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Those responsible for asking universities, cities and other institutions to divest from Israel face a challenge: how to get an organization that ostensibly has no "dog in the fight" in the Arab-Israel conflict to put this issue on their official agenda.

To square this circle, groups committed to divestiture from Israel have focused on the investment portfolios of institutions, such as a university's endowment or a city's retirement fund. By characterizing locally-owned assets such as stocks in Israeli businesses, or funds that include US companies doing business with Israel as "investments" in the Israelis side of the conflict, divest-from-Israel groups make the claim that these local institutions are already "taking sides" in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. And since the institution does not invest in the Palestinian side of the conflict, why should it invest in Israel? Fair is fair, after all.

What this argument cleverly avoids is that the Middle East dispute is actually the Arab-Israeli conflict, one which pits the one Jewish nation (Israel) against 23 Arab states, all of which support the Palestinians with diplomacy, money and - frequently - guns.

Using divestment-from-Israel organizations' own formula for calculating responsibility, one in which investment in a company doing business with a nation equals responsibility for the actions of that nation, a portion of nearly every dollar invested in energy stocks and funds represents support for the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Taking things further (and, again, using divestment groups' moral arithmetic), by investing in companies that in any way help develop, distribute or profit from Middle East oil makes someone a partner in the stoning of women, persecution and murder of homosexuals, and enslavement of black Africans, all of which take place in an Arab Middle East that profits from endowment or retirement investments, indeed, profits each and every time a someone fills up his or her gas tank.

This endless chain of potential accusation is why many organizations approach the issue of social investment with extreme care. Is a share of Caterpillar a safe (if not boring) investment in an equipment manufacturer, or a way of announcing support for house demolitions (or the destruction of weapons tunnels - depending on who you ask) in Gaza? Does a share of Mobil mean someone is all in favor of the stoning to death of Saudi brides? For supporters of Israel, the issue is complex enough that we have never asked institutions to make a statement by stopping its investment in companies that benefit Israel's Arab foes. Would it were so that the supports of boycotting Israel could be so responsible.

As with so many tactics, the portrayal of divestment as solely an issue of fairness is simply a ruse to appeal to someone's better nature. A similar argument comes up whenever Israel's critics are asked why they don't battle human rights abuses in Arab countries with one one-hundredth the venom they have for Israel. "Israel is the largest recipient of US aid," they reply, "and as an American, I have a moral say in where my tax dollar goes."

Indeed they do. Yet the fact that Egypt receives nearly the same amount of foreign aid as Israel never seems to make them equally vocal about the abuse of women, homosexuals and religious minorities in that country. America's heavy investment in the UN, which in turn pays most of the bills of the Palestinians, never seems to prick their conscience as American taxpayers for the corruption, violence and murderousness of the Palestinians they spend so much time talking about.

This confusion can be cleared if one realizes that the goal of the worldwide Israel boycott movement is not raising up the Palestinians, but in running down the Israelis. Local branches of the movement are not fighting for an equitable distribution of funds between different players in the Middle East conflict, but to get the a school, city, town or church to declare that Israel is a racist, apartheid state, alone in the world at deserving economic punishment. That is the message they will deliver to the world once any divest-from-Israel motion passes, so it is only fair to alert those who are in a position to vote for such actions that this is what they is being requested from them, not just a harmless proposition to create a level playing field.
© 2005 Divestment Watch
Article © 2005 Jon Haber