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Semiformalishmaybe

Divestment

A consideration on divestment campaigns from Israel

There have long been movements in western society suggesting a boycott of goods from Israel as well as social sanctions against anyone from the region (athletes, scientists, authors, etc). Some of these restrict their suggested sanctions to products and people from what's known as the Occupied Territories (usually having some resemblance to the 1947 or 1967 UN Partition Plans). When is this appropriate?

The reasons for the movement are usually one of:

  • Israel's formation was a great historical injustice and should not have happened - I concur with this, but consider it not very relevant for modern questions as it was too long ago.
  • Israel can be undone and placed under some form of Palestinian governance (whether the relatively secular coalition led by Fatah or the relatively Islamist coalitions led by Hamas or Hezbollah). I believe this would be a very bad idea.
  • Israel is a state trying to act as an ethnic homeland and is thus racist - I agree with this and give it some weight
  • The areas outside of Israel (as defined by these partition plans or possibly the areas Israel considers conclusively its) but controlled by Israel, namely the West Bank, East Yerushalaim, and Gaza, are occupied significantly by political radicals who mistreat Palestinians and intend their settlements not to be moved when a final settlement is had (land grab). I mostly agree with this and give it some weight.
Conclusions I bring to the table:
  • There are no gods, and nobody was given the land through supernatural means or owns it through such means. Like all land, its acquisition came about through a mix of power and politics each time it changed hands.
  • Israel's foundation, like many national foundations (including our own) was a tragedy involving intimidation, brutal struggle (that merits the name terrorism), outright theft, and jingoist mentality
  • The histories of the Arabs and Israelis generally distorted facts significantly. A number of Israelis (primarily older ones as their curricula have often been made more accurate) and American Jews have serious misunderstandings about the founding of Israel, fed by propoganda. Arab governments have significant misinformation as well.
  • Israel, legally speaking, is a racist state. Any state that gives strong ethnic preferences to its actual or prospective citizens, has state institutions preferring (or fails to prohibit large-scale private institutions preferring) people based on their ethnoreligious identity, should be considered racist.
  • Many other countries in the region are also racist and have worse wrongs, from perspectives of Enlightenment Liberalism.
  • Israel is a relatively western society despite being a racist state, with reasonable freedom of the press, freedom of conscience, relatively secular law (despite some glaring failures there), low levels of censorship, and cultural diversity.
  • Many Israeli politicians should be considered shameful/persona non grata for their support of actions unacceptable in western society (consider Rehavam Ze'evi)
  • Palestinians, for their part, have not shown signs of being interested or able to form a similarly secular/western government, and it would be unacceptable to allow the creation of another state employing Sharia law.
Let's focus on two proposals for divestment - that based on the settlements and that based on Israel. For the settlements, the idea is to boycott people and products from these regions, considering them something like "fruit of the poisonous tree". I am sympathetic to this idea - I believe these communities should be uprooted and placed back in Israel proper, that their land grab is unethical, and that a combination of notification and progressively stronger force is appropriate to remove them (up to bombing, eventually, should they ignore clear and repeated warnings/evacuations and keep returning). First, a practical concern - is a boycott of these products practical? At most, I believe it would be bad PR, contributing to the general debate rather than making a big dent in the bottom line of companies operating in these areas. Secondly, some companies proudly will mislabel products to hide their origin in the OT, and it would take considerable effort to identify which are telling the truth. This may mean that such a ban would effectively amount to a complete financial divestment from Israel and a shaming/personal divestment from people living in the territories (likely not a big deal because in many cases these settlers do not travel outside of Israel). In the other idea of divestment, one would divest entirely from Israel based on the nature of the state. I do not favour this, because I do not think people are generally responsible for their government or its history. I would accept a financial boycott that would cover the state of Israel because it is the only practical way to divest from the occupied territories, but I would not accept one that desires an in-principle ban on the nation or one that includes a shaming/personal divestment of all people from Israel.

However, before we can accept any kind of divestment from Israel, we need more context. Any divestment from Israel should not happen sui generis - if we are interested in injecting ethics into our business and interpersonal ties, we should be using some kind of consistent judgement - it would be inappropriate to consider Israel the only country on our planet that merits a ban. This represents a clean break that we must establish with people who wish to divest out of some Arab nationalism - as Enlightenment Liberals, Arab nationalism is as much an ugly thing as Zionism. When might we consider divesting from nations?

  • When they aim to be an ethnoreligious homeland, which places them squarely into the racist category. This aiming would likely be present in their legal framework as well as the institutions they support or permit.
  • When they have labour standards lacking to the point of forcing people to choose between slavery and starvation (or outright have forced labour)
  • When they are routinely led by certain classes of people whose concern for the people is negligible (this should be narrowly, not broadly construed - think Lukashenko (maybe) to the Kim Monarchy in North Korea).
  • When their laws are significantly ugly to western eyes (includes many instances of hardline Sharia nations), perhaps in gender relations, acceptance of rape, apostasy, or other topics
  • When their level of corruption is so high that purchases almost invariably support unfair use of non-state power, or the institutions of the state are directly controlled by conglomerates
Ethnical investing and morality in international politics is a very heavy burden to bear - it requires a lot of education and attention to nuance. In some cases light versions of it are easy, but it would be inappropriate to single Israel out, particularly as a result of manipulation by Arab nationalists. (Sidenote - one should be very wary of coalitions between liberal groups and groups devoted significantly to palestinian causes - any common cause should not allow groups to get closer than arm's-length). If one divests from Israel, one should have a list of other countries where one is doing the same, and that divestment should have the right rasons behind it.


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