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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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-16's and Boeing F-15's to demolish Palestinian
civilian infrastructure and injure and kill civilians.
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.
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
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.
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. This article first appeared in IMEU.