With some 10,000 members and supporters, and a board of advisors that includes high-profile American Jews and Israeli peace activists, Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the largest and oldest grassroots Jewish peace organizations in the United States.
For years, through its call to suspend military aid to Israel until it ends its occupation of Palestinian lands, Jewish Voice for Peace has led the call for material pressure on Israel. Now, other prominent groups have joined in the effort to resist funding the occupation, while maintaining a positive relationship with the Israeli people.
In July, 2004, the Presbyterian Church made a decision to investigate selective divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation. As a result, a number of mainline Jewish organizations have called on Christian organizations to oppose divestment. All the while, the actual content of the Presbyterian Church’s decision has been misreported as a decision to divest from Israel. In fact, the PCUSA merely decided to investigate divestment from companies, both American and Israeli, that profit from the occupation.
At JVP, we fully support selective divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This includes American companies like Caterpillar, who profit from the wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes and orchards. It also includes Israeli companies who depend on settlements for materials or labour, or who produce military equipment used to violate Palestinian human rights.
We believe that general divestment from Israel is an unwise strategy at this time. We believe that economic measures targeted specifically at the occupation and the Israeli military complex that sustains it are much more likely to produce results.
However, we absolutely reject the accusation that general divestment or boycott campaigns are inherently anti-Semitic. The Israeli government is a government like any other, and condemning its abuse of state power, as many of its own citizens do quite vigorously, is in no way the same as attacking the Jewish people.
Further, it is crucial not only to criticize the immoral and illegal acts of the Israeli government, but to back up that criticism with action. Socially responsible investing, divestment and boycott campaigns have proven to be effective tools for both individuals and institutions working to make governments accountable to international human-rights standards. The mere fact that some groups have chosen different or more aggressive tactics from us does not necessarily make them anti-Semitic.
Each year, U.S. corporations receive an alarming subsidy from U.S. taxpayers, primarily in the form of U.S. military aid to Israel. The total amount of U.S. aid given to Israel since 1949 represents the largest transfer of funds from one country to another in history. Seventy-five per cent of U.S. military aid to Israel must by law be spent in U.S. corporations, making corporations, not Israel or Israelis, the primary recipients of U.S. aid. This means that U.S. corporations are primary beneficiaries of Israel’s continued and brutal military occupation of Palestinian lands.
This lopsided American foreign policy may seem to be in Israel’s interest, but it actually works to the detriment of the Israeli people. Continued militarization of Israeli society increases the exposure of Israeli women and children to violence in their daily lives, and has helped lead the country to economic crisis. At the same time, this unbalanced U.S. foreign policy has devastated Palestinians.
Neither the U.S. nor Israel will change their policies in favour of peace through their own goodwill. This is not the way of governments. Tangible pressure must be brought to bear if policies promoting a better future are to take root. The time has come for groups to bring that pressure to bear.
We salute the Presbyterian Church for their courage in taking on this critical human-rights issue, and are grateful for the visionary leadership of the Sisters of Loretto and the Sisters of Mercy, who insisted on holding the Caterpillar Corporation to account for their sale of weaponized bulldozers to Israel.
And we remind the many groups that are alarmed by the Presbyterian Church’s actions that the best way to stop the growing divestment movement is to eliminate its root cause — Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
We call on all people of conscience to join the Presbyterian Church, the Sisters of Loretto, Sisters of Mercy and Jewish Voice for Peace in taking tangible steps to create a better future for Israelis and Palestinians together.
–Jewish Voice For Peace
This article appeared in the January/February 2005 issue of Canadian Dimension .