Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Wed Dec 22 23:01:15 2010

A consideration on divestment campaigns from Israel

There have long been movements in western society suggesting a boycott of goods from Israel as well as social sanctions against anyone from the region (athletes, scientists, authors, etc). Some of these restrict their suggested sanctions to products and people from what's known as the Occupied Territories (usually having some resemblance to the 1947 or 1967 UN Partition Plans). When is this appropriate?

The reasons for the movement are usually one of:

Conclusions I bring to the table: Let's focus on two proposals for divestment - that based on the settlements and that based on Israel. For the settlements, the idea is to boycott people and products from these regions, considering them something like "fruit of the poisonous tree". I am sympathetic to this idea - I believe these communities should be uprooted and placed back in Israel proper, that their land grab is unethical, and that a combination of notification and progressively stronger force is appropriate to remove them (up to bombing, eventually, should they ignore clear and repeated warnings/evacuations and keep returning). First, a practical concern - is a boycott of these products practical? At most, I believe it would be bad PR, contributing to the general debate rather than making a big dent in the bottom line of companies operating in these areas. Secondly, some companies proudly will mislabel products to hide their origin in the OT, and it would take considerable effort to identify which are telling the truth. This may mean that such a ban would effectively amount to a complete financial divestment from Israel and a shaming/personal divestment from people living in the territories (likely not a big deal because in many cases these settlers do not travel outside of Israel). In the other idea of divestment, one would divest entirely from Israel based on the nature of the state. I do not favour this, because I do not think people are generally responsible for their government or its history. I would accept a financial boycott that would cover the state of Israel because it is the only practical way to divest from the occupied territories, but I would not accept one that desires an in-principle ban on the nation or one that includes a shaming/personal divestment of all people from Israel.

However, before we can accept any kind of divestment from Israel, we need more context. Any divestment from Israel should not happen sui generis - if we are interested in injecting ethics into our business and interpersonal ties, we should be using some kind of consistent judgement - it would be inappropriate to consider Israel the only country on our planet that merits a ban. This represents a clean break that we must establish with people who wish to divest out of some Arab nationalism - as Enlightenment Liberals, Arab nationalism is as much an ugly thing as Zionism. When might we consider divesting from nations?

Ethnical investing and morality in international politics is a very heavy burden to bear - it requires a lot of education and attention to nuance. In some cases light versions of it are easy, but it would be inappropriate to single Israel out, particularly as a result of manipulation by Arab nationalists. (Sidenote - one should be very wary of coalitions between liberal groups and groups devoted significantly to palestinian causes - any common cause should not allow groups to get closer than arm's-length). If one divests from Israel, one should have a list of other countries where one is doing the same, and that divestment should have the right rasons behind it.