As we await what comes next at UC Berkeley, I thought I’d dredge out some real old stuff, things I wrote years ago when divestment came-a-calling at Somerville, Massachusetts. It’s interesting to note that now that BDS is attempting to use the paddles of life to resurrect itself, how little their arguments (or required rebuttals) have actually changed…
Does anyone ever wonder why the Palestinians, alone among peoples without a state, have their own seat at the UN (an organization that spends almost a quarter of its time fighting on their behalf)?
Why does the Palestinian refugee problem have its own international organization (UNWRA) with annual budget of $350 million, while every other refugee in the world (almost twenty million at last count) are lumped together in the “other” category, supported by the United Nationals High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)?
Why is Palestinian statehood one of the planet’s top foreign policy goals, yet independence of for Kurds, Tibetans and Basques has been permanently removed from the international agenda? Why is Palestinian suffering on the West Bank being debated in universities, cities, towns and churches unendingly as Sudanese bury two million people unlamented?
Given what other nations (including the Kurds and Sudanese) have suffered over the years (often at the hands of those who denounce Israel the loudest), it’s impossible to make the case that Palestinian suffering is the greatest in the world and thus deserves the most attention. However, there is one key difference between the Palestinians and every other group whose similar yearnings for a land to call home are routinely ignored.
At last count, there were not 22 Tibetan nations, or 22 Basque nations, or 22 Kurdish nations, much less 22 such countries that control half of the world’s oil reserves. However, there are 22 Arab countries that have pumped enough resources out of the ground to keep the Palestinian issue on the front burner forever (resources that are also useful in buying Arab human rights abuses off the international agenda).
Look at in economic terms; the prominence of the Palestinian “struggle” makes perfect sense. It’s simply another example of the rich and powerful getting what they want.
Given this reality, the pose of most of Israel’s critics as “speaking truth to power” seems particularly ludicrous. How can the divest-from-Israel movement simultaneously be “silenced, stilled voices” and also be allied with the goals of dozens of oil-rich potentates, and all of the friends in oil-company boardrooms, foreign-ministries and UN agencies that money can buy?
This is where the rhetoric of human rights comes in so handy. By wrapping an anti-Israel propaganda project in a smothering blanket of human-rights vocabulary, critics of Israel get the best of both worlds: the ability to ally themselves with wealth and power, while posing as battling for the underprivileged, embracing Goliath while claiming to be Gandhi.
There are occasions when wealth and power are harnessed to admirable, even moral purposes, so there is no necessary reason that the divest-from-Israel groups should be embarrassed by its alignment with the goals of rich, powerful countries. At the same time, the pretence of being a voice in the wilderness would seem a little less absurd if they did not own a megaphone provided by the oil industry.