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A Black Day for the American Green Party: Why BDS is a Bad Move

By Dr. Daniel Orenstein

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Dec. 4, 2005) — For most of my professional career, I have researched environmental issues in Israel. While issues of water scarcity and loss of open spaces loom large among the country’s problems, the more I study the more I’ve become convinced that many of its environmental problems are rooted in underlying socio-political problems. This could be direct — as when the inequitable distribution of land resources favoring Jews over Arabs leads to wasteful use of land resources — or this could be indirect, as when the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Israel and Arab states deflects resources away from pressing social needs like the environment and education, in favor of military expenditures.

Either way, the environment is the victim of the Middle East's political-ethnic conflict. I have pressed repeatedly in the Israeli and Jewish press and in public lectures that in order to resolve environmental problems, we must first address discriminatory policies locally (in Israel) and political problems regionally (in the Middle East).

The Green Party of the United States, on the other hand, has decided that the root cause of environmental problems in the Middle East is more systemic — and that the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Israel. As such, only by excising the Zionist State from the Middle East can these problems be solved. To bring this about, and replace Israel with a secular-democratic Palestine, they have opted for advocating divestment from Israel. In their words, “The party calls on all civil-society institutions and organizations around the world to implement a comprehensive divestment and boycott program [of Israel]. Further, the party calls on all governments to support this program and to implement state-level boycotts.”

The Green Party decision is myopic and, yes, anti-Semitic. No, they don’t hate Jews, but in a world of injustice, the Green Party singles out the Jewish State as a singular source of evil. So bewitched are they by incessant anti-Israel propaganda and so blind to global context, they crassly disregard that Israel outscores every country in the Middle East on every measure of democratic and free societies. The U.S. Greens ignore that despite the fact that Israel remains in a state of war with Palestinian militants and Lebanese Hezbollah, and may soon be living in the shadow of Iranian nuclear missiles, it nonetheless maintains a viable and thriving democracy.

Sadly, the Green Party decision hurts progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace and toward addressing real environmental challenges here in the United States. As they hit Israel with the broad and indiscriminant club of divestment — part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement — they alienate those Israeli and American Jews who have been working toward regional cooperation on environmental issues and toward addressing the environmental problems in Israel that arise out of discrimination. But the BDS policy will also boomerang on the Green Party in America, by exposing the party as exclusive and bigoted. And the bigotry of the national party will delegitimize local chapters as well, truncating their modest gains to influence local policies. The American political scene has lost a potentially influential environmental advocate.

Perhaps the U.S. Green Party's national leadership is beyond hope, preparing to meet every critique with well-worn platitudes about bad Israelis, responding as expected following steady inundation of propaganda. But I do hope that the rank-and-file will emulate the British University Teachers Union, who threw out a similar proposal that was forced through their leadership, unbeknownst to their constituency. Likewise, proposal after proposal for divestment have been defeated in American universities where, fortunately, they still can see Israel and its actions in the context of the global community of nations, and where the free exchange of ideas still holds sway.

The irony of the U.S. Green Party’s decision is that they condemn Israel’s recent disengagement campaign as a disingenuous smokescreen, and then decide to disengage themselves from Israel under the false claim of social justice. But in Israel, unlike any other country in the region, any organization can appeal for justice or disagree with national policies through the open press, the independent judicial system and through the right of every citizen to vote. Researchers likewise can freely access archival data, interview whoever they please, and then publish conclusions whether or not they are critical of the state. This cannot be done in dozens of countries around the world. But apparently, these characteristics hold no value for the U.S. Green Party.

We in the Jewish and Israeli environmental movement will continue our work to correct the flaws in Israeli democracy that have contributed to environmental degradation and injustice. It’s a shame, though, that the U.S. Green Party has chosen to ambush and ostracize us when they should have been a natural ally.




Dr. Daniel Orenstein is an advisory-board member of Aytzim: Ecological Judaism.



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