Israeli blogger Noam Sheizal writes in the US based, Foreign Policy’s The Middle East Channel, that the majority of voters in Israel currently have no interest in ending the country’s 44 year-long military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Sheizal, a columnist for +972, a progressive Israeli website, concludes in his FP essay, that the “peace camp” has disappeared from Israeli politics.
For Israelis, according to Sheizal, the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank
remains a non-issue and will continue to be so, as long as the military is able to hold back any local Palestinian resistance, the prime minister is successful in resisting continued diplomatic pressure and regional isolation, and the internal and external boycott movement remains marginal.
What Sheizal describes as “the internal and external boycott movement” is better known in US peace circles as BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The indifference to BDS that Sheizal found among Israelis is unfortunately also found in the US voting public.
This indifference is not shared by those who gathered on the University of Pennsylvania campus this weekend for the first national meeting of BDS. According to the conference’s website, BDS’ goal is to “boycott, divest from and sanction (BDS) the State of Israel until it complies with its obligations under international and human rights law.”
The Israel Lobby and its US supporters took the BDS weekend event quite seriously, so much so that a heavy-hitter like noted criminal attorney Alan Dershowitz. was on the scene to employ his courtroom skills to make Israel’s case.
The presence of Dershowitz in the University of Pennsylvania college newspaper prior to this weekend, was an early indication that the Israel Lobby is in such a belligerent paranoid mindset that any public display of criticism of Israeli policies must be resisted with heavy vitriolic rhetoric.
To the Lobby, there is never any room for indifference where Israel is concerned.
Who better than Dershowitz to set the agenda for the battle ahead.
“Why Israel Matters to You, Me, and Penn: A conversation with Alan Dershowitz,” was the title of Dershowitz’ lecture, an event co-hosted by Penn’s Political Science department, which had earlier refused to co-sponsor the BDS conference.
Advance attacks on BDS speakers were reported by Max Blumenthal, who was also a Conference participant.
Ali Abunimah, a renowned Palestinian writer and solidarity activist who will deliver the conference’s keynote address, was recently accused by Emily Schrader, an activist with the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, of “incitement to violence against Israelis.” Wayne Firestone, the president of the pro-Israel student group Hillel, accused the Penn BDS conference of advocating “warfare” and fomenting “hatred.”
The allegations leveled by Schrader and Firestone could not be further from the truth. Not one participant in the Penn BDS conference has “incited” violence against Israelis or anyone else.
Instead, BDS advocates have raised their voices in support of an expressly non-violent movement that takes its inspiration from the American civil rights struggle against Jim Crow bigotry and the international campaign against South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Thursday night one day before the conference opened, Dershowitz spoke to a full house at the Zellerbach Theater at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. His audience included people from the university and from the larger community.
Dershowitz’ invitation to speak came from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Hillel of Greater Philadelphia and Penn Hillel.
David Cohen, Chairman of the Penn Board of Trustees, introduced Dershowitz with a message from University President Amy Gutmann, which included this pro-Israel sentiment: “We are unwavering in our support of Israel. We do not support the message or the goals of BDS.”
Cohen is the chairman of the board of Comcast, which recently purchased the NBC television network, which includes MSNBC.
As faithful viewers are aware, MSNBC has a progressive stance. However, as Philip Weiss points out on his Mondoweiss website, the progressive MSNBC anchors do not reflect a progressive outlook in matters related to the Israel/Palestine issue. The lineup of Chis Matthews, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell, are four of television’s leading PEPs (Progressive Except on Palestine).
In his talk Thursday, Dershowitz praised the University for “championing free speech”. He added, however, according to the news report, that If Penn had banned BDS. he would have been forced to defend them in the name of free speech, something he wouldn’t want to do.
After that nod to free speech, Dershowitz told his appreciative audience, “We are going to win this encounter.” Dershowitz was critical of Penn professors who support BDS, describing them are “complacent with evil.”
Penn for Palestine co-president, sophomore Sarah Shihadah, explained that their BDS group opted to watch the live stream of the event instead of attending the event because of Dershovitz’s “hostile rhetoric” against BDS supporters.
“[We] hope the balance of the two events,” — Dershowitz’s talk and the BDS conference — “will stimulate honest academic discourse,” Shihadah said.
She added, however that she felt Dershowitz “misrepresented and omitted some of the human-rights issues faced by Palestinians, such as the millions of Palestinians living under occupation and millions more in diaspora whose rights Israel fails to uphold as recognized by the United Nations.”
During his talk, Dershowitz’ comment that the UN is a “house of hypocrisy” was greeted by loud cheers and applause. Also in his speech, Dershowitz charged: “BDS hypocrites [are] interested in de-legitimizing Israel.”
Ali Abunimah earlier wrote in a guest column for the Philadelphia Inquirer:
We are coming together to push forward an inclusive movement that supports nonviolent action to promote the human rights of the Palestinian people, because only full respect for these rights can lead to peace. Today, millions of Palestinians live without basic rights under Israeli rule. This intolerable situation is at the root of problems that affect the whole world.
This is a theme that will move forward as both secular and religious groups gather,step by determined step, to make the case for BDS.
Next in line, the quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which meets in Tampa, Florida, from April 24 through May 4, 2012. On the Conference agenda will be a resolution that would make it official church policy to divest United Methodist funds from three US corporations–Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard–which the denomination has determined are using church investment funds to support the Occupation of Palestinian Territories.
Delegates who support the divestment resolution will be able to declare that United Methodists will not allow its funds to participate in the Occupation.
The resolution calls for the General Conference to instruct all United Methodist general boards and agencies to divest promptly from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard, which have been engaged repeatedly by United Methodist agencies and annual conferences on this issue, until these companies end their involvement in the Israeli occupation.
The Penn BDS Conference was the opening salvo in 2012 in the campaign for Palestinian, and in the long run, Israeli, justice. In April, United Methodist delegates will be able to choose either to support the Palestinians who have asked for their help in ending Israel’s Occupation, or they may choose to reject that Palestinian request.
The vote will be the moment in time, Kairos time, when United Methodists will answer the question, “Which side are you on?”
The picture at the top of this posting is of a ceremonial space honoring indigenous people, by artist Bob Haozous. It is located in Fort Brooke Park on the Riverwalk in Tampa, Fla. The United Methodist Church will hold an Act of Repentance and Healing for Indigenous Persons, during its 2012 General Conference, which will be held a few blocks away at the Tampa Convention Center April 24-May 4. The United Methodist News Service photo is by Mike DuBose.