Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions: Opposing Occupations Everywhere

Editor’s Note: Stephen Zunes is a Contributing Editor to Tikkun Magazine and  professor of political science at the University of San Francisco. His article comes very very close to articulating the position on BDS (Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions) held by Tikkun Magazine. We differ only in the following respects:

1. We do not agree that the criterion of what counts as an “Occupation” should be determined in the legalistic way that Zunes derives from international law. The Occupation of Tibet by China and of Chechnya by Russia should count, and there may be other such (India in Kashmir perhaps?). Ethical considerations should be considered valid in determining what is and is not an “Occupation” when considering BDS.

2. We believe that BDS is also appropriate against any country engaged in prolonged warfare (and hence occupation) in some other country’s territory (the US in Iraq till this year, and in Afghanistan continuing; Sudan in Darfur? Syria in Lebanon for many years, Israel in Lebanon for many years) unless it can make a credible case that failing such an occupation their own country would face occupation by the other.

3. In the case of Israel (or any other country ruled by a group that has a long history of being victims of persecution previous to having a state under its control), I have argued in my book that BDS has the potential negative consequence of increasing the paranoia of that previously persecuted group, which in turn might lead to more oppressive behavior rather than a lifting of the oppressive behavior, and that therefore it is a dangerous (though appropriately non-violent) strategy that should be used very sparingly if at all, and then only in a very targeted way (so, in Israel, I argued in my book Embracing Israel Palestine, activists  should clearly not target all Israeli institutions, but only those specifically involved in enforcing the occupation, and products produced by Israelis living in the West Bank, and firms such as Caterpillar that build equipment that is used to enforce the Occupation and/or the displacement of Palestinians from their homes). Please do read Stephen Zunes important piece below  which makes a strong argument for a switch in the way that the peace movement could support BDS because in that major point we fully agree.–Rabbi Michael Lerner


Divesting from All Occupations
By Stephen Zunes
Foreign Policy in Focus
July 25, 2012

In response to ongoing violations of international law
and basic human rights by the rightist Israeli
government of Benyamin Netanyahu in the occupied West
Bank and elsewhere, there has been a growing call for
divestment of stocks in corporations supporting the

Modeled after the largely successful divestment campaign
in the 1980s against corporations doing business in
apartheid South Africa, the movement targets companies
that support the Israeli occupation by providing weapons
or other instruments of repression to Israeli occupation
forces, investing in or trading with enterprises in
illegal Israeli settlements, and in other ways. Although
human rights activists recognize such tactics as a
legitimate form of nonviolent international solidarity
with an oppressed people, right-wing groups supporting
the occupation as well as some more moderate
organizations concerned about the strident anti-Israel
tone of some divestment supporters have denounced the

Still, the campaign has scored notable successes.  One
target of the campaign has been the Caterpillar company,
which has provided Israeli occupation forces with
bulldozers that have illegally demolished thousands of
Palestinian homes. In recent months, TIAA/CREF- the
leading provider of retirement benefits for those in the
academic, research, medical, and cultural fields-has
removed Caterpillar from its Social Choice Fund. The
influential Morgan Stanley Capital International has
de-listed Caterpillar from its World Socially Responsible
Index, and the Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation has
joined a growing list of groups which have divested
stockholdings in the company. At the recent General
Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, a resolution to
divest from Caterpillar, along with Motorola and Hewlett
Packard, for their complicity in the occupation was
defeated by the narrowest of margins.

Opposing Occupation Everywhere

At the Presbyterian gathering and elsewhere, many
opponents of the divestment resolution acknowledged that
the Israeli government is engaged in serious human
rights abuses in the occupied territories, but expressed
concerned that the divestment resolution unfairly
“singles out Israel.” Indeed, there are a number of
governments in the world that engage in worse human
rightsabuses than Israel, and violations of human rights
should be opposed  regardless if they take place within
a country’s internationally-recognized borders or in an
illegally occupied territory. Given that Israel is the
world’s only Jewish state, there is understandably
particular sensitivity if Israel alone is seen as being
targeted, however serious the government’s

However, there is a much stronger legal case for
opposing human rights abuses in territories recognized
as under foreign belligerent occupation. International
law prohibits under most circumstances foreign companies
from exploiting natural resources within such
territories. Similarly, there are a host of legal issues
regarding the export of weapons and other military
resources to country’s that utilize them in suppressing
the rights of those under occupation.

Indeed, these very issues were subjected to
international debate during South Africa’s occupation of
Namibia, Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, and Indonesia’s
occupation of East Timor.

Today, there are only three countries that are engaged
in what the United Nations and the international
community recognize as a foreign belligerent occupation:
Israel, Morocco, and Armenia. (Although a moral case can
be made for the independence of Tibet, Chechnya, and
West Papua (as well as a number of other territories
that aspire to become independent), the international
community deems them as being within the internationally
recognized borders of China, Russia and Indonesia
respectively, and are therefore not recognized as
occupied territories.)

Virtually no major international companies support
Armenia’s current occupation of the small strip of
Azerbaijan territory it controls. However, a number of
companies support Morocco’s ongoing illegal occupation
of the nation of Western Sahara.

U.S.-based Kosmos Energy is the only oil company in the
world licensed for offshore oil exploration in the
territorial waters of occupied Western Sahara. In 2002,
a UN legal analysis determined that proceeding with such
exploration activities would be in violation of
international law.  Similarly, two U.S. fertilizer
companies – PCS and Mosaic – are major customers of
Morocco’s illegal phosphate production in occupied
Western Sahara. And, as is the case of the Israeli-
occupied territories, U.S.-based arms manufacturers have
supplied Moroccan occupation forces engaged in what
independent human rights groups have described as gross
and systematic human rights violations, including
manufacturers of the teargas that has been used to break
up peaceful demonstrations calling for the right of

Expanding the Boycott

The Palestinian solidarity struggle would be
considerably strengthened if, instead of calling for
divestment specifically from companies supporting the
Israeli occupation, the call was for divestment from
companies supporting all foreign belligerent

Since it would effectively mean just one additional
country and only a small number of companies, it would
not take much attention away from the Israeli occupation
and Western companies supporting the occupation. More
importantly, it would help move the debate away from a
divisive pro-Israel vs. anti-Israel dichotomy, where
people often end up just talking past each other, to
where the debate belongs:  human rights and
international law.

Morocco is a predominantly Arab Muslim country. By
including Western Sahara along with Palestine, the
movement would avoid the accusation that it is unfairly
singling out Israel. After all, it would be targeting
all illegal occupations, not just one.

Morocco, like Israel, is in violation of a series of
United Nations Security Council resolutions and a
landmark decision of the International Court of Justice
regarding their occupation. Morocco, like Israel, has
illegally moved tens of thousands of settlers into the
occupied territory. Morocco, like Israel, engages in
gross and systematic human rights abuses in the occupied
territories. Morocco, like Israel, has illegally built a
separation wall through the occupied territories.
Morocco, like Israel, relies on the United States and
other Western support to maintain the occupation by
rendering the UN powerless to enforce international law.
Morocco, like Israel, is able to maintain the occupation
in part through the support of multinational

And just as Palestine is recognized by scores of
countries and is a full member of the Arab League,
Western Sahara is recognized by scores of countries and
is a full member of the African Union, thereby insuring
international support.

Not only would including all occupations in the
divestment campaign help protect the movement from
spurious charges of “anti-Semitism” and broaden its
appeal, it would help bring attention to the little-
known but important self-determination struggle of the
Sahrawi people against the illegal and oppressive
Moroccan occupation of their country, which was invaded
by the U.S.-backed kingdom in 1975, eight years after
the Israeli conquest of the West Bank and other Arab
territories. (For a summary of the Western Sahara
struggle and its implications, see Western Sahara: The
Other Occupation)

Given the intense polarization, harsh polemics, and
suspicions regarding Israel and Palestine, a campaign
based more on universal legal and moral principles
against occupation, rather than targeting a particular
country that has a strong and influential domestic
constituency, would be far more effective. Given the
suffering of the Palestinian (and Sahrawi) peoples and
the complicity of the U.S. government and U.S.
corporations in their oppression, they deserve nothing

tags: Israel/Palestine   
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One Response to Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions: Opposing Occupations Everywhere

  1. Allyson rowen taylor November 15, 2012 at 5:08 am

    Dunes and his ilk have given Israel the stigmas that threaten its very existence terms like occupation and settlers have added to the hatred of the Jews. Your allowing such awful anti Semites like carter zones and finkelstein have exacerbated the hostility to the Jewish homeland. Your friendship with Jabari and Hamas just proves w
    The definition of the word dhimmi.

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