Double Standard on Divestment

Today, two movements for the promotion of human rights in Sudan and Palestine seek to emulate the successful role played by boycotts, divestment, and sanctions in achieving democracy and equality in South Africa. The two movements, however, have received radically different receptions on Capitol Hill. This double standard testifies to official Washington ‘s selectivity when it comes to promoting human rights around the globe and its tendency to overlook the faults of its allies while using human rights as a pretext to punish its adversaries.

On December 31, President Bush signed into law the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act of 2007, which was passed unanimously by Congress earlier in the month. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd, authorizes state and local governments to divest their holdings from corporations that profit from dealings with the Sudanese government and immunizes mutual fund managers from lawsuits for doing the same.

The practical impact of this legislation, however, is doubtful. U.S. corporate investment in Sudan is minimal due to a host of sanctions and the connection between U.S. corporate profits and human rights abuses committed by the Sudanese government or the Janjaweed militia is indirect at best. Nevertheless, any encouragement for divesting from corporations that profit from human rights abuses is a welcome step towards increasing corporate accountability.

If Congress believes that institutions should divest from corporations that profit from human rights abuses in one country, then morality and logic dictate that U.S. policy should promote divestment from any corporation that profits from human rights abuses anywhere in the world.

The dictates of politics, however, intrude on the ability of Members of Congress to act in an ethically consistent fashion when it comes to Israel and the human rights abuses it inflicts daily on millions of Palestinian civilians living under its 40-year military occupation and siege of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.

In the case of Israel, the link between U.S. policy, human rights violations, and corporate profiteering is much more direct and tangible than in Sudan. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid. A memorandum of understanding signed in August between the two countries promised to increase U.S. military aid to Israel by 25% per year, totaling $30 billion over the next decade. The Pentagon then takes this taxpayer money and fills Israel’s shopping cart with goodies from U.S. corporations: Caterpillar bulldozers for the demolition of thousands of Palestinian homes and the uprooting of ten of thousands of olive trees; advanced communications gear from Motorola to facilitate Israel’s myriad forms of travel restrictions and collective punishment of Palestinian civilians; and Lockheed Martin F-16s and Boeing F-15s to demolish Palestinian civilian infrastructure and injure and kill civilians.

Given that Israel repeatedly violates the terms of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits U.S. weapons from being used in an offensive manner or against civilians, and that U.S. corporations are profiting handsomely from its violations of Palestinian human rights, one could reasonably expect that Capitol Hill would be at least as adamant, if not more, in encouraging divestment from these corporations as well as being supportive of boycotts to protest these violations.

Not so. In fact, just the opposite is true. Last year the House of Representatives voted 414-0 to condemn British institutions for voting to engage in boycott campaigns against Israeli institutions and products to protest Israel’s human rights abuses.

Nor did Senator Dodd — the champion of divestment from Sudan — have anything to say about U.S. corporate profiteering from Israel ‘s human rights abuses in a recent “Dear Colleague” letter addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In it, Dodd argues for sustained U.S. engagement after last month’s Annapolis conference and enumerates confidence-building measures that Israelis and Palestinians should take to bolster recently launched negotiations.

Dodd’s well-intentioned letter would be greatly strengthened if he and other Members of Congress would apply the same principles that govern their encouragement of divestment from Sudan towards ending U.S. taxpayer subsidies to corporations that profiteer from Israel ‘s human rights abuses of Palestinians.

Josh Ruebner is the Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Read other articles by Josh, or visit Josh's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. maha said on January 10th, 2008 at 2:03am #

    Very good article.
    Britain’s UCU (university & college union) which shamefully backed down on its academic boycott of Israel when racist members of UCU and of the Academic Friends of Israel threatened them with lawyers, warning them they didn’t have a leg to stand on. UCU however will not answer questions regarding the 700 (see HRW) or so Palestinian students that have been stopped from travel abroad by israel or the fact that Israel is responsible for massive human rights abuses. No doubt UCU heads are on the Israeli payroll.

  2. Shabnam said on January 10th, 2008 at 7:36pm #

    Israel is an apartheid, racist, expansionist and warmonger state with terrible record of human rights abuses of Its Arab population especially the Palestinians. On the other Hand Sudan is a targeted Islamic country. As the Sudanese president, Bashir, said: “Sudan is a target. All the Muslim countries of the region are now being targeted,” there is a plan to redraw the map of the region. Every state in the region should be weakened to guarantee “Israel’s security.”
    Thus US congress, pro Zionist, has put in place economic sanction to create pressure on Sudan’s weak economy for destabilization which has worsen human condition in Sudan and has forced population to fight each other for scarce resources. Due to disinformation campaign which was conducted by JAMES JACOBY, a Zionist pro Israel, who directed American Anti-Slavery Group With a phony charge of ‘child slavery’ and managed to secure national media coverage with help from Harvard University against Sudan to form semi autonomous
    south in Sudan with the “leadership” of John Garang who received military training and financial support from Israel and US. The genocide in Darfur has been manufactured by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) sponsored organizations that are staffed by Israel advocates trained by the David Project, Israel advocacy organization run by James Jacobs, have further poisoned human rights discourse with the dishonest ‘Save Darfur’ campaign aimed at divesting from Sudan as well as from any country which does business with Sudan.
    The David Project has proven uncommonly effective at changing US policy in a matter of months to listing Sudan as a terrorist nation and barring all trade with the country. While pro-Palestine activists have struggled for years to slow the stream of US public funds to Israel, Jacob’s anti-Sudan campaign is probably the quickest divestment success in US history. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of JCRCs and affiliated groups, Sudan divestment resolutions have become law in Iowa. We know that Noam Chomsky is against divesting from Israel. Noam Chomsky would have voted with the Zionist Congress and the England House of representative against such a measure. However, it is interesting that you compare case of Israel, an illegitimate apartheid state with a targeted Islamic country where the fight and death of people is due to economic sanction and lack of resources and military support of the manufactured ‘black African’ against ‘white Arab’ by the Zionist/imperialist forces.
    The root causes of “human rights” crises in Sudan in part has bee created by the Zionists and US which lead to large number of death and refugees camp. On the other hand Israel human rights abuses is directly related to its expansionist policy, racist policy and Apartheid system yet US and the west rewards Israel for its action and punish Sudan or other countries that do not cooperate with expantionist policy of Israel.
    Mr. Ruebner dilutes human rights abuses of Israel when he compares Sudan with Israel. The nature of the problems is not the same. “human rights” violation in Sudan is largely manufactured by Zionist lobby and US to destabilize Sudan for further division and Israel violation of human rights is due to its racist, expantionist policy. Israel is
    supported by US and the West.
    The writer of this article like Noam Chomsky has hide the role of the Zionist lobby in the implementation of US policy and kept the veil of ignorance intact to protect the interest of Israel.