Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2006, page 61
Speaking the Truth
At the March 3 Sabeel plenary panel entitled “Speaking the Truth, the Challenges Before Us,” Susan Akram discussed maintaining a human rights framework for the Palestinian refugees.
Pointing out that “Palestinian refugees are one in four refugees,” she noted that “the Palestinian proposal for the right of return reflects international law definitions for the refugees and it is consistent with the U.N. principles and practices of refugee rights.” However, she added, “the Israeli proposal doesn’t have a refugee definition.”
Next to speak was Bill Fletcher Jr., president of the TransAfrica Forum, who talked about the “Apartheid South African Divestment” experience. There are two major ways in which the South African Divestment experience would be different from an Israeli one, he explained: “First, there was no Afrikaans population within the U.S. to push for policy,” and “there was never a comparable situation to the Holocaust.”
“In South Africa, blacks were faceless,” he pointed out, “while Palestinians (like Arabs) are demonized.” An important question to ponder, he said, is “What could ”˜we’ do in the U.S. to go against the apartheid government [of Israel]?”
Rev. Dr. Don Wagner, professor and director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University, discussed morally responsible investment among the churches.
“Moral economic engagement or phase selective divestment is not a blanket boycott,” Wagner said. “It just targets U.S. corporations that are targeted at the occupation.” He wants to know he “is not profiting from some one else’s suffering,” Wagner added, and feels that is how everyone should feel.
Wagner termed it “moral blackmail” to call this plan of action anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic. Quoting Martin Luther King, he said, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
Rounding out the speakers was Liat Weingart, director of campaigns and programs for Jewish Voice for Peace, who discussed the Divestment movement and how JVP was working to show that not all Jews are against a divestment movement.
“If you want to be the bearers of peace, you also have to be the bearers of justice,” Weingart stated. Acknowledging that there are difficulties because of differences between some American Jews and the Jewish establishments themselves, she pointed out that “Half of American Jews opposed the Iraq war, yet not a single Jewish organization opposed the war in Iraq.”
One of the most important challenges, she concluded, was for people to get educated and begin letter-writing campaigns to their congressmen.