Israel, including the Israeli Defense Forces, commits human rights violations against Palestinians as part and parcel of its ongoing occupation. Israel also faces genuine threats to its security from neighbors who wish that it and its denizens would be wiped off the map.
Some people are in denial about (or worse, are indifferent to) the first. Others don't care about (or worse, are excited by) the second.
Scientists and engineers have not yet created a weapon that can only be used to attack an attacker. There is no such thing as purely defensive power. The same guns, tanks, missiles, and airplanes which keep a vulnerable population safe from those who wish it harm also can bring about death and misery to persons who harbor no ill-will at all.
The latest divestment resolution to cross my browser comes from my old stomping grounds, the University of Chicago. It isn't particularly notable -- even if it passes the student council, there is no way that the University of Chicago administration will break from the Kalven Report to endorse it. I use it only for illustration of some broader points.
The resolution targets ten companies that do business with Israel's security establishment. They include Boeing, which sells Israel the AH-64 Apache Helicopter for carrying out targeted attacks on terrorist leaders, Caterpillar, whose bulldozers Israel coats with armor and used to destroy arms smuggling tunnels, and Hewlett Packard, whose software assists in maintaining Israel's blockade of Gaza and prevent weapons from reaching Hamas.
Needless to say, the resolution supporters would dispute this characterization. They would note how the attack helicopters can wreak devastation on civilian areas, the bulldozers can destroy homes to make way for more settlements, the blockade further isolates Gaza's population from basic economic necessities.
Who is right? The answer, of course, is: both. It's the same tanks, the same ships, the same aircraft. This perhaps explains some of the confusion between the people who think they're just "defending human rights" (who could object to that?) versus those who think they're trying to undermine Israel's right to self-defense (who could support that?). The potential for one includes the potential for the other (which is not to say that one needs to do one to do the other). You take away the one and you take away the other. If power, by definition, includes the power to abuse, then taking away the power to abuse by definition requires dis-empowerment.
The goal of these resolutions is to do both -- no doubt the advocates are sincere that they want fewer IDF abuses of Palestinian rights. But they also want (or are at least indifferent to) increased Israeli vulnerability in general. They want to roll back the clock to 1973 or earlier, when Israel's regional military superiority could not be taken for granted and when its security was not assured. And sure, the body counts of the conflicts then dwarfed those we see now. And sure, the Palestinians then didn't have a state either -- in fact, they had less political autonomy than they enjoy today. We might not be any closer to peace, we might be far more violent, far more nasty, far more fragmented, and far more chaotic than even today's decidedly non-idyllic status quo -- but at least the Israelis would be right there with us.
For those of us who are interested in a just peace, rather than a more even-handed war, it is evident why these resolutions are a dead end. A just peace comes not the politics of disempowerment but from democratic empowerment, where the Israeli and Palestinian people commit themselves to a progressive co-existence that respects the identity and self-determination rights of the other. This is the only path to peace because it's the only path that can defuse the abusive potential of power without simply restoring a prior state of vulnerability. It's the difference between those who see Palestinian liberation coming when Jews are too weak to hurt anyone versus those who see it coming when Palestinians and Jews no longer are interested in hurting each other.
And it is more than a little telling that BDS advocates' thoughts never seem to turn in this direction. In Israel and Palestine, human rights and peace activists are feeling the squeeze. Yet the proponents of these resolutions are exactly the same people who shouted down Palestinian rights activist Bassem Eid at UChicago and who stormed Jerusalem Open House's event at the National LGBTQ Task Force's Creating Change conference. They only have one thought, and its not a very good one.
We can say the same thing, of course, to "advocates" of Israel who don't seem to understand what power is for. The whole point of having all those tanks and guns and missiles is precisely so that one can self-determine -- and Israel should determine for itself that it will take the steps in its power to bring about a Palestinian state that exists side-by-side with Israel (hopefully in peace but, if not -- that's what all those tanks are for). There is nothing more infuriating to me than the omnipresent complaint by the Israeli right that they don't "have a partner for peace." Even if we stipulate they're right -- what a pathetic (dare I say, anti-Zionist?) objection! You're not going to withdraw from settlements because Hamas won't react the right way? What kind of Zionist are you? You say that it is an unrealistic dream for the occupation to end in our lifetime? How far have we fallen from "If you will it, it is no dream"?
I've been reading Nietzsche recently and thinking about him in relation to nationalism, Zionism, and decolonization. The BDS movement is about as clear an expression of ressentiment as one can possibly see -- it's not about empowering Palestinians so much as it is about bringing low the Jews. But the conservative Israeli government isn't any better -- it is insecure in its power; it fears to self-generate; it continually demurs taking a preemptive role in the peace process because the Palestinians or the Arabs or the Iranians or the whomevers won't sign its permission slip. Both factions are sick. And the only cure is to empower the forces in Israel and Palestine who are more interested in creating their own justice than they are in bringing the other down to their level.