Desmond Tutu writes a passionate call for American divestment in Israel. He gives me some food for thought on BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and on my role as an Israeli in the struggle for a just peace.
Justice requires action to stop subjugation of Palestinians
Desmond Tutu, TampaBay.com
A quarter-century ago I barnstormed around the United States encouraging Americans, particularly students, to press for divestment from South Africa. Today, regrettably, the time has come for similar action to force an end to Israel’s long-standing occupation of Palestinian territory and refusal to extend equal rights to Palestinian citizens who suffer from some 35 discriminatory laws.
I have reached this conclusion slowly and painfully. I am aware that many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who were so instrumental in the fight against South African apartheid are not yet ready to reckon with the apartheid nature of Israel and its current government. And I am enormously concerned that raising this issue will cause heartache to some in the Jewish community with whom I have worked closely and successfully for decades. But I cannot ignore the Palestinian suffering I have witnessed, nor the voices of those courageous Jews troubled by Israel’s discriminatory course.
I’m not entirely sure what I think about the Palestinian BDS campaign.
On one level, I support it because it is a form of non-violent resistance (the Israeli claims that this is “financial terrorism” are absurd and preposterous – what do they not call “terrorism” at this point?)
At the same time, it hurts all Israelis to one degree or another, and that makes it hard for me to really feel enthusiastic about it.
As an Israeli, I need to worry about the internal processes, within Israeli society, that can lead to an equal and just resolution to the conflict.
If the rest of the world wants to pressure Israelis into changing course, that’s their own business, and nobody can tell them what to buy from whom. BDS is a fair and reasonable way to go about it, and as long as it’s clearly a boycott of the Israeli state and not “the Jews” I’m glad it’s now such a central part of the Palestinian struggle.
I find Tutu’s piece an excellent contribution to the debate. It is personal, passionate, and compassionate. You don’t have to agree with his position in order to appreciate his ability to communicate in that way.
He quotes the great Martin Luther King Jr.:
I recall well the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he confesses to his “Christian and Jewish brothers” that he has been “gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom. …”
This strengthens my feeling on the place of Israelis in the struggle for peace. Some of us struggle because we want to see a different future for Israelis. Some because we want to see a different future for Palestinians. Often it is a combination of both.
Either way, it is legitimate for us to support Palestinian-initiated action we agree with. But it is not our place to tell Palestinians how to free themselves.
We can support them directly; we can support them indirectly by taking action within Israeli society independent of the Palestinians; if we disagree with their course of action, we can and should work against it. That much is ours to choose.
But we are not here to guide them to enlightenment. That mistake is made far too often by progressives, and a habit we have to kick.