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Israel's Deadly Tear Gas Made in USA

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Message Ira Chernus

The IDF is in a bizarre position -- telling the world to ignore the unprovoked tear gas attack, ignore the wall that Israel's Supreme Court has ruled illegal in Bil'in, ignore the confiscation of Palestinian land to enlarge settlements that the whole world says as illegal, and see Israel as totally innocent simply because Jawaher was at home when the Made-in-USA gas killed her.

Suppose she was in her home in the small village, a few hundred yards from the front of the protest. Tear gas does float through the air. Even if the Israelis could prove their claim true, the IDF's PR barrage and the focus on that one detail of the story shows a depressing moral bankruptcy.

So what's a U.S. citizen to do? There is a growing boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) movement aimed at Israel. But can we boycott the tear gas makers? Though they make an amazing variety of other products too, all are used by military forces, or by police departments. Nothing you'd be likely to buy.

However, you might check whether your local police department is patronizing Combined Systems, Inc. with your tax dollars. CSI says that it markets "its innovative line of less-lethal munitions" -- less lethal than what? -- "and crowd control products to domestic law enforcement agencies under its law enforcement brand name, CTS." Even the moderate Jewish peace group J Street, which has serious reservations about BDS, says it takes a positive view of targeted boycotts aimed only at the occupation.

J Street itself is more interested in putting pressure on the Obama administration to take "a bolder, more assertive approach" to the peace process. It wants the U.S. to lean on the Israelis and Palestinians to quickly negotiate the borders of the new Palestinian state. If the parties can't do it themselves (which seems likely) the U.S. should present its own proposal, J Street says -- an idea that's rapidly gaining a lot of support.

There's no need for peace activists to decide between supporting a targeted boycott and a U.S. peace plan, nor to squabble over which approach is better. The two paths can, and should, be taken simultaneously. They reinforce each other. Israeli and American BDS supporters will keep calling attention to U.S. complicity in the repression and killing of Palestinians. The embarrassments to the U.S. -- like the protest at the American ambassador's home in Israel -- will keep on mounting. Eventually, the Obama administration will find it impossible to let the conflict go on.

The U.S. government has played a central role in perpetuating this injustice. The U.S. government must take responsibility for righting the wrong and ending the killing. It's one of those happy occasions were morality and self-interest both dictate the same policy.

The U.S. government can guide (to put it politely) the Israelis to make fundamental changes because ultimately Israel must bend to U.S. wishes, if the Obama administration asserts itself strongly enough. Whether that happens depends strictly on the administration's political cost-benefit calculus.

Boycotts may or may not ever make the Israelis change their policies. But they might make U.S. companies stop dealing lethal material to Israel. And political pressure -- if it's strong and smart enough -- can make the administration change its ways.

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Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of

Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin.
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