I don’t know about all you commiepinkos, but I believe we should Support Our Troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, and Vice-President Biden say that Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians are putting our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in danger. That’s why, to Support Our Troops, the U.S. government must effectively pressure Israel to end its military occupation of the West Bank. And one thing every American can do to Support Our Troops is to shun products from companies linked to the Israeli occupation.
In January, Foreign Policy reports, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus sent senior military officers to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the perception of the U.S.’ Arab allies that the U.S. was failing to pressure Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) "too old, too slow … and too late."
In response, Foreign Policy says, the Obama Administration sent Admiral Mullen to deliver a message to Israel: "Israel had to see its conflict with the Palestinians ‘in a larger, regional, context’ – as having a direct impact on America’s status in the region." This was essential context of Biden’s recent trip. News reports have focused on Vice-President Biden’s "embarrassment" by an Israeli announcement while Biden was in Israel that the Netanyahu government was building 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem – was the number 1600 chosen as a "frack you" message to President Obama at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? – but something much deeper is at stake: our top military commanders believe that Israel’s actions are putting our troops in the region in danger:
"This is starting to get dangerous for us," Biden reportedly told Netanyahu. "What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace." Yedioth Ahronoth went on to report: "The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism." The message couldn’t be plainer: Israel’s intransigence could cost American lives.
The fact that our top military commanders believe that Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians are putting our troops in danger should add urgency to campaigns to "boycott, divest, and sanction" companies linked to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Many have complained that while our troops and their families bear a tremendous burden, other Americans are contributing little. Boycotting companies linked to the Israeli occupation is something every American can do.
Every American can shun Israeli consumer products such as Ahava Dead Sea Cosmetics, which operates a factory in the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the occupied West Bank. Every American can shun Sabra Hummus, half owned by an Israeli company that touts its support for the Golani Brigade, an Israeli army brigade notorious for human rights abuses. Every American can shun Motorola, which arms the Israeli military and has assisted in the construction of the illegal "apartheid wall" in the West Bank.
In addition, everyone who is active in a religious organization can agitate for local, regional, and national religious organizations to shun companies linked to the Israeli occupation, including by divesting investments from such companies. Folks on college campuses can follow the lead of students at Hampshire College who successfully pressed the college to divest from a mutual fund that invested in Caterpillar, Terex, Motorola, ITT, General Electric, and United Technologies (Methodists explain the targeting of these companies here.
Note that these divestment campaigns have not been targeted at "divesting from Israel," but at divesting from the Israeli occupation, a crucial distinction. Of course that’s a distinction that supporters of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank want to erase: "Love me, love my military occupation," as it were. That’s why it’s so important to emphasize the distinction.
The point of this activity is not to try to free oneself individually from the moral taint of association with the Israeli occupation; so long as the occupation continues, that would be impossible for anyone who votes and pays taxes in the United States. The point is to use boycott and divestment as organizing tools to educate and mobilize Americans against the occupation, while building political pressure against the companies and the Israeli government and delegitimizing Israeli government actions and statements that support the occupation.
Of course, there is no intrinsic, logical reason to counterpose boycott and divestment efforts to worthy and arduous efforts today to advance modest peace efforts in Congress and the Administration; on the contrary, a key point of organizing boycott and divestment actions against the Israeli occupation is to make such Washington initiatives less arduous and less modest in the future.
The Foreign Policy report suggests that the White House understands how Israel’s actions are putting our troops in danger. But you can be sure that apologists for the Netanyahu government in Congress will try to undermine any attempt by the Obama Administration to exert real pressure on the Netanyahu government. That’s why President Obama needs our support.
Support President Obama. Support Our Troops. Boycott the Israeli occupation.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.