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20 Jun, 2010

Many Jews now see Israeli government as part of the problem

Originally Published: 20 June 2010

A prominent U.S.-based Jewish peace-activist group has joined a growing chorus of global opinion seeking freedom and independence for the Palestinians with a specific call for people “regardless of your religion, ethnicity or profession”, to join a divestiture campaign against “companies that are profiting from the occupation.”

On 16 June 2010, the Jewish Voice for Peace dispatched an email penned by its former chairman Henri Picciotto urging its supporters to join the many others who are “standing up for what is right”. It said: “Our goal is to get TIAA-CREF, one of the largest pension funds in the United States, to divest from companies that are profiting from the occupation.”

Although ignored by the mainstream Western media, the campaign call is a very significant part of one of today’s great geopolitical trends, viz., the growing number of moderate, liberal, open-minded and clear-thinking Jews beginning to speak out against the fundamentalist, fanatic, lying, hypocritical Jews in their midst, especially the hardcore Zionist supporters of the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine.

This trend, which I have commented on extensively in previous columns, has gained considerable traction since the Israeli attacks on the Freedom Flotilla that was heading for Gaza to provide humanitarian aid and supplies to the long-suffering, besieged and imprisoned Palestinians. Like the global campaign against apartheid, which snowballed only after white Caucasians began to speak out against other white Caucasians, the fact that many Jews are beginning to see the Israeli government as part of the problem is a major step forward.

In his email, Mr Picciotto, who also signed himself as a “TIAA-CREF Participant,” wrote, “It took the courage of over 700 humanitarian aid activists and the needless deaths of nine of them to put the siege of Gaza and the broader issue of the Israeli occupation on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, day after day, for a week. There were demonstrations across the globe and diplomatic condemnations.

“But my own government (the U.S.) was largely silent. While other countries condemned the illegal attack, here in the US, President Obama played games with words and ensured that no resolution would pass the UN Security Council. And instead of demanding an impartial international investigation, he gave his blessing to a widely criticized Israeli plan to investigate itself.”

Mr Picciotto added, “The catastrophe on the high seas off the Gaza Strip has only underscored the urgent need to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine and to bring a just peace.”

He noted that in the last year, divestment campaigns at U.S. universities including Hampshire, Berkeley, and Evergreen “have galvanized discussion and action about Israel’s treatment of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

“Building on that momentum, I am proud to tell you that Jewish Voice for Peace is announcing today a new divestment campaign that you, your family, your friends, and your community can all help build. Our goal is to get TIAA-CREF, one of the largest pension funds in the United States, to divest from companies that are profiting from the occupation.”

He said that TIAA-CREF had been selected because its tagline is “finance for the greater good” and the fund claims to “take pride not just in its financial acumen, but also in its ethical standards.”

“But TIAA-CREF, invests its money–my retirement money– in companies that help maintain the Gaza blockade, build West Bank settlements, embed spy equipment in the illegal Separation Wall, and sell Israel navy ships and other war equipment used to attack Gaza and, most recently, the Flotilla. Even TIAA-CREF’s “socially responsible” funds are invested in some of the companies JVP is targeting, including Caterpillar and Motorola.

“Yet TIAA-CREF was the first major fund to divest from those doing business in the Sudan, and then other companies followed suit. If we can just convince TIAA-CREF to follow its own guidelines, as it has in the Sudan, we will have a major impact.”

Mr Picciotto said the divestiture campaign has the endorsements of over 250 prominent professors, doctors authors, artists, and many others who are standing up for what is right and fighting for justice. They include Professor Richard Falk and Professor Noam Chomsky, authors and activists such as Naomi Klein, Juan Cole, Bill Fletcher Jr., and Nadia Hijab, a dozen rabbis from around the country, and many others”

“We ask you to sign the petition – regardless of your religion, ethnicity or profession, or whether you participate in a TIAA-CREF retirement plan.

“This campaign demands accountability from the ground up, starting with you and me. An old bumper sticker sums it up: “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.” Only if we lead, will D.C. follow. We think that with your help, this campaign will make a huge difference.”

Mr Picciotto said that “economic pressure campaigns using boycott, divestment and sanction tactics have a long and noble history. They helped end apartheid in South Africa. They worked in the American South, in the civil rights movement. They worked to persuade California grape producers to recognize their workers’ union. Most recently, many people are boycotting Arizona in response to its treatment of immigrants. But none of these campaigns were overnight successes. This is the beginning of a long, hard battle, but we’re determined to win it. If you join, we will win.”

More pressure was piled on the Israeli government by two more Jewish activists: Abraham Greenhouse, founder of the Palestine Freedom Project (palestinefreedom.org) and Nora Barrows-Friedman, an independent journalist, writing for The Electronic Intifada, Inter Press Service, Truthout and other outlets.

In a co-authored article on www.electronicintifada.net, they ripped into the Israeli government’s version of the events on the Freedom Flotilla, and outlined how activists and skeptical journalists had deconstructed the official story and assembled evidence to uncover the truth behind the violent deaths of activists on the first flotilla boat, the Mavi Marmara.

Paul Larudee, a San Francisco Bay Area-based activist who participated in the flotilla and endured a severe beating which required him to him to be hospitalized, opined that “that the success of independent journalists in unraveling Israel’s disjointed narrative has had a transformative effect on the popular consciousness.”

He was quoted as saying, “Something’s happening here. Perceptions begin to move. People are getting it — they understand that a humanitarian aid convoy was attacked, and the passengers were defending themselves, despite the spin that Israel is creating in the media. Israel is not going to be able to keep this up much longer. It’s all starting to crumble.”