Lately I’ve been pondering a moral dilemma that I – along with, I’m sure, plenty of other progressive Jews – am facing: how to travel to Israel without directly supporting the occupation. It seems so cut and dry. Support the Israeli economy and you’re supporting Israel. Support Israel and you’re supporting the West Bank occupation and Gaza blockade. The only solution seems to be not to go.
In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t have any immediate plans for an Israel trip. I can barely afford a ticket to New York for a family reunion, let alone a transatlantic vacation. So this is all idle speculation. Still, it’s affecting me. Despite the disgusting actions of its government, I really love Israeli culture. I want to go back to Avraham Loewenthal’s art gallery in Tzfat. I’d like spend more time in Jerusalem. I barely had a chance to explore Tel Aviv, and I never set foot in Haifa. But how could I merrily bounce around these places, knowing the history behind them?
Throughout the years, more than one organization has suggested boycotts of Israel. Some of them have restricted their boycotts to Israeli goods produced in Palestine, and I have no problem with that – although I wonder how many tons of West Bank olives boycotters were actually buying beforehand. However, Israel-wide boycotts are unproductive for two reasons. First off, in any economic downturn, the people at the top don’t suffer all that much; it’s the workers (who, in Israel, are often Arab) who pay the biggest price. Say what you want about economic pressure leading to regime change – the occupation itself has shown that things seldom play out that way. Secondly, not a single organization advocating boycotts has indicated that they intend to stop buying goods from the US, China, or other nations committing comparable human rights violations. Why the double standard? There’s a good deal of antisemitism there, obviously – especially in British academics’ short-lived decision to boycott Israeli academics, regardless of those Israelis’ stances on the occupation. (Can’t let those racist imperialist mathematicians pollute enlightened British classrooms, right?) I think, though, that there’s also a good deal of trendiness in boycott decisions. Palestine frequently comes up as the Cause of the Day, and a boycott of goods you weren’t buying in the first place is a nice way to pat yourself on the back without actually doing anything.
So what can we do?
Here’s one solution, which I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of: if you’re traveling to Israel, match each shekel you spend with a donation to a pro-Palestinian organization. Spending forty shekels on dinner? Donate ten dollars to Peace Now. Dropping sixteen shekels on a glass of wine? Put aside four dollars for B’Tselem. Match the price of hotel rooms or bus tickets with donations to the West Bank village of Bilin. If you can swing it, use the price of your plane ticket to help Gisha secure freedom of movement for Gazan students.
If that’s too expensive, aim for a more modest match: say, a one-dollar donation for every two dollars spent. The important thing is to set some sort of goal for yourself, so that you have a definite amount at the end of your trip, instead of an amorphous promise that can dwindle and disappear.
If you’re immigrating… well, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Since I’m guessing you’re not wealthy enough to donate half your income to charity, try supplementing monetary donations with volunteer work. (Come to think of it, this could work if you’re just visiting, too.) Make the liberation of the Palestinian people one of your primary goals as an Israeli citizen.
My point is this: don’t wallow in guilt for feeling a Jewish connection to Israel. Take that connection and turn it into something tangible.
Post links to additional Palestinian charities in the comment thread; I think I might get a sidebar going. Maybe even some sort of fundraiser? Any particular goals that we could work toward?