April 2012, Week 2


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Sat, 14 Apr 2012 16:08:15 -0400
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Why Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Should Be Used
to Target Israeli Apartheid

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
April 13, 2012


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

A more recent similarity, however, is that of apartheid
South Africa.  The apartheid regime loved to lay claim
to being Africa's shining democracy.  It possessed a
working parliament, regular elections, and voting
rights - except for one small matter:  none of this
worked for the non-white majority (so-called blacks and
so-called coloreds).  In the face of a rising tide of
global indignation against the racist South African
system, the United Nations asserted that apartheid
represented a total system of racist oppression and was
anathema to the modern, civilized world.  The United
Nations, in 1973, condemned this system but did not
limit its criticism to South Africa.  Instead, it
expanded the criticism to describe racially oppressive
regimes such as those in southern Africa at that time.

Resistance to South African apartheid took many forms.
In South Africa there were military actions as well as
non-violent protests.  Fundamentally, the African
majority made it clear that the apartheid system would
no longer be tolerated.  Resistance, however, was a
global phenomenon and, responding to the call from
democratic forces on the ground, an international
movement emerged to support boycotts, divestments and
sanctions as a means of pressuring and ultimately
undermining the apartheid regime.

In today's setting, while the Occupation of the
Palestinian territories is the most glaring example of
the system of Israeli apartheid, it's not the only
representation.  The Israeli government has been toying
with the further expansion of the illegal settlements
in the Occupied Territories along with population
transfers-read ethnic cleansing-of Palestinian citizens
of Israel, particularly as voiced by Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman.  The lack of democracy that Beinart
points to in the Occupied Territories is not walled off
from what has been unfolding within the Israel of the
pre-1967 borders.

Beinart further undercuts his argument about Israeli
democracy by never having admitted that he was wrong
when he said to Jeffrey Goldberg two years ago, "I'm
not asking Israel to be Utopian. I'm not asking it to
allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in
1948 to return to their homes. I'm not even asking it
to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis,
since that would require Israel no longer being a
Jewish state. I'm actually pretty willing to compromise
my liberalism for Israel's security and for its status
as a Jewish state. What I am asking is that Israel not
do things that foreclose the possibility of a
Palestinian state in the West Bank, because if it is
does that it will become--and I'm quoting Ehud Olmert
and Ehud Barak here--an `apartheid state.'"  This
reinforces the notion that he gets the non-democratic
reality of the West Bank, but either doesn't get
Israel's internal lack of democracy or simply doesn't
much care.  It's a serious flaw in Beinart's thinking
about the conflict (not to mention Goldberg's, who
doesn't even follow up on the undemocratic statement).

Whether the resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is found in one bi-national state or two
states will be a matter settled by the Israelis and the
Palestinians - and, one trusts, the balancing influence
of an international community that recognizes the law-
breaking ways of the more powerful Israel.  In fact,
global opinion has increasingly moved to isolate Israel
and to make clear the false democratic fa├žade
surrounding it.  The campaign for Boycott, Divestment
and Sanctions (BDS) has been a significant instrument
in that campaign.  BDS delegitimizes the Israeli
apartheid system and challenges the false theology and
colonial mentality that has both helped to create it
and reinforced it.  BDS offers an opportunity for all
those who support peace, justice and democracy for the
Israeli and Palestinian people to enter into a struggle
with one of the most profound examples of injustice
currently faced, an injustice that rather than existing
in isolation can ignite a firestorm if permitted to go

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the Executive Editor of
BlackCommentator.com. He is a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past
president of TransAfrica Forum. He was a co-founder of
both the Center for Labor Renewal and the Black Radical
Congress. He is the co-author of "Solidarity Divided"
(University of California Press, 2008)."

c 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights


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