policies and their impact on Palestinians. Then the matter is discussed by the membership, but voted down. And after two or three years of more public discussion by all sides, it is voted on again, and approved. We expect the same thing to happen with the AAA vote and other academic associations that raise this issue.”
Seven American academic associations have supported BDS actions, and others are debating the matter. The lesson, activists say, is that Israel ultimately loses when the public debates the facts about Palestine-Israel.
That public debate now occurs regularly, mainly because during the past 68 years the world has seen the facts of Israeli statehood and settler-colonisation, and Palestinian disenfranchisement, exile, or occupation.
Israel’s days of expecting automatic mass support for its position in the US seem to be coming to an end. Israeli policies today are openly debated, mainstream organisations support BDS, and even a serious presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, has called for a more even-handed US policy on Israel-Palestine.
The AAA and other associations use boycotts to express their opposition to unethical or illegal behaviour by corporations (Coca Cola) or even states (Arizona, Illinois, Georgia).
The US government and individual states sanction and boycott other nations (Russia, Iran, Cuba, Sudan) for their political behaviour.
So people increasingly ask why Israel should be exempt from public discussion of its behaviour towards the Palestinians.
Ironically, even some politicians who wholeheartedly support Israel may see their decisions backfire on them, and promote greater, rather than less, debate about Israeli policies. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order last week saying the state would boycott any institution that boycotted Israel.
Seven states have already legislated laws prohibiting a boycott of Israel, and others are considering such moves. Cuomo’s decision sparked widespread media debate about whether it violated the constitutional guarantee of free speech, including a New York Times op-ed by a Jewish American who opposed Cuomo’s move as being hypocritical, constitutionally suspect and inappropriate.
The United Church of Christ also quickly criticised Cuomo’s move for infringing the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech, noting that it and other churches have often “actively supported human rights campaigns, sometimes through consumer boycotts and even divestment of companies that have profited from injustice …”
Last summer, the United Church of Christ called for divestment and boycott of firms that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
Like the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, the struggle to counter Israeli subjugation of Palestinians through boycotts and sanctions is steadily picking up steam, and has moved from the fringes towards the mainstream of American public politics. If I were Israeli, I would be worried, too.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘A defeated sanctions vote in the US should worry Israel’.