Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"A divestment campaign at a university creates a lot of energy and morale.”

"Washington Report on Middle East Affairs",

November 2007, pages 59-60

Article on the Web at:

"U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation Holds Conference"

(L-r) Issam Salameh, Bassam Haddad and, presenting an award, Serin Atiani (Staff photo B. Awad).

THE U.S. CAMPAIGN to End the Israeli Occupation held its 6th annual national organizers’ conference Sept. 7 to 10 at George Mason University’s Arlington, VA campus. Around 100 delegates from 50 member groups attended to assess the current situation in Palestine, review the previous year’s work, discuss and decide on future plans, and network with their affiliates. The U.S. Campaign is a nation-wide coalition of more than 200 member organizations working to change U.S. policy to work for an end to the Israeli occupation and to promote a just and lasting peace in Palestine and Israel. It aims to do this by educating, organizing, and mobilizing people in the United States.

The central theme of the conference was the growing focus on boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) aimed at ending Israeli apartheid. The talks and discussions were related to three resolutions to guide the Campaign for the following year. Conference goers agreed to organize a national anti-apartheid speaking tour; to study a national boycott campaign against Motorola for profiting from Israeli occupation; and to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba (the 1948 disaster) through educational campaigns and days of action.

At the opening of the conference, Mark Lance and Amie Fishman, co-chairs of the U.S. Campaign’s Steering Committee, highlighted the previous year’s work. The U.S. Campaign and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) joined for a national mobilization under the theme “The World Says No to Israeli Occupation.” Among the successes of the mobilization were a large mailing and advertising campaign, a June 10 rally of nearly 5,000 at the U.S. Capitol, and a successful grassroots lobbying day on Capitol Hill. During the previous year, the U.S. Campaign also formally adopted anti-apartheid as an educational framework and produced materials to that effect. It also continued developing its BDS strategy and working on grassroots advocacy, legal education, and membership outreach.

Later in the conference, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies made a presentation on apartheid and BDS to help frame questions for small group discussions. “Jimmy Carter’s recent book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid was instrumental in introducing the concept of Israeli apartheid to thousands of readers,” she said. “But Jimmy Carter was wrong in his analysis that apartheid only exists in Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Apartheid exists within the 1948 borders with Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian Arab minority. Apartheid exists among the Palestinian refugees in the Arab states who cannot return to their homeland. Israel stands in violation ofthe international anti-apartheid laws. Our goal is to delegitimize Israel’s right to commit apartheid.”

David Wildman, executive secretary of Human Rights and Racial Justice at the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, was one of the facilitators who helped conduct a small group discussion where some of the issues related to BDS were fleshed out. Asked about the reasoning behind a BDS campaign, Wildman explained, “BDS is a nonviolent moral action to change behavior. It’s a symbolic action, and hopefully it will lead to broader change. I think it’s best to think of BDS as an organizing strategy around which it is possible to build an effective campaign.”

Another conference session expanded further on the anti-apartheid framework, with several speakers relating their experiences using it. Ahmad Shokr, who coordinated an Israeli Apartheid Week aimed at educating students at the University of Toronto, said that the controversy around his event attracted a lot of unintended media attention, even from Israeli television channels. “Another benefit was that the campaign educated people and helped create a base of activists around BDS,” he said.

Noura Erakat, a former staff member of the U.S. Campaign who now works with Dennis Kucinich, outlined the Campaign’s newest booklet, which guides trainers through different understandings of apartheid in order to appropriately address different audiences.

Nehad Khader discussed her involvement in Students for Justice in Palestine at Temple University and their effort to convince their university to make a statement saying it will not invest in companies that contribute to the Israeli occupation. “This has been a two-year campaign so far,” Khader said. “We had four months of petition writing, and got the support of most campus groups. Hopefully by Spring 2008, we’ll be able to go to Temple Student Government with our request. This campaign may take seven years in total. But along the way, we’re educating students and professors. A divestment campaign at a university creates a lot of energy and morale.”

Conference organizers held a cultural event on the night of Sept. 8. The event featured traditional Arabic music by the Foty Family, heartfelt tributes to former Steering Committee members Jeff Mendez and Geoff Hartman, and the presentation of human rights awards to Bassam Haddad, Issam Salameh and Adam Shapiro, in part for their work on a film about the June mobilization entitled, “The World Says NO to Israeli Occupation.”

For more information on the U.S. Campaign visit its Web site: <>

Basem Awad