Rabbi Lerner, the Green Party, and Divestment from Israel


The US Green Party called for divestment from Israel on 21 November 2005:

The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) publicly calls for divestment from and boycott of the State of Israel until such time as the full individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people are realized. . . .  The party calls on all civil society institutions and organizations around the world to implement a comprehensive divestment and boycott program.  Further, the party calls on all governments to support this program and to implement state level boycotts.  (“Greens, Calling for Palestinian Rights, Urge Divestment from Israel,” 28 November 2005)

The Green Party has been under attack from many sides since then (for instance, Paula Simon, Michael Waxman, Kathy Heilbronner, and Ellis Bromberg, “Green Party’s Divestment Call Doesn’t Promote Peace,” Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, 30 December 2006).

Last week Pe’er Visner, Chairman of the Israeli Greens, little more than a one-man party with little connection to the environmental movement in Israel, wrote a hysterical letter in critique of the US Greens’ call for divestment: “The Israeli Green Party feels that the US Green Party has been hijacked by elements of a hidden agenda to undermine the right of Israel to exist!” (“Israeli Green Party Response to US Green Party Resolution,” <http://www.green-party.org.il/public_statement.htm>).

Now, Rabbi Michael Lerner uses the tried and true (well actually false in this case) anti-Semitism card against the US Green Party:

I think the Greens have made a big strategic as well as moral mistake.  What Israel is doing is a violation of human rights and a big sin.  But it is not in the same league with the sins of many other nations, first and foremost the U.S.  If the Greens were calling for divestment from the U.S., Russia (because of Chechnya), China (because of Tibet), and Sudan (because of Darfur) then adding Israel to that list would be appropriate and I’d support such a multi-focused divestment.  But to single out Israel, while not calling for divestment from U.S. corporations that make possible the far more bloody occupation of Iraq, is a double standard that smacks of traditional anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Michael Lerner

editor, Tikkun

RabbiLerner at tikkun.org

I am not a member of the US Green Party, I don’t live in the US, and I don’t know what I would vote for or if I would vote at all if I did live in the US, but I definitely support its call.  And this is definitely not anti-Semitism and it doesn’t even smack close to it.  You need to deal with each issue, depending on the level of your government’s direct responsibility for it, and in a way that you think will best facilitate change.  There is no other occupation except that of Iraq which the taxes of the American people and the American government are so directly involved in funding, arming, justifying, and facilitating.  The American people are more responsible for ending the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian people and their land because of these factors.  Moreover, we know that the US government has the power to pressure Israel into making the needed change.  With the power to facilitate change comes the moral obligation to use it for justice.  That is not anti-Semitism — if anything, that IS an element of Jewish Ethics.

Importantly, it is BECAUSE the US Greens understand that Israel has real democratic institutions and mechanisms in place, promotes itself as a Democracy, cares about its international image, and wants to be part of the “West,” that a program of boycott and divestment can work.

Is Rabbi Lerner saying that, until you do everything everywhere, you should do nothing anywhere?

Does Lerner not agree that there are different degrees of moral responsibility based on the anticipated consequences of your  own actions?

Does he not understand that the American people are more directly  responsible for the ongoing occupation of Iraq and of Palestine than they are for the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese?  (Perhaps he could complain if the US Greens didn’t include a strong anti-Iraq-occupation platform and didn’t call for protest and other actions, but we know that they do both.)

Does he not understand that it was due to US pressure, by and large — as well as the threat of the International Court of Justice ruling, the growth of Israeli conscientious objectors, increasing talk of international boycott, etc. — that Sharon made the decision to remove the settlers and redeploy from Gaza?

Does he not know that it was in direct response to US pressure that the Israeli government allowed the East Jerusalem Palestinians to  vote in the January Palestinian Legislative Council elections?

Read this article by Gidon Levy from Ha’aretz, “One Little Telephone Call” (15 January 2006), showing the potential power that the US government has in influencing Israeli policies and actions.

Good morning, America.  You suddenly woke up and decided to pressure Israel to allow elections for the Palestinian Authority to be held in East Jerusalem?  How noble of you.  And how easy it was.  One telephone call, two at the most, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, a real “tough” guy, announced that Israeli was unconditionally surrendering.  For months, Israel has been declaring that it absolutely opposes elections in Jerusalem, and here, with only an American telephone call, everything suddenly changes.  The wolf Mofaz turned into a lamb, if not to say a chicken.  Maybe you will finally understand that if you so desire, a broom can shoot and Mofaz surrenders; if the administration had really wanted, the occupation would already be behind us, and the Middle East — and the world in its wake — would look different.

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If the American president wanted to bring peace to the region and remove the basis for one of the important engines of international terror, he could have done this long ago.  Massive American pressure would prod Israel into withdrawing from the occupied territories.  In this way, America would not only be liberating the world from one of the most threatening sources of conflict, but it would also save Israel, its faithful ally, from itself.  Imagine the president announcing that Israel should withdraw from all of the territories by a certain date.  Would Israel defy him?  Sounds too simplistic, imaginary?  It would be much easier than it seems.

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The events of the past months have clearly demonstrated that every time the U.S. pressures Israel, even slightly, the latter immediately capitulates.  It is enough to remember the demand for Israeli supervision of the Rafah crossing (which was also shelved after a quick telephone call), the Israeli commitment to finally operate the “safe passage” between Gaza and the West Bank (which was attained overnight during a visit to Jerusalem by the American secretary of state, and has not been implemented only because the U.S. lost interest in it), and the elections in East Jerusalem.  On the other hand, every time America kept quiet, Israel hurt itself and hindered peace by building more and more settlements, by the route it demarcated for the separation wall, by incarcerating the Palestinians and by exerting excessive force.

The laugh of fate is that the more hawkish that Israel’s leaders are portrayed, the more fearful they become of the United States.  This reached a peak during Ariel Sharon’s tenure: There has never been an Israeli statesman who was more fearful of American pressure.  The disengagement was also born, among other reasons, in an effort to please the administration.

But the dismantling of several “illegal” outposts in the West Bank, and even the exalted disengagement, were modest steps compared to what is really required.  Still at hand is the Israeli occupation in its full  cruelty and hopelessness, and apparently only America is capable of  announcing its denouement.  In light of the absolute dependence of the Israeli economy and army on the U.S., this is a possible mission. . . .

The importance of a strong US grassroots anti-occupation activist base that will put pressure on its own government and the government of Israel, to end the occupation and abide by international law, therefore cannot be overstated.

One main tool to escalate the pressure is a campaign calling for divestment, boycott, and sanction, on the basis of international law and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.

Bryan Atinsky
Bryan Atinsky (bottom right),
holding the sign “Freedom for Both Peoples”

Bryan Atinsky is co-editor of the joint Palestinian/
Israeli English-
language journal News from Within, of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour.  Prior to his work with the AIC, Atinsky was co-founder and editor of the Independent Media Center of Israel.

The Alternative Information Center