May 18, 2006
Seeing Red Over Green’s Israel Policy
Local leaders of the Green Party are working to overturn an anti-Israel resolution that has become official party policy. Resolution 190, which passed in November, calls for a boycott of and divestment from Israel until "the full individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people are realized."
Indicating that they have "lost several party members as a result" of the resolution, the L.A. Green Party's County Council wrote a formal letter stating that "the issue is far more complex than is captured in the resolution" and referred to the resolution as "divisive." Resolution 190, which urges all companies, governments and student organizations around the world to boycott and divest from the Jewish state, makes no reference to violence that targets Israeli civilians, such as suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Nor does it take into account, for example, the nuclear threat from Iran or human rights violations in countries hostile to Israel.
Resolution 190 was adopted by the Green Party after four weeks of discussion, which culminated in approval by national party delegates in online voting.
Leading the effort to denounce and rescind the resolution are Gary Acheatel, a Beverly Hills High graduate who founded Advocates for Israel in Oregon two years ago, and Lorna Salzman, a New Yorker who ran in Green Party primaries as a presidential candidate in 2004. They have disseminated two substitute resolutions that aim to "initiate a broad, open dialogue" involving state committee members and the Israeli Green Party.
In a shift of rhetoric, the substitute language removes the onus from Israel and proposes a policy of opposing "U.S. military aid ... to all countries that have a record of violating human rights, including the mistreatment and inequality of women...."
The internal conflict over Resolution 190 exposes deep rifts within the party. While the Green Party has long dedicated itself to ecological matters, there is some debate as to whether the party's platform embraces human rights and peace, especially within the context of foreign policy.
When an issue is "far from what is already agreed upon in our national platform," said Michael Feinstein, former mayor of Santa Monica and co-founder of the Green Party of California, "it is necessary to reach further into the party's grass roots to ensure that positions taken are truly reflective of our membership."
But Ruth Weill, a member of the Wisconsin Green Party, the source of Resolution 190, said the Green Party has always taken stands on issues of social justice: "We're the party that's been trying to end the Iraq War for three years."
Weill, who like Feinstein is Jewish, adds that Resolution 190 is justified because of Israel's "continued occupation, cutting off of water aquifers, violating tons of international laws."
Supporters of Israel and Israel itself often have been on the defensive because of general hostility toward the nation but also specifically because of opposition to the Israeli presence in territories since the 1967 Six-Day War. In 1975, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War and the first oil crisis, the United Nations passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. The United Nations rescinded that resolution in 1991.
Some Arab and Muslim-majority nations have long practiced an economic boycott of Israel, but in recent years the idea has gained some traction in the West. Israel has been equated with regimes like apartheid-era South Africa, even as other nations that notably violate human rights, such as North Korea and China, escape similar censure. The Presbyterian Church (USA) two years ago passed an anti-Israel resolution. Other entities have refused to do so. The British University Teachers Union and residents of Somerville, Mass., a suburb of Boston, rejected resolutions that proposed divestment from Israel, according to published reports.
Resolution 190 was the brainchild of two Wisconsin Greens, Ben Manski, who is Jewish, and Mohammed Abed, a member of Al-Awda, an Islamic organization that advocates for Palestinians' right of return. Abed said that Israel's treatment of Palestinians is "comparable in many ways to South African apartheid."
Manski defends the procedures by which Resolution 190 became party policy. He said that there was a "lengthy discussion" over four weeks and then online voting over two weeks. Although only 72 of 126 Green Party national delegates voted on this resolution, it was approved overwhelmingly; 55 supported it, 7 voted against it and 10 abstained.
Manski hails the process as "one of the most democratic, deliberative and transparent" of any party. However, the Israeli Green Party, which called Resolution 190 "a breach in trust," was not consulted during the debate. Most Greens in Los Angeles County were also unaware of the resolution until after it passed, according to local party members interviewed.
"The vast majority of active Greens in L.A. County and across California had no idea that this was being debated or voted upon," said Feinstein, who added that L.A. County has roughly 25,000 registered Greens, which he asserted is more than Wisconsin or any other state except California and New York.
At the time of the Kosovo war, said Feinstein, the German Green Party, which is part of the international Green Party, held a national meeting to discuss intervention in that Balkan republic.
"Here, we had an e-mail vote," said Feinstein.
It isn't entirely settled what it would take to rescind the resolution -- whether it would require a majority or two-thirds vote. Nor is it clear what form the vote would take. But the critics don't intend to let the matter go.
A series of talking points, circulated by Salzman and Acheatel, argue that Resolution 190 "reflects interference by and manipulation of the [Green Party] by outside special interest groups."
They specifically cite Al-Awda and the American Muslim Association. Of these outside parties, Salzman said, "As far as I'm concerned, they wrote the declaration."
Resolution co-author Abed called this "utter garbage," adding, "Ben Manski and I wrote it as members of the Green Party," not as representatives of any other organization.