Thursday, February 24, 2005

Anti-semitic or biased?

Yahoo! news has an article reporting that the World Council of Churches has asked its members to divest from companies that "benefit from Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories". The Anti-Defamation League responded here, suggesting that this divestment is a product of anti-Israeli bias. The implication, I think, is that the churches may be motivated by anti-semitism. Other news reports and commentators (here, here, and here) include similar suggestions. I'm not sure I agree.

I think it's important that the WCC has focused on companies that explicitly benefit from policies in the Occupied Territories. In effect, the WCC is saying that they do not support Israeli state policy in one small segment of territory that is NOT Israeli. To me, that sounds eminently reasonable and not at all anti-semitic. Unless Israel's policies are somehow representative of the religion or the "race", I would interpret opposition to them as just another political statement with no racial subtext. No doubt, many would disagree with me.

We could, as many others have done, draw a parallel between this divestment campaign and the anti-apartheid divestment campaigns of the 1980s. Back then, no rational commentator suggested that anti-apartheid divestment was driven by animus against Boers or against white people. Rather, divestment was a means to force South Africa's white government to pay an economic price for their racist policies. Because virtually the entire economy was run by Boers and benefited from apartheid in some way, a broad policy of divestment was necessary. Compare this to the current WCC divestment policy. Rather than a nationwide effort, it focuses solely on those companies that benefit from the Palestinian occupation. Though this may affect some firms within Israel proper, its tight focus is, in effect, a statement that the WCC recognizes the validity of all other Israeli policies. Thus, whereas South African divestment targetted an entire immoral political and economic system, the WCC divestment targets only one small subset of the Israeli political economy. From my standpoint, this is hardly anti-semitic.

That said, the WCC's divestment is certainly a statement that Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is immoral. Perhaps that is biased. But, any claim that the WCC's failure to divest from Palestinian firms is further proof of an anti-Israeli bias is just foolish. Does anyone really think that there are huge, publicly-traded Palestinian firms benefiting from the intifada? I think not.

Either way, I'd welcome comments from anyone wants to explain why opposing Israeli policy is inherently anti-semitic or biased. Is it because all Israeli policies in the Territories are designed to address an existential threat posed by Arab anti-semitism? If so, do you think there is any potential for non-violent policies to succeed and how could those be established?