Boycott, divestment and sanctions: Israel and the Occupation

We cannot ignore this contentious conversation

by Ken Sehested

Introduction: In a 5 June 2015 Huffington Post article, Dr. Chuck Currie, Chaplain and Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality at Pacific University, urged fellow United Church of Christ members to reject that body’s Synod resolution supporting the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" action in opposition to Israel's occupation of Palestine. This week I’ve written the following response.

        Thanks, Chuck, for sending me your post in opposition to the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) initiative. I haven’t been involved in the movement, and won’t be at the Synod to deliberate the question. But your thoughtful writing is worthy of response.

        I fully agree with you that pursuing a two-state solution appears, from every angle, to be the preferred route to get us where we want to go. Any lasting security will surely be a mutual security. And I certainly agree that boycotts are morally ambiguous, since they are such blunt instruments for social change.

        But a number of questions remain, and I hope you can help me see what I’m missing.

        1. On the question of whether Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories (OT) is a form of apartheid: from the separation wall cutting through Palestinian land, Jews-only roads, a patchwork of Bantustan-like islands of Palestinian-controlled areas, and the daily harassments and indignities of passing through security checkpoints. My own personal experience in the region confirms former President Jimmy Carter’s assessment that this is, in fact, a form of apartheid. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia—himself an outspoken opponent to BDS—says that Israel’s policy is “analogous to apartheid.” The fact that circumstances in the OT and apartheid-era South Africa are not identical does not eclipse the similarities.

        2. I see little evidence that the U.S. is willing to use its leverage to stop—much less reverse—the continued building of Israeli settlements in the OT. Every day, every week, every month, more and more land is expropriated, with little more than hand-wringing complaint from the U.S. There is a slow suffocation process going on. In fact, legislation is working its way through both the House and Senate which, if approved, will punish companies which adhere to the BDS principles, effectively codifying Israel’s legal claims on the OT. It is already illegal in Israel to advocate such boycotts.

        3. The Likud Party, along with other Israeli parties whose constituency includes significant numbers of Orthodox citizens, is opposed in principle to a two-state solution. It makes me a little crazy when Hamas is indicted for not recognizing the State of Israel when the opposite is also true.

        4. Just recently Netanyahu appointed Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan as his undersecretary of defense, responsible for administrating the OT. This is the man who, in 2013, stated publicly, “To me, they [Palestinians] are like animals, they aren’t human.” Furthermore, last month, Israel’s new deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said in her inaugural speech to Israeli diplomats that “We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country,” she said. “This land is ours. All of it is ours.”

        5. The question of whether the BDS movement will strain Jewish-Christians relations is indeed a painful one. It very well might. My sense, though, is that where such relations go deeper than parlor-game exercises, they will hold up in the face of this controversy.

        6. The first step in any attempt to transform conflict is to do an analysis of power relations between the conflicted parties. The fatality report of Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza is telling: over 2,100 Gazans were killed, 73 Israelis. Any “resolution” of a dispute where the power imbalance between parties is great will suspect.

        In short, the level of desperation in the Palestinian community is explosive. And I see zero prospects that the current frameworks for negotiation will remove the underlying cause. But I would greatly prefer to have a different perspective. Please help me see what I’m missing.

        Blessings on you and yours.

©Ken Sehested @