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Minnesota should divest from Israel bonds

The four Geneva conventions at the core of international humanitarian law were adopted in 1949 and ratified by 194 countries in the world. These conventions specify conduct that can be found criminally culpable if violated. The first three are specifically applicable to conduct against military personnel who are not combatants (i.e., prisoners of war, medical personnel, wounded soldiers, etc.), and the fourth applies to civilian noncombatants.

Despite Israel's protestations to the contrary, and despite its ratification of the four Geneva Conventions in August of 1949 (with the reservation that Israel would use the Red Shield of David instead of the Red Cross), it has violated these conventions through its 62-year history and continues to violate them to this day.

Below are just a few examples: In 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel attacked the USS Liberty, killing 34 American sailors and wounding nearly 200 (in violation of the second Geneva Convention). Israel claims that it was a mistake, but there is a plethora of evidence to the contrary; the reason for the attack was to keep the United States from finding out about an ongoing massacre of Egyptian prisoners of war (in violation of the third Geneva Convention).

The first Geneva Convention applies to conduct toward medical transports, medical units, and medical personnel, all of which were targeted and many destroyed during Operation Cast Lead from December 2008 to January 2009. Israel denies that it targeted any of the protected facilities or personnel, but numerous reports show deliberate targeting of them. Israel claims that all of the reports critical of Israel are biased and that it has a legitimate right to self-defense. However, the Geneva Conventions also discuss what legitimate self-defense is and what constitutes illegal and disproportionate force.

The settlements issue
Conduct of an occupation is the subject of the fourth Geneva Convention, in which an occupier may not transfer a civilian population into occupied territory. Some Israel defenders have claimed that settlements in the West Bank are perfectly legal, but the fourth Geneva Convention is clear on that issue. Every single settlement, from the settler "outposts" to the large cities, is illegal according to international law.

With these examples and many others in mind, an attempt to put a resolution in the DFL platform for Minnesota to divest from its Israel bonds to force it to comply with international law was proposed at the DFL Progressive Caucus. The resolution passed unanimously in that caucus.

The strong ties between Israel and the United States, and specifically between Israel and Minnesota, have been given as reasons to reject the resolution. On the contrary, these strong ties are exactly the reasons we should divest from Israel bonds. The money invested in Israel bonds goes directly to furthering the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, by helping to develop the civilian infrastructure in the settlements, by building the separation wall, and by building roads that only the settlers can use. In other words, as investors in an illegal colonization we are violating international law.

Israel is getting messages from all over the world that policies violating international law cannot continue without consequences. These messages are coming mainly in the form of boycott, divestment and sanctions. Specific products and manufacturers that benefit from illegal occupation are boycotted, and universities and institutions are divesting from investments in Israel. We, as Minnesotans, should lead the effort and withdraw our financial support from a regime that violates international laws.

Sylvia Schwarz, St. Paul, is a member of International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network — Twin Cities (IJAN-TC).

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Comments (16)

Thank you, Sylvia, for that thoughtful and well researched commentary.

Yes, Sylvia, Israel is clearly the problem in the Middle East. Forget the thousands of Hamas rockets from Gaza that rained down on southern Israel. Forget that Hamas keeps women covered head to toe and denies them basic rights. Forget that almost all 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, which continues to fund terrorist organizations. Forget Iran's threat to "wipe Israel off the map" and its leaders charge that the Holocaust never happened. Forget that there are no democracies in any Middle Eastern Arab country. I could go on, but I don't think you would get the point. Is Israel a perfect nation? No. Would I prefer to live in Israel or Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan or Lebanon if I wanted to have a decent life? The answer is clear. Only Israel allows women to vote. Only Israel allows democratic elections that result in a change in governments. Only Israel has a free press. But you seem to think if Israel is gone, things will be better in the Middle East. As a progressive, I disagree.

This is, of course, a profoundly silly piece. Israel has no interest in bonds it has already sold, and it will always be able to sell the bonds it wants. Whatever one thinks of it's foreign and domestic policies, Israel is a good investment.

I think all of us who wish for peace in the middle east should be relentless in our efforts to persuade all the parties to come to the table for meaningful and productive negotiations. And one thing that is very clear is that that will never happen as long as any of the parties are focused on what happened in 2008, 1973, 1967, 1948, or 152 A.D. And it won't really happen as long as any of the parties are the target of threats, and that's particularly true of the meaningless threats, the naive Ms. Schwarz is advocating.

The real value of these divestment debates, South Africa, for example; isn't the influence the divestment eventually yields, which is always admittedly negligible. The real value whether successful or not, is that they raise consciousness about bad behavior and get people thinking critically about intervention and responsibility. Until Israeli behavior is honestly factored into the equation along with Palestinian behavior, and all parties renounce military solutions, this violence will not stop.

Tom Lehman

You forgot to mention that the United States and its European cronies have supported and sponsored almost every brutal dictatorship in the middle east for the past half century. So your "only Israel" rant is like the kettle calling the pot black

These folks have been in Minnpost a lot, and their proposals are not only dimensional...and in this case usless and silly --their views are antithical to peace in the region.

They have precisely the same views as the ultra hawkish groups on the Israeli side, which simply means peace can never be achieved in the region by those two opposing forces. The only route will be from those people of goodwill who are willing to compromise and see the value of a synergy between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Schwarz group only adds gasoline to the fire that is already burning too bright -- hers is definately not a path any of us should follow, and her suggestions are, to be blunt, nonsense!

I agree with Miles. Peace will come when all sides of the equation get tired of living in the condition that each finds themselves in.

There is really nothing that America or Europe can do if the "middle east" continues to enjoy the circumstances in which they currently live. It is something that they will have to change and there is no amount of prodding that will help the process.

Myles, what exactly are your proposals for peace in the region. Do you support President Obama and the rest of the international community on the Palestinian homelands ?

Even Netanyahu talks "peace", but we all know what exactly that means. People like him have mastered the Israeli double talk, one for washington and one towards the Palestinians.

Re Raj, I do not have enough sophisitication to draft a peace treaty -- but somewhere in this mess, there is one (even after 60 years of bloodshed). As starters, Hamas must give up its goal of returning to various borders it maintains were taken during several wars. Yes, they were changed, but that is not going to happen, that is reality, so it is a non starter. Hamas must absolutely change its charter that states Irsael is theirs, and the Israelies must be driven out or accept that the entire "region" becomes Palestine again. That too is not going to happen, and its promulgation deters any peace efforts. Hamas must stop attacking Israel -- especially the stupid rockets which annoy more than damage and are a deterent to peace, and serve no one and nothing..

Israel must stop building settlements. Removing some or all settlements from the West Bank could be discussed, just as Israel DID do with Gaza. Perhaps there can be some concessions in Jerusalem -- a possibility. Israel should allow freer passage now, and hopefully when peace is finally made, all such passage would be open to all. I would like to see Israel return to a liberal government, which would be open to more negotiation. I do not see Netenyahu as a peacemaker (though Begin was a hawk and he did make some conciliatory moves).

But the main point is this: Israel has a successful, robust, and creative economy -- especially in technology and drugs. The Palestinians have severe unemployment, terrible living conditions, and the need for jobs. Clearly, in this scenario, there is room for a symbiotic relationship. That is what must be seen by both parties; and that is why your organization is antithetical to peace -- it merely continues the failed policies of the past; policies that have given your people nothing, and have no discernable ROI. It is time to try something enw and different. Think about that.

Asking the Palestinians to come to the table and negotiate peace is unrealistic. It's as though President Lincoln had asked Native Americans to ignore the efforts of the U.S. Army to isolate, impoverish and perhaps to annihilate them and to show up in Washington for peace talks moderated by General Sherman.

Chances for peace will be enhanced by the end of U.S. military support for Israel, by its insistence that Israel honor the civil rights of its own Arab citizens, and by its removing the label "terrorist" from the only organization willing and able to offer at least some resistance to Israel's continued military attacks and blockade of Gaza - Hamas.

Peace would be assured if Israel accepted the Arab plan guaranteeing that no Arab country would attack it if it returned to its pre-1967 war boundaries and halted its illegal settlements.

I, too, thank you Sylvia for this article. America has for too long been fed a steady diet of far-right, violent and fundamentalist Zionist propaganda (which is NOT the same as the normal Zionism that is none of those things).

As a Minnesotan, I don’t want my tax dollars used in the service of Israel’s brutal campaign of repression, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Given the central role that Americans have played in the prevention of justice for the Palestinian people, the struggle for peace must be waged here as well.

Minnesotans who have witnessed the behavior of settlers in the West Bank tend to come home and call for an end to the flow of U.S. tax money supporting that occupation. There is nothing "naive" or "silly" about coming to that point of view.

Re "silly and naive"...remember this discussion started with Sylvia's contention that not buying Israeli bonds would somehow move the Israelies to make peace. I would call that contention silly and naive.

If the Palestinians think there is a military solution to this crisis, I would call that silly and naive (it is a battle they cannot win, and it almost decimated Gaza).

If the Palestinians cling to an ideological solution rather than a pragmatic one, I would call that not only silly and naive, but one of ignorance as they drift into poverty.

We are not talking here about "right and wrong" anymore -- 60 years of bloodshed has not answered that question. What is needed now is persons of goodwill who earnestly want to find a mutally agreeable path to end this conflict and enjoy some PEACE for the future. If the parties still want to keep fighting, hell with it, let them continue to kill each other. But the point is, nothing in Sylvia's point of view is a component in finding a SOLUTION.

I am completely baffled as to how someone could address a problem as complex, longstanding, and seemingly intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and produce something as one-sided and simple minded as this piece.

I am even more baffled as to how someone could do that and yet claim to actually be interested in peace and a resolution to the conflict.

"Minnesotans who have witnessed the behavior of settlers in the West Bank tend to come home and call for an end to the flow of U.S. tax money supporting that occupation."

And Minnesotans who have witnessed suicide bombings have perhaps come to the opposite conclusion.

I am not for offering Israel any policy blank checks. We should support a comprehensive peace settlement that includes all parties to the dispute. But at no point should retreat from our commitment to the legitimacy of the state of Israel, nor should we treat our friends with a lack or respect, or expect such lack of respect to achieve positive results.

As yet another Jewish Minnesotan joining the call for divestment from Israel bonds, I am grateful for Sylvia's thougtful piece.

The divestment strategy is a tool (and a critically important one-- as we learned from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa) in pushing a government whose daily, unspeakable, documented (by the U.N.) crimes against humanity continue to act differently.

When I hear from South African unionists that they support the divestment strategy, when I learn the same from rabbis who went to Cairo to try to bring aid into Gaza and were turned away, when I hear the call for divestment coming from Holocaust survivors (one of whom who is on a speaking tour in Europe) who say "never again for anyone," I know that I am in good company.

Right now, every Minnesotan, though our taxes, funds the brutalizaton of Palestinian people. Myself and many, many others have come to realize that it's time to say "not in our name" and "enough is enough."

And (in response to the recent comment posted by the director of the JCRC), with regard to the U.S. funding/ backing other repressive regimes around the world-- I fully support divestment in these cases as well. The difference is that Israel remains, by far, the largest recipient of U.S. aid.