South Africa vs Israel
Sir-- Re 'BDS: Boycotting Apartheid' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 23-30 September), I've supported boycotts, when appropriate, for many years. I organised divestment campaigns against South African apartheid at two different universities. The obstacles we faced in organising for divestment from South Africa were many. Claims of "restraint of trade", "opposing constructive engagement" (which was State Department doctrine under Reagan), "supporting terrorists" (since the ANC was engaged in an armed struggle), the predictable "privileged white middle class student intellectuals with no grasp of the real world and live on trust funds", "it'll never work, what can we do, nobody is going to listen to you, it's about profit not justice, this is the real world -- wise up", etc.
In the fall of 1980 the remaining activists in Campuses United Against Apartheid (California) basically phrased our dilemma as, "How far back from a brick wall do we start running before smashing our foreheads into it?" The next decade was extremely painful for South Africans, but sanctions, and more importantly decades of internal resistance, made things unprofitable for the Afrikaners and English settler descendants, and they started talking to Mandela. The divestment movement played a small role, but an important one.
BDS organisers should be aware that the situation is different for boycotting Israel. The Ribicoff amendment of 1976 makes it illegal in the US to organise boycotts, divestment or sanctions against Israel. Anyone with responsibility for significant funds should be aware of the possible repercussions for participating in the BDS campaign. It's highly unlikely individuals and organisations with small budgets will get noticed. But if/when it comes to large amounts of money, the kind that could have an impact on Israeli policy, Harvard's tactic seems sound, for now. "We weren't divesting, we just made some rational investment decisions." That might be the way to go for large institutions that want to deny their own motivations, stay out of court, and still do the right thing. An AIPAC prompted federal AG prosecution against Harvard is a lot less likely than many other institutions I can imagine.
Sir-- Israeli settlements are nothing like a settlement you or I would think of ('Israel kills as it talks', Al-Ahram Weekly 23- 29 September). Israeli settlements is a polite term for the forceful theft of land owned by indigenous Palestinians, followed by the closing of the roads to the Palestinians who actually own them and desperately need them, followed by the purposeful lowering of the water table so that all the nearby farmers lose their only source of livelihood, followed by the closing of hospitals and schools to Palestinians, and followed by the wanton destruction of life and property and liberty of Palestinians by the new settlers. It actually gets much worse -- crimes so bad I cannot write about them. This is all documented facts the Israeli censorship cannot entirely block.
Do not be the enabler of Israel's horrendous crimes against fellow human beings.
Sir-- It seems pretty clear that the Israeli people have no desire for peace with the Palestinians. And as long as the Big Brother US is backing them up, why should they? We need to jettison the deadweight that is Israel. Let them fight it out on their own.