Passover, Pocketbooks, and PACs that Hurt

Posted by CODEPINK Staff


Today, March 30, is the second night of Passover, when we Jews retell the story of our own exodus from slavery and, around many seder tables, connect the dots between our own enslavement and modern-day struggles for liberation. March 30 is also the day that Palestinians observe Land Day, which commemorates the day 33 years ago, in 1976, when Israeli security forces shot and killed six young Palestinian citizens of Israel. These youth were among the thousands protesting expropriation of Palestinian land to build new Jewish colonies and expand existing Jewish cities. Today, Land Day symbolizes Palestinian resistance to Israel’s ongoing land expropriation, colonization, and occupation. This year on Land Day people around the world are coordinating actions to boycott Israeli products that are made illegally in the Occupied Territories. Refusing to buy products that break international law is one way we can put our money where our values are - in justice and in tikkun olam, repairing the world, rather than destroying it.

Around Passover time we are so conscious about the labeling on the products we buy - are they kosher for Passover? This year, as I scan the grocery and novelty shops for foodstuffs and gifts, I am paying particular attention also to where the product says it's made. Kosher for Passover has taken on a new meaning as I ask myself, does this product contribute to someone's suffering, or will it further liberation? This is a very hard criteria to meet given the sweat shops and factory farms that are behind many items on the shelves. Just for this week of Passover, we can try to buy what is local, or organic, or fair trade, or at the very least is not making a profit off of others' suffering.

The organization I work with, CODEPINK Women for Peace, launched a boycott of Ahava cosmetics, an Israeli company that manufactures Dead Sea mineral products in a factory that is located in the West Bank. As such, Ahava breaks international law by profiting from the occupation. Today on Land Day, concerned shoppers have coordinated actions to boycott Ahava in key cities in the US, France, and the Netherlands. Consumers deliver letters to store managers asking them to stop carrying the product, and if the stores refuse, they return in bathrobes with muddy faces to expose the dirty secrets hiding behind the Ahava brand name. Refusing to spend our own money on these illegal products, and educating others to do the same, is one way to make our voices heard for justice. But what of our tax dollars? What about the $3 billion dollars in military aid that I, and you, will contribute to this year, that will go to funding Israel's armed attacks on Palestinian families?

Last week almost 8,000 people from all 50 states are in DC lobby for violence and to incite suffering and warfare. No, it was not the NRA. It was the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference, which this year focussed on asking Congress for tightening sanctions on Iran and continued military aid to Israel. The conference crescendo moment was the gala on Monday night, March 22, during which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed AIPAC.

Lo and behold, I found myself in the audience listening to the hate speech (including references to people the US targets to kill "in faraway places with strange names") spewing from the lavish stage. When the prime minister announced Israel’s commitment to defense, I could no longer remain silent. After all, what part of denying crayons, notebook paper, and select fruits to Palestinian kids in Gaza has to do with defense?! I jumped onto AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr’s private table alongside the stage and unfurled a pink banner that said “Netanyahu: Build Peace Not Settlements!” I shouted, “Lift the siege of Gaza! No illegal settlements!” as I was forcefully removed from the building. A second disruption came moments later from CODEPINK activist Joan Stallard, from Washington, DC, who shouted, “Stop the settlements!” We were both hauled out and no charges were pressed.

Weeks ago I purchased a ticket to AIPAC’s conference, and shortly thereafter received a certified letter in the post informing me that my registration had been cancelled and my ticket refunded. What list am I on?! I am happy to report that I attended the AIPAC conference anyway.

Our protests of the policies of AIPAC during their national conference included daily morning protests, staging of a checkpoint for attendees, an afternoon press conference announcing the launch of a city-wide boycott of products illegally made in the settlements, and the release of a spoof press release from AIPAC announcing that the organization was calling for a settlement freeze. On Tuesday, March 23, we built settlements (including "do not enter tape", homes and beds) inside Senator Schumer’s and Senator Lieberman’s offices.

CODEPINK condemns AIPAC’s silence on the illegal settlements and calls for continued military aid to Israel, which last year was used in the attack on Gaza, breaking international law. With the new tensions between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over settlements, activists believe that now is the time to stop AIPAC from dictating US foreign policy in the Middle East. The timing is right to the break the detrimental influence of AIPAC, which demands unquestioning public and financial support for Israeli despite its illegal actions. American Jewish peace activists are outraged at the influence that AIPAC has on U.S. policy. AIPAC supports policies of aggression that damage Israel’s reputation, harm innocent Palestinians, and contribute to making America less safe in the world.

AIPAC’s central message, and often the message of many in Congress, is that the United States and Israel are best friends. But what kind of friend supports another friend to break the law? What kind of friend watches her friend bully and hurt others and says nothing bad, rather affirming how great of a friend she is even amidst lots of other, potentially nicer or less messy, friendships? What kind of friend cannot tolerate criticism, must always be right even when immoral, and is always mooching money even when she’s one of the wealthiest kids in the class? The friendship between the US and Israel seems to be one of enabling abuse and silencing dissent. Sitting in the AIPAC room tonight and listening to the roll call of congresspeople and state officials present, it was clear to me just how deep this unhealthy relationship has manifested. What other country does the US call its best friend, "enduring and forever"?

There is another kid on the playground – the movement for justice for Palestine. And this force is growing every day and refuses to be silent in the face of injustice and violence. Each protest makes a difference, each moment spent sharing truth and spreading courage to resist occupation. Onwards for an end to the siege of Gaza and a full settlement freeze, and one day, justice with peace in Palestine and Israel.

Rae Abileah is a national organizer with CODEPINK Women for Peace. She lives in San Francisco, CA, and can be contacted at rae[at]codepinkalert.org.

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