Sunday, March 14, 2010

Justice for Palestinians and Israelis: Invest in Peace (activism)

Where is the road to peace to be found: in great and empty journeys or small but meaningful steps?

The most obvious problem with the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement is its vicious doctrines and goals. But another is its lack of concrete results. After nearly ten years (five, if, following its advocates, we conveniently erase the first half of the decade): not only has it not helped the suffering Palestinians one bit, but it has caused no economic pain to the target country (on the contrary, entrepreneurship and even foreign investment in Israel have surged; bummer).

In only one area has BDS achieved even limited success, intrinsically disturbing but still marginal: namely in trying to smear and thereby delegitimize a United Nations member state. I’ve never liked the Anglophile neologism, “branding,” in the sense of marketing or attaching an image to a product. There was no need for a new term. And the proper meaning of the old verb, "brand,"—to mark or stigmatize—has served us perfectly well since the fifteenth century, thank you very much. In this case, though, both are appropriate. The BDS movement is simply an attempt to brand Israel: it wants you to associate “apartheid” and “Israel” the way people used to associate “cunning“ and “Odysseus” or “avid” and “reader.” That is why, absence of concrete successes notwithstanding, opponents are mobilizing (1, 2, 3) and proponents are redoubling their efforts.

Only this overriding goal of stigmatization and delegitimization can explain the persistence of a movement that by any normal standard would long ago have been abandoned as an abject failure (you know the popular definition of insanity: to keep doing the same thing over and over but expect a different result). Only this can explain the obsessive-compulsive need of BDS activists to engage in increasingly futile and ridiculous gestures.

Exhibit A is the recent Gaza Freedom March, a comedy of errors so ludicrous that it sounds like the sort of thing its opponents would have made up. I have heard the imploring and naïve presentations. “The call went out,” as the activists tell it with hushed tones but quickened pulse, and nearly 1400 of them (as many as half from the US) set out for Egypt “with the hope of breaking the blockade of Gaza.” For some reason, these soi-disant revolutionaries who can see so confidently into the distant utopian future neglected to coordinate with the local authorities about the events of the coming weeks (whoops). The Egyptians, who tightly control the border with Gaza, would have none of what they regarded as an affront to their sovereignty and a threat to their security. They not only refused the activists entry to Gaza, but even (this is a police state, as the visitors came to realize; surprise, surprise) refused to allow large demonstrations in Egypt itself. Eventually, 84 activists were allowed to visit Gaza for a quick symbolic drop-in, while the other 94% of them twiddled their thumbs in Cairo or unfurled a Palestinian flag on a pyramid. (The British "Viva Palestina" junket—whose bigots and useful idiots had the same goals as our Code Pinkers and local Raging Grannies (1, 2, 3)—managed to go the Gaza Freedom March one better: it got its leader, pseudo-leftist but genuine antisemite George Galloway, declared persona non grata, and provoked a riot that killed an Egyptian border guard and injured 3 Palestinians and 50 activists; can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, don't you know.) Even the participants in these events admit that they achieved nothing tangible. They are reduced to spluttering that they at least garnered "a lot of Egyptian press" or inspired Egyptian dissidents to do something or other on their own (those helpless natives: a revealing touch of the paternalistic thinking typical of these fundamentally bourgeois-liberal "activists").

a "successful sit-in" at the UN in Cairo
("successful" in accomplishing . . . what??)

Can there be anything more preposterous? Well, perhaps only the thought of all these self-styled progressives driving their bumper-sticker-clad Priuses to the airport and then flying halfway around the world on gas-guzzling jets for the sake of an empty gesture. What, we may ask, was the monetary cost (simple to calculate) and carbon footprint (the precise math remains controversial, but you get the point) of such dilettantish political tourism? Could not those resources have been put to better use in concretely helping Palestinians?

Well, yes, for sure. Earlier, I promised to talk about some positive rather than negative approaches to the conflict, so here’s one: support organizations that, unlike BDS, are truly committed to peace, reconciliation, and practical results.

The Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) is a good example. Led by Israeli Gershon Baskin and Palestinian Hanna Siniora, it dates back to the first Intifada and has survived all subsequent communal and international violence between Arabs and Jews:
IPCRI seeks to serve as an intellectual platform for Israelis and Palestinians (and others) to create and develop new concepts and ideas that enrich the political and public discourse in order to influence decision makers and to challenge the current political reality with the aim of advancing the political solution of two-states for two-peoples. . . . .

IPCRI, with its active information activities and joint Israeli-Palestinian forums, is unique in that it is the only Israeli-Palestinian joint public policy think-tank and "do-tank" in the region. From the start it was based on what was then, and still is, a unique premise: IPCRI should be a truly joint Israeli-Palestinian organization with its governance and management built on co-leadership.
Accordingly, IPCRI has been named one of the world's best NGO's.

It meets my baseline standards:
• It is dedicated in equal measure to the interests of both peoples.
• It supports two states, living side by side, securely and in peace, on mutually agreed terms.
• It understands that one state will be the Jewish national home, and the other the Palestinian national home (though some members of each group may continue to reside in the state of the other, with full civil rights).
• It unequivocally condemns not just violence, but incitement and intolerance on both sides.
• It does not just encourage talk, but facilitates concrete collaboration on the part of Israelis and Palestinians themselves.
Not everyone will endorse all of its stances on any particular issue (even I may not)—and that is exactly the point. It is possible to disagree politically about an organization’s policies and consequences, but if its ethics are sound, that can be the basis for a conversation: dialogue rather than demonization.

Isn’t that better and more meaningful than wearing a clown suit in Cairo?

What’s better:

empty gestures


real peace-work?

IPCRI has just embarked upon its annual spring fund drive, and you can donate here if you so desire.

A contribution of $ 25 per month—less than the cost of a single day of "economy" parking at Boston's Logan International Airport—adds up to $ 300: way less pricey than a jaunt to Egypt, and way more satisfying for those who actually live in the region rather than just pop in for a pyramid and a protest.

Divest from Israel or invest in peace for both peoples? Not a hard choice, if you stop to think about it. Of course, "think" is the operative word here.

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