Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Should Be Used to Target Israeli Apartheid

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a member of the US Campaign Steering Committee, a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.

I read with great interest Peter Beinart’s recent New York Times
op-ed “To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements.”  His thesis is straightforward: Beinart believes Israel is a democratic country being undone by the occupation of the Palestinian territories.  The settlements must be opposed while allegedly democratic Israel must be supported.  Efforts to support the Palestinian right of return (for refugees), he contends, undermine the possibility of a two-state solution and, thereby, end the possibility for Israel as a Jewish homeland.

It is critically important that Beinart identifies the undemocratic—indeed, colonial—nature of the settlements.  It’s insufficient, but an important start.  The Israeli settlements flout international law, utilizing distortions of Judeo-Christian theology and/or what are regarded as the ‘facts on the ground’ (in this case meaning that the Israelis hold the land so they are not going anywhere).  By controlling another people, the Israeli occupation renders impossible any real sense of democracy for Israel.

Yet it is within Israel itself that Beinart’s argument is fundamentally based upon a set of myths, repeatedly stated and often unquestioned, but myths nevertheless.  The central myth is that Israel, within the pre-1967 borders, is a democracy and that it is the Occupation perverting this otherwise just state.  This misrepresents reality.  For 20 percent of Israelis there is no genuine democracy.  Palestinian citizens of Israel exist as second-class citizens compared with Jewish Israelis.  Whether one is referencing a “racial” differential in public education, availability of land, marriage laws, employment, or discriminatory housing access, Israel within the pre-1967 borders - with some 35 discriminatory laws - comes up short on democracy. 

It's like calling the pre-Civil Rights United States of America a democracy.  With rampant legalized discrimination against African Americans and other people of color, and with voting skewed against the poor more generally, how could that have been a democracy?  It’s also reminiscent of those who speak of ancient Athenian democracy while ignoring the fact that this “democracy” was founded on slavery.  Either a system is democratic or it is not, a fact that many of us here in the USA understood in the period of Jim Crow segregation in the former Confederate states of our South.

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