In the context of surging efforts to promote - and block - boycott/divestment/sanctions efforts, and in the context of a serious debate within Israel and the Jewish community about how to deal with growing international criticism of Israel, we believe it is important to make clear what we do, and do not, support.
US Aid to Israel
Recently APN called on the Obama Administration to start playing hardball in its Middle East peace efforts. APN believes that playing hardball should not and must not mean taking steps that threaten Israel's security. To the contrary: the US must assure Israel that America and the international community are unequivocally committed to maintaining Israel's security. Indeed, absolute confidence in US support for Israel's security will be essential to give Israelis the confidence necessary to take the risks inherent in any future peace agreement. APN thus categorically opposes calls for the US to cut or threaten to cut military aid to Israel.
The US has other forms of leverage which it can and should seriously consider bringing to bear in its Middle East peace efforts. The Obama Administration should make a comprehensive assessment of its leverage options vis-à-vis all parties, and it should make clear to the parties that it is ready to use this leverage, if required. For example, for Israel this could include:
- the use of US diplomatic leverage - in the bilateral relationship or in multilateral forums - to press Israel on issues of vital national interests of the US, including settlements.
- the use of other forms of US leverage - be they linked to loan guarantees, other forms of non-military aid, other special programs or benefits the US provides Israel, etc. - to press Israel on issues of vital national interests of the US, including settlements.
Boycott & Divestment
APN believes that boycott and divestment campaigns against Israel are misguided and counterproductive.
Misguided, because they target the average, innocent Israeli citizen - who may well support peace and a two-state solution - rather than the Israeli government policies that are ostensibly the target of the campaigns. Counterproductive, because they provoke a "circle the wagons" response. Such a response is understandable, since much of the pressure for such campaigns comes from historically virulently anti-Israel sources that are often not interested in Israeli security concerns or Palestinian behavior. This in turn creates very real and understandable worries about global anti-Semitism and the perception that the campaigns are not truly (or only) about Israeli policies but rather reflect a deep-seated hatred for and rejection of Israel.
As a result, such campaigns have the opposite of the intended result: they cause many Israelis and supporters of Israel - people whose voices are vitally needed to oppose the policies that such campaigns target - to feel compelled to defend Israel, regardless of the policies in question.
A more constructive approach would be to shift the focus from Israel to the West Bank and the Golan Heights. It should be recalled that the West Bank has never been annexed by Israel and is not considered part of Israel, even by the Israeli government or Israeli courts. Even many American Jewish organizations whose mission is to support the sitting government of Israel distinguish in their activities and funding between Israel and the occupied territories. Likewise, while Israel has annexed the Golan Heights, it is clearly understood by all informed parties that the future of this area will necessarily be subject to Israel-Syria peace negotiations (which in previous rounds reached a far-advanced stage). Focusing activism on these areas will underscore the fact that activism is not anti-Israel, but rather is opposed to specific Israeli policies and practices, many of which are related to Israeli behavior in these geographic areas. Such an approach might include:
- efforts aimed at highlighting the point of origin of products originating in Israeli settlements in the West Bank or Golan Heights, to permit people to make informed choices in their purchasing and consumption;
- efforts to raise awareness about companies based in or operating in settlements, to permit people to make informed choices about their investment options;
- efforts to raise awareness of opportunities for people to "invest for peace" - investing in Israeli companies and projects whose work is consistent with peace, coexistence, and the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - rather than divest from Israel;
- efforts to raise awareness about private US funds flowing to settlers and settlements and to explore ways to curb such funding;
- efforts to exempt products originating in settlements from US preferential trade benefits; and
- efforts to bar US government purchase of products originating in settlements
Criticism of Israel
Criticism of Israeli policies and actions must be judged on its content.
It is both true and deeply troubling that anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment may be cloaked in criticism of specific Israeli government policies and actions. At the same time, it is both true and deeply troubling that some Israeli policies and actions merit legitimate and harsh criticism.
The notion that Israel's best defense is a good offense - that supporters of Israel are better off attacking Israel's critics and blindly defending Israeli behavior, rather than taking an honest look at Israel's policies and actions - should trouble anyone who cares about the character of Israel's society and Israel's democracy.
APN strongly supports the existence of a robust, active Israeli civil society, including peace groups like Shalom Achshav, as well as groups dedicated to human rights, freedom of speech, and other values that are at the core of any democracy. APN rejects and condemns any efforts aimed at quashing legitimate criticism and protest of Israeli policies and actions, including:
- efforts or policies that seek to quash debate about Israeli policies/behavior or legitimate criticism of Israel;
- efforts - either in Israel or abroad - to cut off funding for, delegitimize, or otherwise hinder the functioning of Israeli non-governmental organizations that work on issues related to peace, civil society, or human rights;
- efforts to quash legitimate and non-violent protests; and
- efforts aimed at stifling critical reporting of Israel in the international media.