Cal Tzedek: CaterPillar of Democracy

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

CaterPillar of Democracy

On Wednesday, Jewish Voice for Peace led about 65 mostly Jewish activists in a demonstration at San Leandro's CAT dealership. JVP's strategy is smart: they have bought up stock in Caterpillar so that they can vote in shareholder elections. Whether or not this will effect a decision by CAT to stop its sale of modified bulldozers to Israel has yet to be seen, but it definitely is getting some folks worried. More on that later. First, a rare criticism by me of the Left/Peace Camp which might not make me extremely popular:

Rachel Corrie should NOT be the symbol of the anti-house-demolition movement. She took a noble stand and paid the ultimate price. The investigation into her death was a joke, and there must be an independent investigation. Her parents are right to sue CAT, and they deserve moral support. But when demonstrators descend upon CAT dealerships, she should not be the focal point of the demonstration. The Israeli army did not "go too far" when it used a CAT D-9 to kill Ms. Corrie. They went too far in October, when they more or less arbitrarily destroyed 55 homes in Jabaliya. They went too far in May, when it was hundreds of homes in Rafah. Long before Rachel Corrie, they went too far during the Oslo years when 2200 homes were destroyed for being built in "Area C" (which was almost 60% of the West Bank).

By fixating on Rachel Corrie, activists indirectly assert that the "clearing operations" carried out during the fog of war, the thankfully discontinued non-deterrent collective punishment demolitions, the racistly selective "administrative demolitions" meant to assert that "Area A is your homeland! Why aren't you grateful?", that these demolitions are not reason enough to deplore the sale of bulldozers to Israel. We should not need a martyr to present our case with moral clarity. JVP activists acknowledged this at one point during the demonstration, and I appreciated it, but CAT knew damn well that we were there on the anniversary of Rachel's death, and that for many of us, she was our cause.

I absolutely do not want to suggest that the actual demolitions were less important to any of these activisits than was Ms. Corrie. That is not what I believe. But I think we need to present our case more effectively for others. Rachel Corrie is such an easy target for our political opponents. She burnt a (paper) American Flag! Her death was an accident, or she deliberately let herself be killed! Look at the picture, it's clearly doctored! The ISM is an anti-Semitic terrorist front group, as proven by Lee Kaplan, Investigative Reporter! And whether or not any of these rebuttals are valid, our opponents can stop listening to us once they put them forth. They need not confront the actual Israeli policies behind the home demolitions, the huge scale on which they occur, the homelessness they perpetuate, the colonial arrogance with which they are carried out. They need not look us --or more significantly, a Palestinian whose house has been arbitrarily destroyed-- in the eye and say without looking away that these actions are moral. We are setting ourselves up too easily, and allowing right-wingers to steer the debate in their direction. We are letting them distract us, waste our time with intimations that we are dishonest, that we are naive, that we have been duped or are ourselves the dupers, that we do not understand that suicide bombings are deplorable, that we foolishly feel sorry for one person who has died when so many others have also died. The next time around, we should each come armed not with pictures of Rachel Corrie, but with B'Tselem reports detailing just how "necessary" these demolitions are for the "democracy defending itself."

Having said that, there is absolutely nothing wrong with commemorating Rachel Corrie's death. I also applaud the lawsuit filed against CAT earlier this week. This, more than anything, will put pressure on CAT to change its policies. But I still maintain that this campaign would be more effective if the parallel demonstrations focused solely on house demolitions. I wish the Corries the best of luck in their suit, and hope that it results in justice both for their daughter and for all of those whose lives have been worsened by this destructive series of policies.

Now, onto at least one sign that the campaigns by JVP and other groups might be worrying the Right: a ListServ proporting to represent North American Jewish students, but which is far too reactionary to accurately do that, presents the following Action Alert:

************************
SUPPORT CATERPILLAR COMPANY’S BUSINESS WITH ISRAEL

· COUNTER THE ANTI-ISRAEL PRESSURE ON THE CATERPILLAR COMPANY

· BUY CATERPILLAR STOCK if possible

BACKGROUND

A coalition of anti-Israel groups, “Stop Caterpillar,” is zeroing in on Caterpillar to make it stop selling bulldozers to Israel. Their strategy is to target a small, specific “winnable” action and use it as a launching pad to begin boycotts of Israel by US companies. They plan to “turn the tide in pushing US corporations to stop doing business with Israel until the Occupation ends.”...

...Members of Jewish Voice for Peace and Sisters of Loretto bought Caterpillar stock, giving them the power to introduce an anti-Israel resolution at the annual Caterpillar Shareholders meeting on April 14 2004. It called for the company to investigate its business dealings with Israel, and vilified Israel in the proposal and in speeches at the meeting. This is the first time an American corporation has ever had an anti-Israel proposal. The Board of Directors unanimously recommended voting against it, arguing that they had neither the legal right nor the means to police how their equipment is used and that policies about the Middle East should be left up to government....

...Jewish Voice for Peace stockholders reintroduced the anti-Israel proposal for this year’s Shareholder’s Meeting, scheduled for April 13 2005 in Chicago and are calling for world-wide demonstration against Caterpillar for the same day. The Presbyterian Church and an array of anti-Israel groups and human rights groups support the actions. [Emphasis mine]...

...Caterpillar has firmly resisted this pressure—so far. Company spokesman Benjamin Cordani said, "What we're talking about here is a publicity campaign being taken on by a small number of persons.” Even so, some Israeli officials are concerned that the bad publicity will eventually influence the corporation [Emphasis mine]..."

The action alert then suggests several actions to take so as to "Help BALANCE the pressure they are receiving:"

1. BUY CATERPILLAR STOCK TO SUPPORT THE COMPANY AND TO VOTE AGAINST THE ANTI-ISRAEL RESOLUTIONS. LET’S GET A MASSIVE MOVEMENT OF PRO-ISRAEL SHAREHOLDERS....

2. PLAN A COUNTER-DEMONSTRATION AT A CATERPILLAR OFFICE NEAR YOU
· Carry signs that

Credit Caterpillar for helping the fight against terrorism

Thank Caterpillar for doing business with the democratic nation of Israel

Criticize anti-Israel groups that support terrorism

3. SIGN OUR DECLARATION SUPPORTING CATERPILLAR AND ISRAEL

4. WRITE CATERPILLAR’S BOARD OF DIRECTORS TO THANK THEM FOR DOING BUSINESS WITH ISRAEL AND REASSERT ISRAEL’S RIGHT TO DEFEND ITSELF FROM TERRORISM - This will counteract the 43,000 letters that they have received from people trying to stop Caterpillar from selling to Israel.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So not even the organizers of this counter-action will deny that human rights groups oppose the house-demolitions and believe that Caterpillar's supplying Israel with bulldozers is irresponsible. They don't even bother to remind their on-call activists that these human rights groups are “controlled by Arab dictatorships” or “never condemn terror.” That these human rights groups would voice objection to an Israeli policy is apparently damning enough. Since the authors of this memo do not even attempt to discredit these groups by other means, they betray their reactionary attitude: criticizing Israel is wrong.

I have a question for both right wing activists and mainstream Hasbara activists. When a group says something about Israel that you believe is defamatory, is there automatically no truth to it? I’m not saying that you should not correct misinformation or argue your perspective, but do you really believe there is a conspiracy to “demonize, delegitimize, and dehumanize” Israel? Do you think that “the Left” wakes up every day and asks “how can we demonize, delegitimize, and dehumanize Israel today?”? And if this is the case, is it at all disproportionate to the campaign by Stand With Us (listed as an “encourager” of this action) to demonize, delegitimize, and dehumanize the Palestinian Authority? And if this IS an appropriate tactic, wouldn’t it also be appropriate to do the same toward Israel? Demonization, delegitimization, and dehumanization, as reprehensible as they are, serve strategic or political purposes. They are not arbitrary expressions of hatred. If you are going to call out your opponents for using them, be prepared to turn the mirror on yourselves.

I’d vote against demonizing, delegitimizing, and dehumanizing either party, but I think we need to remind ourselves that governments and militaries and corporations are always impure, that there is no such thing as “purity of arms,” and that exceptionalism in this regard is at best moral comfort food and at worst moral mythology.

One person to whom “special thanks” is directed in this action alert is Roberta Seid, “Director of Research and Education for Stand With Us.” She is ALSO one of the “historians” behind the recent study –all but ignored in Israel but lapped up by ultra-nationalist Zionist groups here—which claims that 1.4 million Palestinians do not exist. But as my main man and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar recently taunted: “Experts on the right say that the demographic problem is overblown. Okay, then let them annex it all.”

I do not support the Israeli Left’s idea that annexing Palestinian land is bad because demographics are a “problem,” but I’d love to see Ms. Seid squirm out of Eldar’s challenge. “Well…” I can imagine her saying. “They’re not really ours. They’re disputed.”

-Ehud

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