Imperial and Revolutionary BDS

One thing that was made eminently clear during Ross’ discussion of Egypt and Iran last night was the commitment of America and Israel to economic coercion as a mechanism of achieving its foreign policy goals. With respect to Egypt, the whole imperial logic of ensuring Egypt maintains its peace treaty with Israel is based on investment and the threat of divestment if it refuses to play by Israel’s rules. It is not strictly a divestment campaign, but rather based on a combination of investment and divestment – first invest to make Egypt reliant on western Capital, and then threaten divestment if they stop playing by the rules. This is both a method to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood does not prevent a political pluralism from emerging within Egypt, as well as to ensure Israeli security. In both cases the logic is to put the Muslim Brotherhood’s own ideology in a tension with its economic needs and its responsibility as a government to bring development and stability to the Egyptian people.

In Iran the threat of western divestment is not strong enough to disuade its leaders from pursuing their own agenda, but sanctions are beginning to have an effect. Because Iran’s economy is largely dependant on oil sales the fact that sanctions have cut Iranian oil production by half and cut sales by 75% has produced a situation where the central bank is devaluing the currency by half about every two months. This is starting to create a situation of internal instability in which the leader of the revolutionary guard has openly criticized the head of the central bank, and protests in the Bazaar are calling for money to be kept in Iran rather than given to Hezbollah and Hamas. The sanctions may be successful – it is not easy for leaders to maintain their political line even if it is internally popular when the cost becomes internal economic devastation.

There is strong internal pressure in Egypt not to cow-tow to the Israelis and Americans, and strong internal pressure in Iran to continue to nuclear program. And yet, the sanctions and investment/divestment tactics may succeed in coercing these states to follow US orders. Of course, if they don’t work, America and Israel also have recourse to overwhelming military force. We should think about these dynamics when talking about building a popular BDS movement because, although there are obvious differences, some similarities exist between US/Israeli coercion and popular pressure supporting Palestinian demands. The current Palestinian leadership does not have recourse to economic pressure and sanctions to support their cause because they are not in direct control of economic and political forces in the way American and Israeli leaders are, this is why they use the political powers they have – resistance and compromise. If we build a popular movement of economic divestment, boycott, and sanctions which support Palestinian consensus demands, however, the Palestinian political forces will find themselves in a strong situation where they can demand of the Israelis all of their rights. If BDS becomes strong, then we will find ourselves in a situation where the Palestinians’ pressure against Israel is of the same kind as the contemporary US pressure against Egypt and Iran. This is important because it means we don’t have to normalize with Israelis and convince them to love us and change their minds with arguments. The only thing that will bring freedom for Palestine is force, but we make a big mistake if we think force only means the Resistance. Just as America finds economic coercion with Egypt and sanctions against Iran the most appropriate tool, BDS is a tool we need to give the Palestinians to use against the US and Israel to gain their rights.

One other thing I want to comment on is the different role of emotion and motivation between imperial and revolutionary politics – the difference between those who believe in the Palestinian cause, or any revolutionary cause, and liberals is not simply a difference in values but a different relationship with the status quo. When Dennis Ross talks about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process he is talking about resolving the conflict given the current power imbalance between the Palestinians and the Israelis. For this reason, his talks are de-politicizing, the listeners are not agents. If anything he wants his largely Israeli audience to calm down and accept a compromise with the Palestinian compromisers who are in power in Ramallah. On the other hand, when we talk about the political situation for the Palestinian people, we want to talk about the way we can be agents to transform the current power imbalance – not how to best solve the current puzzle of geo-political relations but how can we alter the status quo such that solutions which are impossible today become possible. This is motivating, this makes you part of the solution, this is about building solidarity through which you can actualize yourself as a political agent. This is about politicization, this is about having an analysis and resisting injustice and standing in solidarity with people who live in a much less stable situation than us in Canada. This is about empathy and recognizing that in situations of absolute need, people don’t have the luxury to wait for political movements that match their own political visions perfectly. And no matter what our enemies say, the lessons one learns from being politicized by this conflict give us tools of analysis and understanding and action that can be used on the side of freedom and against empires and racism all over the world.

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