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Friday, September 28, 2012

BDS & OWS Are Sitting In A Tree

The Global Justice Working Group of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) sponsored a teach-in at the Free University in NYC. In case you do not know about the free University, its classes are held at Madison Square Park at 23rd and Broadway. From what I am told, it is run by both students and

faculty in the NYC area and it features  OWS educational sessions. While I was waiting for the Global Justice Working Group's session to run, I walked around and saw a session put on for Guitarmy, organic food, and the criminalization of student dissent in Puerto Rico.

The teach-in session I was involved with on this particular Saturday was on BDS. BDS stands for Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment and was started by Palestinian activists as a peaceful response to Israel's brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The hope is that by gathering more participants who will practice a similar set of nonviolent actions toward Israel as were practiced against South Africa during its apartheid years, Israel will relent of its occupation and harsh treatment of Palestinians in the area. Though started by Palestinian activists, the movement now includes activists from around the world including Israel.

The first question that was addressed during the session was why would OWS be associated with BDS? The answer is somewhat obvious to those with any kind of continued connection with OWS. Currently, Israel's system of government centers on producing a society that contains both the privileged, those who have Jewish ancestry, and those whose ancestry was not Jewish but who were indigenous to the area. The abuse practiced by Israel's government and some of its citizens against the Palestinians and others can be harsh and deadly. Those who belong to OWS oppose such a system that establishes a privileged class whether it be located on Wall Street or in any other country.

At this point, a semi self aware American might become a bit defensive knowing that many Americans live privileged lives themselves. Such Americans would certainly say, "Surely OWS would not protest my group because, though privileged, my group does not abuse others." Such a view shows an inadequate understanding of OWS in the first place. OWS did not come about as a protest against 

the abuse practiced by some privileged societies. Rather, OWS started as a protest against the existence of privileged societies because both the pre and postconditions of all such societies include abuse. This is true here in America where many of us lived privileged lives that started with the ethnic cleansing of American Indians from the land and the multiple enslavements of Blacks. Because America is now running an empire, the maintenance of our privileged status includes the victimization of people of color from many different nations as we rule them through intimidation and proxy rulers. A similar mini-story can be told about certain forms of Zionism and the founding of Israel. We should note here that not all past forms of Zionism relied on the subjugation of others. But the one that was and still is embraced by those with power does just that.

Besides a general introduction to the concept of using boycotts, divestment, and sanctions to change the behavior of a nation, a small but well stated overview of the plight of the Palestinians, including those Arabs who are Israeli citizens, was given and individuals representing groups that are currently supporting BDS spoke as well.

Some of the documents distributed during the teach-in included a call for BDS by the Palestinian Civil Society. It makes reference to the fact that Israel has ignored, and thus violated, many UN resolutions as it has continued to practice "colonial and discriminatory policies." Noting that UN diplomacy has not worked, there came about a Palestinian call for all nations to treat Israel in a similar way the Union of South Africa was treated while it continued to practice apartheid. What should be noted is that this document emphasized non-violence. And that BDS should be observed until 1) the end of the occupation and colonialism as well as a tearing down of the Separation Wall. What we should note is what Israeli activist Jeff Halper points out and can be confirmed by the dictionary is that separation is a definition of the word apartheid; 2) recognizing the full equality of Palestinian Arabs; and 3) recognizing the right of Palestinians to return home.

What is emphasized with this BDS call is that it ends with the end of the Occupation and the inequality that is practiced against Palestinian Arabs and Arab citizens of Israel. We should also note that BDS originated from Palestinians and that our cooperation with it is to be seen as our helping Palestinians gain their own freedom rather than trying to become heros by rescuing a helpless victim.

In addition to materials passed out on BDS, a presentation was given to a specific implementation of BDS which is a boycott of an Israeli cosmetic company. The website, stolenbeauty.org,  explains the specifics of the Israeli company and why. What else was related is how organizations are responding to the call to boycott this particular company. This is not the only Israeli company being targeted by organizations that are promoting BDS, but it was the one mentioned in the teach-in.

And yet another presentation was made by a representative of Punks Against Apartheid. Here, stories of how an increasing number of Punk musicians are refusing to play in Israel because of their opposition to injustice.  What those who either do not like, like myself, or who are offended by Punk music don't realize is that a number of such musicians are interested in social justice. This should not surprise us with the earlier ventures of Russia's Punk Rock group, Pussy Riot. So though a Jazz fan like myself may mute their music, we must certainly give such Punk Rock groups a long and resounding standing ovation for living honorable personal convictions.

And yet another part of the teach-in contained information on the joint venture between Cornell University and Technion--the Israeli Institute of Technology. The website that contains information challenging this partnership can be found here. What is important here is the need to oppose another link between American resources and weapons that are used to oppress others. This reminds me of a debate I participated in where one of my debating opponents mentioned the need to oppose defense cuts because of the percentage of American manufacturing that relies on the sale of weapons. To decrease spending could cost people their jobs was the sentiment of my opponent. It is as if my debating foe was saying that to maintain or even increase profits for these "essential" companies, we can't afford to promote peace and justice.

The teach-in event was well worthwhile with good speakers. We should note that there are people around the world who support BDS including Israelis who risk legal and financial repercussions for showing such support. It is Jews who are willing to risk the wrath of their fellow Jews, for those outside of Israel, or fellow citizens for those inside of Israel, who are most worthy of the highest recognition here. For how many Americans are willing to call for an global economic campaign against America for its vast international crimes? And we should note that America is guilty of far more and egregious violations of international and moral law than Israel is.

All of this points to one inescapable conclusion. If we, that is people, are to survive, we need to place a greater emphasis and priority on principles than partisanship. To do that, we must become willing critics of our own group when it oppresses others and willing defenders of our "enemies" when they become victims. Certainly we can and should never void ourselves of ethnic, national, religious, and other identities. These identities play an important role in who we are as people. But whether we will be moral people depends on whether our ethnic, national, religious or other identities trump basic morality in our lives. Though some would point to history and say that asking people to regard principles as more important than partisanship is being idealistic. Quite the opposite is true. With the technology the world has today, to believe that we can allow history to repeat itself and expect to survive is to be delusional and cowardly.








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