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IPMN responds to the Knesset's Boycott Law

IPMN responds to the Knesset's Boycott Law

Imagine for a moment if at the height of apartheid the South African government passed a law that outlawed boycott and divestment in support of oppressed blacks and coloreds in that nation…

Imagine if the Nestle Corporation had succeeded in convincing the Swiss government to allow it to seek reparations from any Church or human rights organization that called for boycott because of the harmful way that company marketed infant formula to poor women in the least developed nations of the world…

Imagine if the State of Florida had passed laws protecting Taco Bell and Yum Brands from boycotts over the inhumane conditions endured by impoverished Immokalee Workers who were sickened while harvesting company tomatoes…

Imagine if Alabama law had found a way to make life even worse on those who participated in the Montgomery bus boycott during the civil rights days of American history…

Indeed, boycott has historically been one of the few non-violent tools by which poor and dispossessed peoples have been able to stand up to injustices thwart upon them by oppressive systems and governments.   Both logic and precedent reminds us that when non-violent options are taken away from such individuals and groups, desperation will lead people to violent and tragic acts.

In the face of growing global opposition to an increasingly brutal occupation of Palestine, the Israeli Knesset recently passed a boycott law, backed by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which is unprecedented in the history of nations that call themselves democracies. The law makes it illegal for Israelis and Palestinians to advocate for non-violent boycott in order to counter Israeli occupation in the West Bank. This occupation is marked by the building of the Separation Wall and fences deep into Palestinian territory, the destruction of Palestinian houses and farmland, and the building of illegal settlements, all for the purpose of permanently dispossessing the Palestinian people from their ancestral homes and land.

A great many of the illegal settlements in the West Bank are no less than small cities in which Israeli government subsidies have created robust economies.   This has attracted many businesses looking to make profits. Unfortunately, those profits are earned on the backs of Palestinians who have lost their land, along with its natural resources which are then diverted for the improvement of Israeli life in occupied territory.

No one will go to jail for violating this new law.   The State of Israel will prosecute no one. What the law effectively does is clear the way for settlers who suffer economic losses as a result of boycotts to recoup their losses by suing the boycotters.   The law insures that they will have behind them the full support of the Israeli government. It is by every stretch of the imagination an affront to anyone who cherishes the God-given right to exercise human moral conscience. Many are arguing that the law is unconstitutional and will not stand up to Supreme Court scrutiny. But who knows, and how many Israeli and Palestinian boycotters will be economically ruined in the meantime?   How many cries for justice will be silenced?

In December 2010, a gathering of Christian Palestinian leaders signed the Kairos Palestine Document (KPD), for which the Middle East Monitoring Group appointed by the 219th General Assembly (2010) has recently published a study guide for PC(USA) congregations and is now available on our denominational website. The KPD speaks of the ongoing struggle of all Palestinian people under present conditions and the necessity for non-violent resistance to this oppression.   In the context of this witness, the KPD calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in regard to all companies and organizations that profit from the occupation.

It is no coincidence that the Knesset, led by politicians on the far right, has responded in this way, not only to the KPD’s call, but to the growing international support that has resulted.   Even within Israel there is outrage over this law. Israeli commentator Gideon Levy recently made the following observation: “Tomorrow it will be forbidden to call for an end to the occupation…”

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has historically maintained a strong witness to peacemaking in our nation and throughout the world.   Part of that witness has been to support non-violent action and witness in the face of oppression wherever it may be found.   In the past, General Assemblies have supported divestment from South Africa, the boycott of Nestle and Yum Foods, and the non-violent responses to racism and oppression exemplified in the civil rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA) encourages all concerned parties to communicate to Israeli and American Jewish organizations, the United States State Department, as well as the Israeli government and Supreme Court that this undemocratic law effectively rules out non-violence as a legitimate option and as a result will increase the likelihood of violent response to occupation in both Palestine and Israel for the foreseeable future.

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