Why Divestment Should Be Rejected

Divestment is not an isolated initiative

It is a major initiative of the international Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement. After divestment was approved by the Presbyterian General Assembly in 2014, BDS leaders claimed PC(USA) had joined its ranks, in spite of GA statements to the contrary. The BDS movement is not a peace movement. It is not a movement seeking to reform Israel’s policies. It is a movement seeking to undo the world’s 1948 decision to support the creation of the nation of Israel.

 Divestment/BDS advocates offer no plan for peace

Divestment/BDS is an Israel-targeted economic pressure campaign, yet divestment/BDS advocates offer no clarity as to what they want the government of Israel to do. Simply calling for an “end of the occupation” is not enough. Is the BDS goal to pressure Israel to remove all Israeli military presence in the West Bank? If so, what should Israel do if Hamas and other violent Palestinian factions committed to Israel’s destruction take over and launch attacks at Israeli civilians? Do divestment/BDS advocates want all Jews living in the West Bank to leave, as they left Gaza in 2005? If so, wouldn’t that amount to a call for ethnic cleansing?

BDS advocates calls for Israel to be labeled an “apartheid state.” Is divestment intended to pressure Israel to annex Gaza and the West Bank and give all Palestinians citizenship, also known as the “one-state solution”? Would the name of the new country be changed to “Palestine”? Approval of divestment sends a message that PC(USA) is committed to pressuring the government of Israel to take action, but has not yet decided what that action should be, and is potentially years away from making such a decision. We should instead encourage constructive efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together on projects that foster reconciliation, understanding and trust.

It is also impossible to see how “Zionism Unsettled,” the controversial study guide published earlier this year by the Israel Palestine Mission Network, advances peace. The document labels the Zionist movement for a Jewish homeland in Israel as illegitimate and immoral, and has been praised by groups committed to Israel’s destruction and violently opposed to Israeli/Palestinian coexistence. In Israel, it has only strengthened the position of those most skeptical of the peace process and the two-state solution. “Zionism Unsettled” does nothing but foster distrust, hostility and increased polarization.

The goal of international BDS leadership is the end of the Jewish state of Israel

We fully recognize that many divestment/BDS supporters are people of good will that seek a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians. The leaders of the BDS movement, however, have been vocal with respect to their intent. Here are statements in their own words:

“We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine… [only] a sellout Palestinian would accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” – Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS Movement[1]

“BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.” – Ahmed Moor, leading BDS activist[2]  

“The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel… Justice and freedom for Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.” – As’ad Abukhalil, leading BDS activist[3]  

“BDS represents three words that will help bring about the defeat of Zionist Israel and victory for Palestine.”
– Ronnie Kasrils, South African BDS leader[4] 

Even some of Israel’s harshest critics have recognized the malicious goals of the BDS movement. Academic, pro-Palestinian activist and leading critic of Israel, Norman Finkelstein, has said that BDS is “not really talking about rights. They’re talking about [how] they want to destroy Israel.”[5] Similarly, Professor Noam Chomsky accused BDS of calling for “the destruction of Israel,” and said that “if you really hate the Palestinians, [BDS] is a good step because it’s going to harm them.”[6]

BDS is a campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel

The BDS movement relies on several offensive and misleading accusations to manipulate people of good will into supporting a harmful agenda. Here are some examples:

Accusation: Israeli Jews are European colonizers living on land stolen from indigenous Arabs

Both Jews and Arabs are indigenous to the Middle East, and both have maintained a documented presence for thousands of years. This accusation is used to justify the claim that the Jewish people have no right to a homeland in Israel.

Accusation: Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing/genocide against Palestinians.

This inflammatory charge simplifies a complex conflict where both parties bear responsibility for the current situation. In fact, the Arab population of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza has grown by millions since Israel’s establishment. Also little known is that Jews have been expelled throughout the Middle East and once-thriving Jewish communities that existed for hundreds or thousands of years in the region are now virtually extinct. 

Accusation: Israel is an apartheid state.

Apartheid-era South Africa was a state-sponsored system of racial segregation, which is not even remotely the case in Israel, where there is one law for all citizens and minorities have full political rights. For example, the human rights NGO Freedom House consistently ranks Israel as the only free country in the Middle East. The complicated situation in the West Bank must be viewed within the context of the ongoing conflict, but the bottom line is that Israel is a pluralistic and democratic society and this hateful allegation is neither appropriate nor accurate. 

BDS Leadership openly opposes Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation

BDS leadership opposes the numerous and growing grassroots, person-to-person peacemaking projects that represent the heart of Christian peacemaking. BDS leaders label their own stance as “anti-normalization” and they oppose contact and cooperation between ordinary Palestinians and Israelis. How can Christians stand in opposition to the peacemaking that our faith calls upon us to pursue?         

For more information and factual support for the points summarized here visit our website at www.pfmep.org.

[1] John Y. Jones, “Omar Barghouti – Strategies for Change,” Vimeo, September 2013, at https://vimeo.com/75201955

[2] Ahmed Moor, “BDS is a long term project with radically transformative potential,” Mondoweiss, April 22, 2010, at http://mondoweiss.net/2010/04/bds-is-a-long-term-project-with-radically-transformative-potential.html

[3] As’ad AbuKhalil, “A Critique of Norman Finkelstein on BDS,” February 17, 2012, at http://english.al-akhbar.com/blogs/angry-corner/critique-norman-finkelstein-bds

[4] Ronnie Kasrils, “Who said nearly 50 years ago that Israel was an Apartheid State?” World Media Monitors, March 17, 2009, at  http://world.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/60684/

[5] Norman Finkelstein, “Norman Finkelstein on BDS,” YouTube, February 15, 2012, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iggdO7C70P8

[6] Noam Chomsky, “Noam Chomsky Interviewed by Frank Barat, on Israel/Palestine (4/4),” YouTube, September 22, 2010, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5hY-gffV0M