Thursday, August 17, 2006

By Implication

Economic sanctions have an odd history that seems to be tied up very closely with political ideology. During the days of the anti-aparthied campaigns, British PM Margaret Thatcher refused to impose sanctions on South Africa because, she said, it would hurt the very people who were struggling to be free. This sentiment, however, was quickly forgotten when it came to the Soviet Bloc. Sanctions of various sorts were OK against states the good be identified clearly as Cold War enemies, regardless of the effect it might have on their populations, the very people struggling to be free. The US government under Bush rejected sanctions against Iraq, even while maintaining them, and opted for more direct military intervention because sanctions, we were told, did not work. Others, however, blamed sanctions for anti-American feeling in Iraq and elsewhere because, they said, sanctions hurt -- indeed killed -- the people while leaving the totalitarian state of Hussein intact.

With this odd set of shifting views of sanctions, therefore, the idea that the United Church of Canada would ask that some form of sanction -- what the General Counsel is calling a boycott -- be imposed against Israel or companies benefiting from the Israeli occupation of west bank, is interesting. More interesting, still, is the reaction of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) to the United Church's call and potential divestment from companies benefitting from the occupation. I listened to CBC this evening as a represented of the CJC said that the United Church's call for a boycott was an attack on Israel, therefore, by implication, an attack on Canadian groups that support Israel, therefore, by implication, an attack on all Jews. Here is my view: (1) I'm glad the United Church is showing some leadership on this issue. International pressure needs to be brought to bear on Israel to end its occupation of Palenstian terrorities and to win its support for a two state solution to the Palenstian problem with which Israel deals. And (2) the CJC's position is absurd, silly and the worst kind of "you're either with us or against us" politics. If this is the best the CJC has to offer in opposition the idea of a boycott -- if you are in favour of international pressure in favour of a Palestinian homeland you hate Canadian jews -- then there is not much of an argument against a boycott.

Let's be clear about a number of points. First, there will be no meaningful peace in the middle east until there is a functional and effective and independent Palestinian state. The alternative is continued terrorism, support for extremist solutions (on both sides), spiraling military budgets and arms trades, and hatred. Only a two state solution can guarantee Israel's security and the security of its population. To oppose actions designed to promote a Palestinian homeland then -- the position the CJC seems to be taking -- is actually (and interestingly) to oppose peace and security for Israel and its people. To oppose steps to promote a two state solution is to condemn Israel to on-going conflict. The fact that the CJC can't seem to see this -- or, at least this is the tenor of the statements made in its name on CBC -- is odd and shows a failure of serious analysis of the situation in the Middle East.

Second, opposition to Israel occupation of the west bank is not an attack on Canadian Jews. It just isn't. Attacks on Canadian Jews are committed against Canadian Jews. Criticism of a foreign state and calls for boycotts of business doing business with foreign states are not attacks on Canadians. Think of a comparable situation. It would have been like saying "if you oppose what the Russian government has done in Chechnyan, you hate Russian Canadians." The fact that the CJC spokesperson required a logic framed by "by implication" illustrates that he understood how tenuous his logic was.

What is even more disturbing, however, was that the CJC's spokesperson ignored the actual resolution that was under consideration. The resolution affirms the Church's support for Israel, its right to exist, and is constructed around the idea of promoting lasting peace and security. In ignoring what the resolution said, the spokesperson made it seem like an anti-Israeli resolution. In his effort, then, to explain how this resolution was somehow anti-Israeli, the spokesman had to ignore what the resolution was actually about.

Third, I don't know whether a boycott is the right or wrong solution but the United Church General Conference is courageous spiritual body. I respect them for trying to work toward a solution that promotes peace in the Middle East, peace, security and justice for Israelis and Palestinians. There are people who question the right of Israel to exist. This resolution -- rightly! -- does not do that. Supporting Israel does not, however, mean being uncritical of its government's policy, particularly policies that can bring so much pain to Israelis and Palestinians. Instead of reacting against a programme for peace -- which might or might not be an effective programme -- the CJC should contribute to it. Telling those of us who believe in peace that believing in peace is, by implication, an assault on Jewish Canadians does not help.
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