G40 Proposals Promoting Peace and Justice in Israel/Palestine July 13, 2009
Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) is an organization of Canadian Jews who share a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights. We especially focus on promoting justice, ethics, and humanity in Israel and Palestine. We appreciate the United Church of Canada’s tradition of open discussion and its integrity in promoting social justice on key controversial issues such as same-gender marriages, economic justice, Indian residential schools, and climate change. We applaud the Toronto and Montreal/Ottawa Conferences for preparing G40 proposals to promote peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. We particularly support Pathway to Peace in Israel/Palestine, Seeking Peace through Justice: Institutional and Academic Boycott of Israel, and Working for Peace in Israel/Palestine Using Methods Used for South African Apartheid. We have attached our suggestions for improving the wording of Implementation of Measures towards Peace in the Middle East.
Many Christians mistakenly believe that the Israel/Palestine conflict is between Jews and Muslims, and that they have no right to interfere. Many fear being accused of being anti-Semitic if they express concerns about Israeli policies. And in the wake of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism culminating in the Holocaust, many Christians have felt obligated to show uncritical loyalty to Israel (“philo-Semitism”i) as a “sign of Christian repentance for Christians’ sins against the Jewish people.”ii
However, this is not a conflict between Muslims vs. Jews, or Palestinians vs. Israelis, but one of justice vs. injustice. We all share an ethical obligation to support the rights of oppressed people and to promote the same principles of human rights and international law that should be applied without exception to all states. The Palestinian people have endured over 60 years of ethnic cleansing, racist oppression worse than South African apartheid, and escalating violence approaching genocide. Israeli settlements, Israeli-only roads, and control of the economy and infrastructure have established what Jeff Halper, Israeli Jewish author and activist, calls a “matrix of control” over the Occupied Territories which virtually precludes a two-state solution, and which leaves Palestinians imprisoned in isolated Bantustans under brutal control.iii The Gaza massacre was only the latest in escalating incidents of Israeli government war crimes, atrocities, and human rights violations. Israel practises formalized racist state separation/discrimination policies both within Israel and in Israeli occupied Palestinian territories which fit the legal definition of ‘apartheid’ – a crime against humanity. Israel’s extensive and official state separation policies fly under the ‘apartheid’ radar because they go under the Hebrew name Hafrada. The Palestinian people need and deserve our support to force Israel to respect their rights.
As Jews, we affirm that holding the Israeli government to recognized ethical standards of international and humanitarian law is not anti-Semitic. Israel has the capacity to fulfil these basic standards and it would be esteemed for meeting them. Instead it has chosen to escalate oppressive policies, thus bringing condemnation upon itself. We support justice for Palestinians, not because we arbitrarily favour them, but because universal human rights and the protections of international law have been denied to them for over six decades. Like B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, we apply the same universal standards to both Palestinians and Israelis.
Because we believe it is an ethical imperative to challenge the Israeli government’s discriminatory and illegal behaviour (as well as our own government’s uncritical support of this behaviour), we endorse non-violent strategies to urge Israeli compliance with international law.
IJV supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli government.
BDS is a non-violent, democratic action reserved for particularly egregious situations of injustice which are impervious to normal mechanisms for compliance with international and humanitarian law. Typically these situations involve flagrant, dire, long-standing and worsening violations of international law, and failure to comply with international courts and the United Nations resolutions when directed to do so. BDS also helps citizens to pressure their own governments to cease actively perpetuating and even funding oppressive policies. BDS is grounded in international law and basic notions of equality. It is guided by the same spirit that pressured the South African Apartheid government to end its systematic oppression of Black South Africans.
The Israeli government has ignored and rejected over 150 UN resolutions and rulings by the International Court of Justice. Canada, the U.S. and other Western powers have colluded in Israel repudiating demands for justice. After the recent Israeli invasion into Gaza which left over 1400 Palestinians dead in its wake, and the election of a radical right-wing Israeli government, we realized that equivocation and half-measures in response to Israeli state oppression were simply unacceptable.
The BDS call represents the will of the Palestinian people. It has been endorsed by over 170 Palestinian parties, organizations, trade unions and movements representing the Palestinian people in the 1967 and 1948 territories and in the Diaspora. On July 13, 2005 the UN International Civil Society Conference adopted the Palestinian Call for BDS. On Nov.25, 2008, UN General Assembly President Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua called for an international boycott of Israel after accusing it of being an apartheid regime.
Many Israeli and Jewish peace organizations worldwide have now joined the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctionsiv. On June 14, 2009, after careful consideration and study, IJV also passed its own strong BDS resolution.
As an organization that seeks to reclaim the Jewish tradition of universal freedoms, human rights and social justice, IJV supports this call with a shared hope for a peaceful future for Israel/Palestine. The lessons we have learned from Jewish history compel us to speak out unequivocally for the human rights of all people and to assert: “Never Again!” We are proud to be part of a BDS movement that allows us to act in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Refuting Arguments against BDS:
Is BDS anti-Semitic? Holding governments accountable for human rights violations is not racist or anti-Semitic! To equate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish sentiment is to assume that Jews all over the world bear full responsibility for every crime and violation of international law committed by Israel, a clearly racist argument itself. Jews are far from united about Israel. While some Jews support Israeli apartheid policies, others are vocal critics, including many strong supporters of the BDS movement.
Does BDS unfairly target Israel? It is more appropriate to ask whether Israel’s escalating illegal sanctions and coercion unfairly pressure Palestinians to renounce their elected representatives, sacrifice their land and rights, and allow themselves to be “transferred” to Arab countries. These tactics include the blockade of aid to Gaza, arbitrary imprisonment and torture, collective punishment, house and crop demolitions, targeted assassinations, blocked mobility by checkpoints, and pervasive military surveillance and attack. Palestinians’ formerly vibrant economy has been shattered and the ongoing growth of Settlements eats up their water, land, and freedom. While Israel promotes academic partnerships with Western universities, Palestinian researchers, professors and students experience overwhelming obstacles to study and academic freedom.
BDS targets Israel and companies which support Israel’s unlawful behaviour because Israel holds decisive power over Palestinians; controlling their land, their freedom, their economy, and their lives. Israel is the largest military power, and the only nuclear power in the region. It receives massive military, political, and economic support from Canada, the US and other Western powers. Israel imposes the lion’s share of death and destruction in this conflict, and it bears the overwhelming responsibility and power to create justice and peace.
The BDS movement against Israel does not preclude similar actions against other states. It is merely Palestinian civil society’s call for a particular tactic of non-violent international action. Such a campaign of de-normalization can pressure Israel into resolving the conflict peacefully. To argue for BDS against Israel doesn’t mean that one considers Israel to be the worst human-rights violator in the world. After all, during the boycott movement against South African apartheid, Pol Pot was engaging in more heinous crimes in Cambodia. Instead it means that one supports the Palestinian struggle and is willing to engage in strategic, non-violent tactics that can have results.
Does BDS block bridge-building and dialogue? Authentic dialogue can only occur between equals, not across Apartheid walls. As Palestinian human rights activist Omar Barghouti writes: “The mutual recognition of equal humanity ought to be a necessary precondition for, never a consequence of dialogue.” As with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa which brought together white and black South Africans to struggle for their equal humanity, BDS is a movement that is building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians, in what Israeli peace activist Michael Warschawski describes as “a Jewish-Arab partnership aimed not at creating the illusion of peace and coexistence, but at creating a joint struggle to make it possible in the future.” Such partnership can only be forged through struggle and the recognition of each other’s humanity. BDS is the Palestinian call to international civil society for just such a partnership.
Should the United Church of Canada remain neutral in this conflict?
South African Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu has addressed the myth of neutrality eloquently: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Considering the extreme power imbalance between the Israel and the Palestinian people who live under Israeli occupation, to remain “neutral” is to condone Israel’s violations of international law.
All People of Conscience Must Unite to Stop Injustice
In the face of escalating Israeli violence, Settlement expansion, war crimes, and the current Israeli government’s threats of even worse oppression against Palestinians inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories and Gaza, we must move beyond talk to action. We must refuse to be bystanders or worse, voyeurs, to the systematic destruction of the Palestinian people. IJV urges United Church delegates to pass Pathway to Peace in Israel/Palestine, Seeking Peace through Justice: Institutional and Academic Boycott of Israel, and Working for Peace in Israel/Palestine Using Methods Used for South African Apartheid, and to consider our suggestions for strengthening Implementation of Measures towards Peace in the Middle East (attached). We stand ready to support you in making and following through on this moral and courageous step.
i Larry Haiven “Anti-Semitism” Workshop at IJV AGM, June 13, 2009.
ii Mark Ellis (2009) Judaism does not equal Israel p. xxii
iii Jeff Halper (2008) An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Disposession, Redeeming Israel. London: Pluto
IJV suggested improvements to wording of
IV. Implementation of Measures towards Peace in the Middle East
That the 40th General Council (2009)
1. Record its convictions that a just peace in the Middle East will require:
– That the occupation and siege of Gaza by Israel cease, requiring the full withdrawal of Israel forces from Gaza;
– The denunciation of Human Rights abuses committed by Israel and PalestinIANS, as documented by Amnesty International and the United Nations, that will result in Member States of the United Nations taking subsequent, appropriate actions;
– The withdrawal of Israeli military forces to pre-1967 borders; – THE END OF ALL FORMS OF VIOLENCE DIRECTED TOWARDS CIVILIANS—PALESTINIAN OR ISRAELI—AND AGAINST THOSE PROVIDING PROTECTION OR AGENCY FOR CIVILIANS. – THE END OF ALL FORMS OF COLLECTIVE VIOLENCE AGAINST AND ETHNIC CLEANSING OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE;
Recognition that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip constitute an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967 and THAT Israeli settlements in the West Bank ARE ILLEGAL UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW;
– The GUARANTEE OF THE RIGHT TO LIVE IN SAFETY AND SECURITY WITHIN SECURE BORDERS TO BOTH PALESTINIANS AND ISRAELIS– AS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT OF ALL PEOPLES;
– That the Government of Canada and Member States of the United Nations support international efforts to alleviate the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza;
– THE RECOGNITION BY BOTH ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS OF FUNDAMENTAL DEMOCRATIC ATTRIBUTES SUCH AS equal citizenship rights, protections, privileges and responsibilities for all of their citizens regardless of religious or national origins IN WHATEVER MODEL(S) OF STATEHOOD THEY ULTIMATELY CHOOSE.
– The immediate stop to the erection of the separation wall on occupied
Palestinian land AND DISMANTELLING OF THE EXISTING SEPARATION WALL.
2. Inform the Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister of External Affairs, in writing, of the above convictions and request that Canadian policy and commitments in the Middle East reflect this position.
3. Recommend that United Church Conferences, Presbyteries, congregations and community ministries study this proposal and be encouraged to take actions to make their views known to Government Members and in the public domain.