Widgets Magazine


Ethics and efficacy of Israel divestment

Divestment from businesses that support Israeli discrimination against Palestinians has become one of the most politically charged issues at Stanford. Stanford Students for Justice in Palestine in concert with various other student groups have submitted a petition to the Trustees of Stanford to remove investments in these companies from its endowment. Before signing a petition, there are some critical questions to be asked. With history as a precedent, how do Israel’s actions compare to those of countries like South Africa, where divestment was pursued? If we agree that Israel should stop such policies, is boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) the best tool to meet this end?

One of the strongest historical parallels that can be drawn to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is Apartheid South Africa, which segregated all aspects of black and white life. Marriage and sexual relations between the two races were illegal; businesses catered exclusively to blacks or whites; 80% of the country was classified as “white land,” after which large numbers of black South Africans were forcibly removed from their homelands. Black South Africans were treated as second-class citizens with second-class rights.

While not exactly equivalent to the Apartheid in South Africa, the treatment of Arab citizens of Israel has proven to be oppressive. To clarify terminology, Israel defines Arab citizens as non-Jewish citizens, most of whom are people of Palestinian ethnic background. Moreover, the particular term apartheid, as defined by the United Nations, refers to policies “committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” There are a multitude of examples of Arab citizens subordinated in Israel. Institutionally, over thirty legal structures discriminate against Palestinians solely based on their ethnicity. Examples include the Land Acquisition Law that transferred land from a total of 349 Arab villages to the state; laws that ban Palestinians married to Israelis from residing in Israel; and, the denial of basic government services to Palestinian villages unrecognized by the state. Culturally, Israel has become intolerant. In survey polls, a third of Israelis believe that Arab citizens should not be recognized and more than half of Israelis would not want to have Arab neighbors or Arab classmates. Such beliefs are reinforced by de facto segregation, and inequity in housing and education between Israeli and Arab citizens. If the US condemned South Africa’s actions for racial injustice, it is ethically consistent to also condemn Israel’s policies, which constitute a similar system to Apartheid.

However, compared to South Africa, divestment and economic sanctions may not be the best solution to the ethnic discrimination in Israel. In South Africa, even though separating blacks from whites resulted in deplorable conditions in bantustans (black segregated towns), the state relied on the black labor force and thus devoted resources to sustain it. In comparison, Israel views Palestinians as a threat to society and wants to actively remove them. This can be partly attributed to Israel’s “bunker mentality” – a sense of victimization, defensiveness, and belligerent patriotism resulting from perceived external threats. Studies conducted by political psychologists have found that this mentality is prevalent among Israeli Jews. Compared to South Africa, the existence of this “bunker mentality” might preclude the efficacy of sanctions given that the state’s perceives its very existence to be threatened. Moreover, BDS might fuel a sense of vulnerability and victimhood, strengthening Israel’s commitment to its current policies.

In addition to “bunker mentality,” a successful strategy to end discrimination in Israel requires US state action, something that the Stanford divestment campaign may not have been taken into account. For example, after the Apartheid, the South African foreign minister addressed the UN regarding what ultimately pushed South Africa to end its policies. He stated, “what mattered perhaps more than all other votes put together was that of [the] U.S. in view of its predominant position of leadership in [the] Western world.” Without official US support for BDS (which is extremely unlikely), divestment from college campuses may not carry the necessary economic and political weight to end Israel’s discriminatory policies.

In particular, there is little chance that the US will support state sanctions that would be crucial to the efficacy of a BDS approach. Geopolitically, Israel provides a crucial geographical ally in the Middle East where many of the US’s strategic and military interests lie, especially with the rise of ISIS. The US has historically supported Israeli forces, providing over $100 billion in military aid that has been used in bolstering Israeli air capacity and missile defense systems. No such geopolitical necessity and historical precedent had existed with South Africa, making it unlikely that the US will divest from Israel.

Moreover, in the case of South Africa, decades before the 1980s movement against the Apartheid, the UN had enacted sanctions against South Africa and the flight of international capital had cut South Africa’s reserves in half. In contrast, capital from the US to Israel has been increasing in the last few decades and renowned investors like Warren Buffet, who recently invested in a $2 billion Israeli tool-making company, have publicly praised Israel as a growing, strong market.

The importance of resisting Israel’s discriminatory and oppressive policies against its Palestinian citizens should not be understated. However, when discussing plans to address this problem at Stanford, we should carefully consider an approach that would be the most feasible in creating change.

Contact Neil Chaudhary at neilman ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

  • Bob

    Stanford should publish a list of Students that back Jewkillers ..so that we can enforce a job boycott against them.

  • Geoff Browning

    Your article is good in helping us to understand Israeli discrimination against its Arab citizens. But we should not evaluate the worth of divestment based on its efficacy. To do so would be to say that our moral choices should be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis. That is preposterous. The reason we should divest is very simple, because we do not want to benefit from the suffering of others. When Israel purchases Caterpillar bulldozers, shareholders benefit. But when those bulldozers are used to demolish the homes and orchards of families, that financial benefit is tainted with that violation of their human rights. It really is that simple.

  • mls31286

    It’s funny you speak of the “Bunker Mentality” and “Israel intolerance”.

    Let’s start with Bunker Mentality from “perceived external threats”. Is this a joke? You lost all credibility from this one line. Please tell why these threats are “perceived” and not reality. In 1948, did the surrounding Arab nations not reject the UN partition and attack Israel? Did Nasser not speak of “Wiping the Jews into the Sea” and send out UN peacekeepers in 1967, block the straights of Tiran and amass his army at the Israeli border in 1967 before any occupation took place. Does Hamas’s charter not call for the death of all Jews and is Israeli not threatened with destruction daily by world leaders, like those in Iran. Were thousands of Israeli’s not blown up in Cafe’s in the second Intifada? Are Israeli’s not being run over by cars and stabbed on a daily basis right now? This is the reality Israeli’s live with – it’s reality – not a mind game. Again, Israel was being attacked before the occupation – something you don’t mention in your article.

    You also don’t mention the Arab Muslim doctors, lawyers, scientists, judges, Knesset members. How many Jews are leadership roles in Arab Muslim nations? It is punishable by death to sell property to Jews in the West Bank – does this not fall under your Apartheid rule?

    It’s like people think the Palestinians are these noble people who just want to live in peace and democracy. Please give me one shred of evidence if there was no Israeli, Palestine would not be another Iraq, Iran, Lybia, Yemen, Lebanon, and the list can go on forever.

    Over 80% of Palestinians think it was the Israeli’s that committed the terrorist attacks in France, over 80% of Palestinians think Israel wants to destroy the Al Aska mosque, both complete lies that incite violence. This is how the world works in relation to Israel – they are responsible for all that is wrong in the world. It’s just getting pathetic. We’re talking about .01% of the land in the world.

    Over 70% of Arab Israeli’s would rather stay in a future Israeli state than live in a future Palestinians state (http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/4119/israeli-arabs-palestinian-state). It must be because Israeli’s are so discriminatory.

  • Neil Chaudhary

    Good points. Israel does face threats in terms of Hamas and surrounding enemies. However, does this justify their treatment of Arab citizens? Should Arab citizens of Israel also be judged to be enemies?

    As to your other point, I am not trying to justify the laws that discriminate against Jews in Arab nations. I equally condemn those laws. However, this does not vindicate Israel from the discriminatory policies that it has in place. It is not right to justify Israel’s actions by comparing them to the wrongdoings of other countries. Systematic discrimination and oppression in any context is wrong.

  • ak94

    While there are things I agree and disagree with in this article, I really have to commend the author. Unlike any previous articles on divestment, I could not tell which side he would come out on until midway through the article; this both kept my interest and made the article more credible in putting deep thought into both cause and effect of the issue.

  • anonreader

    Some of the points made in this piece are quite misleading. For example, growing anti-Muslim prejudice is a huge problem, but it is wrong to single out the Israelis in this regard. Recent polls show that 45% of Americans (50% of white Americans) hold unfavorable views of Muslims. And 63% of Italians hold unfavorable views of Muslims in their own country. It is wrong to blame an entire group for the actions of a few violent extremists, but this is a problem all over the world and not just in Israel.

    In addition, having lived in South Africa under apartheid and visited Israel several times in recent years, I found the apartheid discussing quite questionable. Arab-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis are not kept apart. My in-laws live in a suburb of Tel Aviv, and their across-the-hall neighbors are Arab-Israelis. This would never have happened in South Africa under apartheid (unless you count the maids and gardeners who lived in shacks behind their employers’ homes). When I take my kids to the big parks in Ranaana and Herzliya (Tel Aviv suburbs) or the beach in Tel Aviv, I see groups of Muslims, groups of Orthodox Jews and plenty of secular Israelis. The children play together, though I do find the religious adults to be stand-offish. Anyway, this would never have happened in South Africa under Apartheid. Some cities and towns are totally mixed. Visit Haifa, Jaffa or tons of smaller towns in the Galilee. Arabs and Jews also attend school school together. Many Arab-Israelis attend Hebrew-language schools, and some Jews and Arabs-Israelis attend bi-lingual Arabic/Hebrew schools (though less than I would like; I don’t know why bi-lingual education hasn’t taken off more there). This would never have happened in South Africa under Apartheid. When my younger son came down with a stomach virus while we were vacationing in the Galilee, we took him to the closest hospital, which was in a mixed Arab/Jewish town. The staff and the people in the waiting room appeared to be totally mixed. The doctor who treated my son wore a hijab. Again, this would never have happened in South Africa under Apartheid. Arab-Israelis have been Israeli ambassadors and held significant roles in government. Arab-Israelis have full political and economic rights. Many have done quite well. Arab-Israeli Christians have the highest matric pass rates and college degree attainment of any group in Israel. The Druze in particular have done quite well as a group. So, I just don’t see how anyone can call Israel and Apartheid state. There is definitely a high degree of de facto segregation, but that is also true in the US and Europe. Language and culture factor into this. Arab-Israelis certainly have some legitimate complaints, and they’re using their political power to get them addressed. Given that Israel’s basic law enshrines principles of equality, I have not doubt these issues (which are not nearly as significant as this article suggests) will be dealt with, hopefully soon.


  • 1. Israeli Arabs have more rights than any other Arabs in the Middle East. By way of example, in Israel LGBT and women Arabs enjoy full freedom and equality. LGBT and women are persecuted, subjugated and/or worse everywhere else in the Middle East.

    2. Israeli Arabs are the only Arabs in the Middle East who vote in a true democracy. By way of example, in the current Israeli election polls, the united Arab party is polling to take 10% of the seats in the Knesset, and an Arab sits on the Israeli Supreme Court.
    How many Jews sit in any Arab legislature? How many Jewish judges preside in any court in the Arab states? How many Jews do you suppose even live in the Arab states?

    3. Israel is a Jewish State. The Palestinians were offered a chance in 1947 to have a state of their own, but they rejected it, instead preferring war against Israel. Since then, the Palestinians have had many other chances for a state between Israel and Jordan, but they continue to opt for war. Apartheid is about the supremacy of one race over another. Israel is about the survival of 6 million Jews in a sea of 365 million Arabs. Israel is a Jewish State with equal rights for all. It is no less imperfect than the U.S.A. To hold Israel up to a higher standard than all other states is anti-Semitism in disguise.

    4. Elsewhere in the Middle East harassment, torture and murder by Arab-on-Christian, Sunni-on-Shiite, and Shiite-on-Sunni exceed every metric. In Syria alone, over 140000 Arabs have killed each other, led by the Syrian regime. In Saudi Arabia, women are stoned to death for adultery, and homosexuals are thrown off towers. Where is the call for divestment from any Arab country? Why none? Because the call for divestment from Israel is not about civil rights; it’s about delegitimizing Israel and challenging its very right to exist.

  • John Brown

    How about boycotting Palestine, which is an apartheid-state. For example, Jews are not aloud to buy land or housing. Palestine always had a Jewish population. More countries to boycott: Lebanon (Palestinans are not aloud to own land. Movies can be banned for being “Jewish”), Jordan (Jews not permitted to buy land)

  • John Brown

    Boycott the apartheid countries Algeria, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and Marocco – they all have apartheid laws. Boycott! Divest!
    The ironic fact: the regimes that are the strongest backers of BDS are the most racist, apartheid, woman-hating, un-democratic countries in the world. What does BDS say about them? Nothing!! Because BDS is bought by them.

  • John Brown

    Israel was created in 1948 because if it hadn’t, all Jews would have been killed. The Palestinian leader Mufti Amin Al Husseini had during WWII struck a deal with Hitler to annihilate all Jews in the Middle East after Germany won the war in Europe. He set up a Muslim SS-division, too. No Palestinian Jew was prepared to have him as a leader when the British left Palestine in ’48. BDS doesn’t say anything about this because they are bought and indirectly controlled by arab governments and financiers who like the Mufti

  • This is the vile, vicious hostility that is really behind Israel divestment campaigns: http://www.truthrevolt.org/news/student-leader-hamas-shariah-law-have-taken-over-uc-davis

  • argumentum

    “It is not right to justify Israel’s actions by comparing them to the wrongdoings of other countries. Systematic discrimination and oppression in any context is wrong.”

    So surely then systematically *singling out* Israel for condemnation is also wrong .. since you agree that other countries perpetrate greater oppression and atrocities, why is there only a “movement” against Israel?

  • guest

    no, you did not adress the point that indicates that Israel is a good place for it’s arab citizens.
    *copy-paste from the comment*
    “Over 70% of Arab Israeli’s would rather stay in a future Israeli state than live in a future Palestinians state”

    The explanation is well written by Isac H. Winer (scroll down)

  • Scott Dubin

    Let’s broaden the discussion by taking a tour of the Middle East: In Syria, Assad’s government, backed by Iran and Hezbollah, has used chemical weapons and killed hundreds of thousands, and displaced millions. In Iraq, ISIS (which also operates in Syria) has killed thousands in the most grisly fashion possible; Iraq’s government and Shiite militias, however, have not been far behind in their treatment of their Sunni citizens. In Egypt, the military dictatorship has conducted a brutal crackdown against its political opponents, secular and religious, yesterday sentencing 183 people to death in one mass verdict, is conducting a war in the Sinai against Islamic extremists, and is more heavy-handed in its treatment of Gaza than the Israelis. Egypt is now less free than it was before the Arab Spring. In Saudi Arabia, there is no freedom whatsoever, of religion, press, or speech, and a blogger with a website that criticized the country’s religious establishment was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 blows in a public caning. Nor are there any rights in Saudi Arabia, for women (who can’t even drive), for minorities, for gays or for anyone who doesn’t adhere to the government’s and religious establishment’s strict, poisonous orthodoxy. Libya and Yemen are failed states undergoing civil wars and Iran is a religious dictatorship that seeks nuclear weapons and only a few years ago brutally suppressed a democracy movement, killing hundreds and imprisoning hundreds more. In Gaza, Hamas came to power after Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip. Committed by its charter not only to destroy Israel, but to kill Jews wherever they are found, Hamas immediately began launching rockets into Israel and has provoked two wars to date.

    Now let’s turn to Israel. Whatever you may think of Israel, the following facts are incontrovertible: (1) Israel is the most democratic country in the Middle East (ME) and the only one with free elections where all citizens (the Palestinians in the disputed occupied territories are not citizens), Jews, Arabs, Christians and Druze, can vote; (2) Israel has the freest press and the most free speech in the ME; (3) Israel has the most gender equality in the ME; (4) Israel has the most freedom of religion in the ME; (5) Israel is the only country in the ME that has gay rights; (6) Israel is a frequent victim of terrorism and is surrounded by neighbors (Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria) that want to destroy it.

    Divest from Egypt, divest from Saudi Arabia, divest from any number of corrupt, brutal Arab states, but if there is one country in the Middle East that shares our values and that we should support, it is Israel. To single out Israel for divestment versus countries with vastly worse human rights records in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq or Libya is worse than a double standard.

  • Guest

    There are 56 dysfunctional Muslim countries in the world today. Pick on any one of those before singling out the world’s ONLY Jewish state the size of New Jersey. The Jews put Israel on the map in the first place and made it an important city. Wherever you scratch the ground in Israel there is Jewish history. If your history professors were honest you would learn that it is the Arab and Muslim latecomers who are the occupiers and thieves.

  • Zamorin

    Sure, Neil, let’s also divest from Pakistan – created as an Islamic state where non-Muslims are second-class citizens who are terrorized by state-sponsored groups and live in fear under draconian blasphemy laws. The lot of Arabs in Israel is infinitely better than that of Christians, Hindus, Ahmediyyas, and Hazaras in Pakistan.

  • Jonah

    In 2010 (Palestinian) Arab-Israeli Judge George Karra sentenced former Israeli President Moshe Katsav (a Jew) to a 7-year prison sentence. Katsav appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court where (Palestinian) Arab-Israeli Judge Salim Jourban upheld Katsav’s conviction.

    Ruminate over that for a moment… And now crosscheck those tidbits against your blood libel of Israel.

    Do also note that Jourban isn’t Israel’s first Arab Supreme Court judge. And just for fun: how many Arabs have served on the US Supreme Court?