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Dialogue on the Berkeley divestment resolution

By Dan Fleshler | April 18, 2010

Dan Fleshler #1: Are you crazy? Why say anything positive about the Berkeley Student Senate divestment resolution? It’ll do you more harm than good.

Dan Fleshler #2: Sometimes one has to stand on one’s principles.

Dan #1: What difference would it make? Nobody reads your blog anymore.

Dan #2: There’s still a tiny following. Some people seem to care. My posts get Retweeted.

Dan #1: You’ll never get a job in the Jewish community again.

Dan #2: I can’t get a job in the community anyway.

Dan #1: Even J Street U and the New Israel Fund joined with other groups and signed a letter opposing the resolution. You’ll be jeopardizing ties that are important to you.

Dan #2: I want to believe the tent is big enough. I bet many people who participate in J Street’s political actions support this resolution, too. We can agree to disagree and still work together to support evenhanded American policy.

Dan #1: But you’ll be bolstering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. They heap abuse on everything related to Israel. Doesn’t that bother you?

Dan #2: I have a problem with a lot of the BDSers because they don’t accept the premise of a Jewish state. And it’s wrong to boycott all Israeli institutions, including those that include critics of the occupation. But this resolution doesn’t target Israel as a whole. It urges Berkeley to divest from two American companies “because of their military support of the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” And it urges the university to “examine its assets” to ensure it is not investing in companies that profit from the occupation. Well, why not give it a try? Nothing else has stopped Israeli settlement expansion or the kind of behavior Israel exhibited in Gaza, some of which was appalling.

Dan #1: But this resolution places all blame for the conflict on Israel. Its rhetoric could have demonstrated an understanding of the complexity of the situation, the fact that two sides have contributed mightily to this mess, but it did not do so. Israel is the only party that’s held accountable.

Dan #2: I would have written the resolution differently.

Dan #1: So why support a document if you’re not sure you agree with parts of it? This one also alleges that certain Israeli acts in Gaza were “war crimes.” Isn’t that inaccurate? Don’t you think the standard rules of war are inapplicable to many of the situations Israel faced, where combatants took shelter among civilians?

Dan #2 (pause for a deep deep breath): I am not sure if technically they were war crimes. But Israel put itself in a situation where a great many civilian casualties were inevitable. It didn’t have to make that choice. The whole enterprise was meant to send the message: “Ba’al ha bayit hishtageyah (the master of the house has gone crazy).” Children were killed as a result. They didn’t have to die.

Dan #1: It’s easy for you to say that from the comfort of your American armchair. In the real world, something had to be done to stop Hamas. C’mon. Be honest with yourself. You’re just trying to win friends on the left. You want them to think you’re “progressive.”

Dan #2: Maybe. But they won’t like you, and you’re also Dan Fleshler.

Dan #1: So you’re not really taking a stand. You’re just posting both points of view. Isn’t that the coward’s way out?

Dan #2: I don’t see anyone else posting both points of view. Ambivalent people deserve a voice, too.

Topics: Berkeley divestment, Gaza Strip, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Israeli settlements, J Street | 28 Comments »

28 Responses to “Dialogue on the Berkeley divestment resolution”

  1. Richard Witty Says:
    April 18th, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Dan doesn’t get to vote on the Berkeley resolution, as he didn’t get to vote on the Hampshire resolution.

    His concerns are as a citizen, not as anyone in any relevant power to influence the vote.

    The important question for dissent is “is this accomplishing good in the world”. Is it helping the Palestinians improve their lives? Is it helping Israel get clear about what it is and what its future entails?

    Is the limited resolution as the Berkeley helpful? And, what is the relation between the Berkeley resolution and the rest of the BDS movement? Are they entirely independant and limited, or are they connected?

    If the Berkeley resolution is a foot in the door, then a moral person considering supporting the resolution has to consider the BDS movement as a whole, and not just the limited scope of the specific movement.

    My primary concerns are whether and how those that propose BDS will define the scope of the BDS movement, how they will retain control over the movement if/when it becomes a mass movement so that it doesn’t devolve to a more fascist ethnically defined shunning effort, applied globally.

    Further, how will they guarantee that the BDS movement doesn’t become dominated by groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and other factions that have recently declared that they will “never recognize Israel” (each at events in Iran).

    Temporarily, Hamas has declared to the west that they are open to accepting Israel at 67 borders, and to an extended military cease fire.

    My conclusion on the academic boycott (especially when structured as “those that we approve of there is no boycott, only those that we don’t approve of”) is that it is an attempt to create a monopoly of discussion on Israel/Palestinian issues, a monopoly of communication (propaganda), in the name of opposing the feeling that there is a current monopoly of communication supporting Israel.

    I don’t believe that Israel will be changed by external pressure, at least not without fairly extreme coercion.

    I believe that the only way that Israel’s policies will be changed is by persuasion resulting from reputable and respectful efforts to change hearts and minds.

    I believe that in the internal personal conflict between humane relations to other human beings and dogmatic religious and nationalistic insensitive applications, that Israelis will choose the humane, KNOWING that the commandments summarized as “to love one’s neighbor as oneself” prevails, and applies to all human beings.

    I don’t believe that we’ve done our work sufficiently. There is no developed documentary on the history of the conflict that reliably presents the multiple key perspectives for general consideration. Some of that candid prospective documentary would support some contentions of Zionist perspective, and some contentions of Palestinian.

    We need to see. We need to understand our attitudes, our history, and we need to understand our neighbors’ attitudes, their history.

    And, once seeing, we need to apply our best in daily and long-term relations, not our rationalizable, so that we make good in the world, not indifference.

  2. Moshe Yaroni Says:
    April 18th, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    “Dan #2: I don’t see anyone else posting both points of view. Ambivalent people deserve a voice, too.”

    There’s at least one other similar view:
    http://realisticpeace.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/principled-opposition/

  3. Dan Fleshler Says:
    April 18th, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Richard: you wrote “I don’t believe that Israel will be changed by external pressure, at least not without fairly extreme coercion.

    “I believe that the only way that Israel’s policies will be changed is by persuasion resulting from reputable and respectful efforts to change hearts and minds.”

    I’m sorry. I don’t believe that “a respectful effort” to change minds would have an impact on Israeli society, any more than it would have an impact on American society. But extreme coercion is not the answer either.

    Mi…I mean, Moshe Yaroni:
    Thanks for the link. Let’s start an ambivalent people’s party.

  4. Tom Mitchell Says:
    April 18th, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Divestment is a poor tool for influencing a country or a company. Most investors invest in a company because they are looking for a return on their investment. In fact, by law, most pension fund managers are required to invest in such a way that they maximize return on investment–this is their fiduciary responsibility. A better way in fact is to invest in a company and then use blocks of shares to influence conduct when voting. I.e. if Berkeley wanted Caterpillar or whomever not to sell to Israel they would buy up shares of stock in the company in question and then use their shareholders power to influence the company’s conduct. But because student protesters want cheap, albeit irrelevant, victories they force universities to divest of their shares who are then merely bought up by other people seeking a return on investment. Divestment can only have an impact if it is able to lead to economic sanctions. In South Africa divestment had no impact.

  5. Donald Says:
    April 19th, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    I wouldn’t expect divestment from Caterpillar to exert any significant degree of economic pressure–it’s more the message being sent. It’s a way of saying that it’s not acceptable sending bulldozers to a country that will use them for human rights violations. If this sort of thing gets in the news, then Israel’s human rights violations and our complicity in them get more attention. If discussion is limited to blogs that focus on the I/P conflict, then it doesn’t matter. So far I’ve only seen this mentioned in the blogosphere, but maybe I haven’t paid enough attention to the press.

  6. Tom Mitchell Says:
    April 19th, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Donald,

    I think this is the difference between people on the Left and those in the Center or on the Right. Those on the Left want to send messages that they are right-thinkers. Those in the Center or on the Right want to accomplish something. Realists are in to judging actions in terms of cost effectiveness and their impact.

  7. Donald Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    There’s message sending and posturing all over. I’m a little surprised to see anyone who thinks centrists and rightwingers (especially rightwingers) don’t posture, but whatever. You missed my point, which was not the glorious self-satisfaction one gets from message sending, but a divestment campaign that gets a lot of publicity might conceivably change the politics of the I/P conflict in this country. Currently a great many politicians seem to think the only thing they can say on the subject is that Israel is our noble democratic ally etc… and consequently they don’t seem very supportive of Obama’s very tentative attempts at making Netanyahu understand that settlements are killing any chance of a peaceful solution. If politicians understood that many of their voters take a more jaundiced view of Israel’s behavior, American policy might change.

    But I gotta admit I’m not too optimistic about protests on college campuses having that much of an effect. I haven’t seen anything about this campus debate except on blogs like this which focus exclusively on the I/P conflict. So the impact seems microscopic to me.

  8. Richard Witty Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Dan,
    We’ve discussed the question of persuasion before.

    Ultimately, I don’t see coercion affecting policies, only what people are willing to do.

    I think that say Obama sticking to his guns and maybe even going further, say abstaining from a critical but incidental UN resolution, would send a message that there are consequences to Israel of abusing peace.

    Did you see the Aaron David Miller article this morning? He basically said, “I give up. I don’t know what to do.”

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/04/19/the_false_religion_of_mideast_peace?sms_ss=facebook

    I personally think a documentary film is needed, something like “Hearts and Minds” on Vietnam.

  9. Y. Ben-David Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Richard-thanks for posting Miller’s article. Very enlightening. It says pretty much all the things Barry Rubin says in the articles of his that I regularly post here.

    I am glad to see that there is an expert somewhere who is willing to admit that he was wrong. Still, much of the article is dealing with the “problem” of getting Israel to go along with what the US wants, while ignoring the problems of direct engagement between the US and the Palestinians and Syrian. We have all heard latetly that some of Obama’s close foreing policy advisors, such as (IIRC) Brzezinski and Scowcroft are advocating the US do a full-court press, lay out the terms of a final agreement and then tell both sides they had better sign on “or else”. What “or else” can the US do to get the Arab side to go along? Sanctions? Cutting the aid to the Palestinian Authority? Come on! These countries will be backed by the Saudis and other Arab oil states whom the US is dependent on. So the US has NO LEVERAGE with the Arab side, no matter how much they can threaten Israel with hostile UN resolutions or whatever.

  10. Y. Ben-David Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    I should point out also that Clinton’s comment “it is better to try and fail than not try at all” has proven to be totally false. His “trying” pushed Arafat into the terrible suicde bomber war which he used to extricate himself from the pressure he was under to reach an agreement by the Americans and to shore up his domestic position. Should Obama keep pressing Israel for unilateral concessions or should he attempt to impose an agreement, the only outcome would be another war. Making “distance” between Israel and the US leads the Arabs to think that they can set off violence and it will pay off for them.

  11. Tom Mitchell Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    YBD:

    If anything pushed Arafat into renewed terrorism, it was the competition from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which were gaining in popular support because they didn’t have the millstone of the PA’s corruption holding them back.

  12. Y.Ben-David Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    Tom, I think we are saying the same thing. To agree to Clinton’s proposals would be viewed as a sell-out by much of Arafat’s constituency, which HAMAS would then exploit.

    Any attempt by certain Arabs to truly reach out and make peace will automatically ignite charges of treason by more radical elements, or even elements that are not so radical, but opposed to those who propose them, possibly for reasons of ancient clan rivalries or other such non-ideological considerations. This is the reason a Palestinian “Mohandas Gandhi” can’t arise…if someone tried to do that, he would be denounced by others for reasons that might not have anything to do with his political philosophy.

  13. Richard Witty Says:
    April 21st, 2010 at 8:09 am

    In the current setting, individuals committed to non-violent civil disobedience (at least as a long-term tactic) are becoming prominent.

    The approach of overt terror has been recognized as counter-productive for the Palestinian solidarity movement, and at least temporarily rejected.

    What do you think of Fayyad? Prime minister, competent administrator, assertive, public and not assassinated.

    A whole former terrorist movement, “Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade” turned in their weapons.

    I spent an evening with J Street supporters a couple nights ago. One runs an ultimate frisbee league for Palestinian and Israeli kids to both compete and join in pick up games. (Its a vigorous but very friendly game.)

    She told me that in the last couple years, the separation of Jewish Israelis from Palestinian has grown to a status of imposed isolation. Jewish Israelis can’t legally easily travel in the West Bank (Americans can), and she said that it was easier for Palestinians to travel within Israel.

    She also said that the West Bank is as many of the radicals describe, isolated, permanent martial law status, unwarranted searches, acceptance of settler hoodlums but harsh treatment of Palestinian dissent.

    Other friends have told me of non-violent demonstrations that they attended that were confronted by rubber bullets and even fully live ammunition, without censure.

    Does that bother you at all Yakov? Do you see it?

  14. Tom Mitchell Says:
    April 21st, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Richard,

    If you think that a new documentary will change anything you are delusional. We are dealing with structural obstacles to peace on both sides. Unless those obstacles are removed peace will not arrive. YBD and his colleagues want us only to worry about the obstacles on the Arab side.

    “Hearts and Minds” may have been effective because the U.S. military had not developed a counterinsurgency strategy to win the war and the United States was facing a relatively united national opposition. Bringing peace through regional withdrawal is very different from bringing peace through mutual compromise. Your view might hold for Iraq and Afghanistan (although there remains the problem of peace in those countries once America withdraws). Israelis will not withdraw from the territories unless they have reason to believe that it will result in peace. Unlike the U.S. in Vietnam and probably in both Afghanistan and Iraq today, Israel has a definite national interest in what happens on its eastern border.

  15. Y. Ben-David Says:
    April 21st, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Richard-
    I would have to see proof that “a whole Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade group turned in their weapons”.
    Fayad may or may not be a “competent adminstrator”…much of the supposed information about his is coming out of a slick propaganda machine meant to sell him as a “peace partner”. His statements have become more radical recently, and he has no political base among the Palestinians…the only reason he is PM is so that the PA can keep collecting the dhimmi jizya tax….oops….I meant the US and EU “aid” for the PA.

    Did the J-Street activist mention that all the restrictions placed on the Palestinians are the result of Arafat’s terror war that the Palestinian public overwhelmingly supported? In the “bad old days” of full Israeli military occupation there were few checkpoints and there was free movement for the Palestinians around the country. It was the cursed “Oslo peace process” and Palestinian irresponsibilty that brought all the restrictions they are endlessling complaining about.

  16. Richard Witty Says:
    April 21st, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Your distrust is noted.

    The question is whether Palestinians bear

    1. Unconditional hostility towards Israel
    2. Conditional relations towards Israel
    3. Unconditional willingness to accept Israel

    3 is ludicrous.

    If the correct answer to Palestinians’ attitudes is conditional willingness (I’ll treat you well if you treat me well), then the careless and opportunistic effort at settlement expansion, harsh restrictions in the West Bank, harsh border guidelines with Gaza, is provocative. It is then war-making, rather responding or even prevention.

    If the answer is accurately unconditional unwillingness to accept Israel, then the hunker down strategy is practical if Israelis seek to remain there, which is obvious.

    It is falling apart. If it weren’t Obama, it would be the next president, republican or democrat that revises his/her policy relative to Israel.

    Israel cannot thrive alone. Israel requires trade, alliances, sympathy.

    Its time to adjust, to close the deal while the deal is still offered.

    If Israel is right to severely harm hundred to save a single Jewish soul, what is the significance of a policy that throws all of Israel into a potentially unnecessary war? How many Jewish souls will be killed for what is called self-defense, but as conditions might have been possible to avoid war were not taken, is something different.

    Which is the more prudent?

  17. Y.Ben-David Says:
    April 23rd, 2010 at 5:40 am

    The end of the Palestinian “national” movement.
    This article shows how the two Palestinian governemnts are essentially clients of outside powers, how both are completely dependent on outside money and how the Palestinian public has been completely neutralized:

    http://www.jpost.com/Features/FrontLines/Article.aspx?id=173761

  18. Richard Witty Says:
    April 23rd, 2010 at 11:16 am

    That was Rashid Khalidi’s thesis as well.

  19. Y. Ben-David Says:
    April 24th, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Poll:

    44% of Americans dissatisfied with Obama’s handling of Israel-Arab conflict, only 35% support.

    http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=173833

  20. Tom Mitchell Says:
    April 25th, 2010 at 10:46 am

    YBD:

    And what percent actually pay attention to what he’s doing on the Middle East?

  21. Y. Ben-David Says:
    April 25th, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    I think people are aware of his bashing Israel, and America’s other traditional allies as well. The New York Times has had coverage of this.

  22. Richard Witty Says:
    April 25th, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Is he bashing Israel? I don’t see it.

    I see him applying long-term US policy, that our resident less-than-competent former president disregarded.

  23. Y. Ben-David Says:
    April 25th, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Well, Richard, you may not think so, many “progressives” may not think so, but the large majority of Israelis do think so. American Jews seem to be confused, the majority wanting to support him (heaven knows why) but generally supporting the same positions as Israelis do regarding the so-called “peace process”.

  24. Richard Witty Says:
    April 25th, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    The only basis that a large majority of Israelis think that Obama is fundamentally bashing Israel, is if they support the settlement strategies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

    I don’t believe that that is substantiated.

    I’m sure that many Israelis wonder and fear what might unfold.

    The only setting right now that Israel can be confident of US support is in relation to overt war, and that will be limited to war methodology that is consistent with multi-lateral international law provisions that Israel is a signatory.

    I think the corner is being turned though on commitment to pursue “enough” Israel rather than “greater” Israel.

    Israel will survive at “enough” Israel, but will get spread too thin internally and externally in relation to both allies and opponents by seeking “greater” Israel.

    Its based on prudence, rather than rationalization.

    The period of blind-eye is over.

  25. Tom Mitchell Says:
    April 26th, 2010 at 10:52 am

    The same person that thinks that Sharon was a leftist thinks that American Jews are confused. I think that probably counts as a back-handed endorsement, at least I think they would take it as one.

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