Thursday, July 05, 2012

PCUSA Votes to Invest for Peace

A pro-divestment motion before the Presbyterian Church's general assembly narrowly failed tonight, with the assembly electing instead to invest in the Palestinian economy and other projects which bring about peace. For that, two congratulations are in order: first, for rejecting the divestment motion -- a divisive and one-sided approach which in effect, views all Israeli actions taken in the West Bank and Gaza, including those which save innocent lives, as inherently malign -- and second, for voting to invest in the Palestinian economy. People who oppose BDS without any sort of corresponding efforts to actually improve the lives of Palestinians and forge a two-state solution are worth nothing to me. The PCUSA is doing the right thing not (just) because it voted against divesting, but because it voted in favor of taking tangible action aimed at strengthening the emerging Palestine.

We might also congratulate left-ward groups like APN and J Street for taking a stand against divestment here. Given their reputation and given the close nature of the vote, it is very possible that their intervention was decisive. They were there when they were needed. And they provided a sterling demonstration that the liberal, pro-peace wing of the American Jewish community is as opposed to divestment as anyone else. This is not AIPAC and ZOA. This is the near-entirety of the mainstream Jewish community.

Finally, the PCUSA vote represented BDS' high-water mark in the US. Which is to say, their high water mark is getting narrowly defeated, while their median outcome is getting soundly thrashed. The fact is that BDS doesn't have a meaningful, sustainable constituency in this country. Most Americans -- of all faiths and political backgrounds -- view it as a non-starter. They think it singles out Israel, they're unconvinced of its efficacy, they view it as a Trojan Horse for one-stateism and other radically anti-Israel politics. The point is that the BDS movement in the United States appears to be essentially a non-starter. On its best days, it manages to only lose by small margins rather than large ones. Without the support of the sorts of entities who accuse Jews of bombing American churches and find the very existence of a Jewish state abhorrent, it would scarcely register as a political entity at all. It has not and cannot serve as a basis for a political movement that takes seriously the respective national self-determination rights of Jews and Palestinians.

Now, to be sure, there are people who don't care -- either because they don't care about the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and an independent, secure, democratic state, or because they don't care about those rights for Jews. But for what I take to be the majority which does care about these things, alternative processes have to forged. It can no longer be that this is an issue which is left aside until crisis moments like divestment votes. We need to work for this on the ground. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups needs to join together to figure out how to make stuff happen -- how to get parties back to the negotiation table, how to freeze the settlements, how to harness the consensus in both Israel and Palestine in favor of a two-state solution, how to convince each that the other is a willing partner. This has to be day-to-day work -- it can't wait. The BDS movement has the strength that it does in part, yes, because of a committed core of activists who are simply outraged that there is at Israel, but also because of a middle that just doesn't see other entities which seem to be consistently working (or claiming) to work for actual change.

These groups do exist -- OneVoice is the most obvious candidate. And so my modest proposal is that, for the next two years, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim groups united at the local level and engage in a full-court press in favor of OneVoice -- bolstering its mission, its visibility, and its status as the single best route for peace in Israel and Palestine. It is the best hope for all people in the region, and it needs a cadre of activists here in the USA willing to fight for it.


Mark said...


This is just a little off topic. Last weekend I ready Timothy Snyder's book "Bloodlands". He identifies five separate mass murder events in the years between 1932 and the end of WWII perpetrated by Germany and the Soviets in the same place in which over 14 million civilians were intentionally murdered. The Holocaust (Jewish 'Final Solution') is the only one that most people know about or remember.

Why do you think that is? Why do we only remember the Holocaust? Is that right or is it a failure of some sort on the part of historians and educators (which is my suspicion)?

I'm what your thoughts might be on that.

David Schraub said...

I'm not convinced that it is the only one remembered (particularly given that many consider the 5,000,000 non-Jews killed in the Nazi camps as part of the Holocaust as well).

In terms of why the Jewish part of the Holocaust is given particular import, there are a few reasons.

1) It specifically announced its ambition as the whole-scale extermination of a group of people, as quickly as possible because of the alleged racial inferiority of the group. Mass violence for political ends, to terrorize a population, or against POWs is not particularly new; but in supposedly-enlightenment era Europe this sort of explicitly racist justification for unrelenting mass slaughter as goal in of itself is unique.

2) The systematization of it. Mass murder across history generally was either in the context of marauding warriors (during or after combat), or starvation (as in sieges). Never before had there been the creation of an entity like concentration camps -- locations whose sole purpose was to be sites for mass murder. Neither had there ever before or sense been the merger of the entire arm of the modernist state and industrial apparatus with the goal of systematic genocide.

3) The Holocaust's status as the culmination of a central organizing feature of European life over the preceding millenium -- anti-Semitism. The Holocaust was in a large sense not an aberration so much as a climax. Other mass murder events seem more easily tied to localized ebbs and flows of war and politics: regimes rising and falling, wars going this way and that, borders shifting here and there. The Holocaust seemed instead to stem from a deeper European id that was deeply shocking given European Christiandoms pretentions of evolved humanity.

PG said...

Mass murder across history generally was either in the context of marauding warriors (during or after combat), or starvation (as in sieges).

There's also the modern mass murders by regular citizenry. E.g. 1994 Rwandan genocide (perpetrated mostly by non-warriors) or the half million murders during India's 1947 Partition (ditto). These seem morally worse to me in terms of what they say about the perpetrators, albeit having a lower body count of victims. Even the Holocaust was fully known and perpetrated by a relatively small percentage of the German population, and many of the victims were killed indirectly through disease and starvation -- rather than hacked to death by their erstwhile neighbors' machetes.

The Holocaust's concentration camps somewhat presaged the systemic murders under Mao and Pol Pot, with the victims often carefully catalogued and even photographed. Or did the Soviet gulags precede the Holocaust?