Liberal Zionists and the BDS movement
15 April 2010
J-Street, the organizational voice for liberal Zionists in the US, has gone to the barricades against the Berkeley student government divestment resolution (J Street urges UC Berkeley Student Senate to uphold Presidential veto of divestment bill). Frankly, I was surprised by their militancy. I understand that the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel is a difficult pill to swallow for liberal Zionists (those who believe that the Israel should exist as an ethnic state of the Jewish people, yet are interested to see a Palestinian state arise). I understand the arguments against academic boycott. I also appreciate the existential fears. And I certainly accept the political pressures on organizations like J-Street. But forget about J-Street. I am addressing this to my liberal Zionist readers – those who are pained and disillusioned by Israel’s actions, but who want to preserve what is good about the Jewish state, and to help it become a just society. You are nervous about BDS because it seems so drastic and unbalanced to you – and because you have been misinformed that is motivated by hatred for Israel. Those Jews who have spoken in favor of BDS are mostly post-Zionists, anti-Zionists, non-Zionists, and/or known leftists. Yes, their voices are important, and I believe they have been on the correct side of history longer than I have. But I don’t need to convince them to support BDS. So why should you, as a liberal Zionist, consider supporting the Global BDS movement?
1. Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; Where you may disagree is over:
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
But note that the phrase “as stipulated in UN resolution 194” weakens the statement since even Israel never rejected 194. And even if you don’t recognize the right of return, you recognize the importance to the Palestinians of claiming that right. And haven’t you have signed petitions with which you are not in complete agreement because you beiieve in the broader goal? There are many people who agree with you here who support the tactics of BDS.
2. You don’t have to sign on to all of BDS. You don’t like academic boycotts? Good, neither do I. You are nervous about calling for sanctions? Don’t. But what about partial divestment from companies profiting from the Occupation as a symbolic and non-violent act of protest? What about boycotting settler’s wine and other products? How can you be opposed to the Occupation and support the Occupiers.
3. You want to support non-violent Palestinian protest. BDS is first and foremost a Palestinian action. “If only,” you have said countless times, “there were a Palestinian Gandhi or Nelson Mandella.” Well, the tactics of BDS are the tactics of Gandhi and Mandella. Even if you are apprehensive about the aims of some of the movement, don’t you understand how important it is to support non-violent protest?
4. There is no slippery slope here. If you support BDS today, you say to yourself, what will happen when it really gets up steam – perhaps you will be hurting Israel? Yet the chances of that happening are nill, and you know it. Who has the power?
5. BDS is becoming effective as a tactic. In the beginning it wasn’t, and this is what kept me off the BDS wagon for a long time. And I am still not entirely on it. But successes recently have been impressive, both in their own right, and as a morale booster for the Palestinians.
6. If you oppose them you stand with AIPAC and the ZOA Sure, you may not like the rhetoric of some Palestinians and their allies. But you also don’t like some of the rhetoric of the Jewish rightwingers. So who do you stand with on this one? The human rights folks — or AIPAC and the Zionist Organization of America? Do you really want to hear the neocons crowing over their victory as they simultaneously demonize your ilk?
7. BDS actually strengthens the hand of the pro-peace camp in Israel. Israel is very sensitive to its public image. Whenever it is criticized, there are elements in Israeli society that point to Israel’s loss of standing and argue that only a just and peaceful solution will stop the decline. This also answers the objection that it is unfair to single out Israel. And the people who makes this argument are always singling out Israel for preferential treatment.
8. BDS does not materially hurt the average Israelis I find it odd that many liberal Zionists who call for sanctions against Iran – a regime that is not engaged in the systematic deprivation of human rights to the extent that Israel is engaged – think that a cultural boycott or a divestment from certain American companies will hurt the average Israeli. The effect of the protest is symbolic; the message is what is important.
9. Other tactics have failed repeatedly. If you genuinely believe in a two-state solution, wouldn’t it be good idea to see if BDS helps end the Occupation? Or are you one of those liberal Zionists who want a two-state solution In theory, but is pretty ineffectual about ending the Occupation.
10. Palestinians should have a little naches (pleasure) after all their suffering and BDS provides them with that. They don’t have an army. They are not allowed by the world armed resistance. Where else, besides some world organizations, can they score victories?
11. You are appalled at the lies and disinformation of the anti-BDS movement. The BDS movement does not seek to destroy the state of Israel. BDS is not even anti-Zionist. Stop listening to the Big Lies.
12. Many Jewish and Israeli human rights activists support it. They are doing your job for you in Israel. They allow you to be hopeful about the state. Shouldn’t you be listening to therm here?
13. You are sick up to here with the news coming out daily from Israel. Isn’t it about time you gave back a little? There are consequences for their misdeeds.
If you are unconvinced by the reasons above, but uneasy about circling the wagons with the likes of AIPAC, ZOA, Aish ha-Torah, etc. then you have another option: oppose BDS, but don’t be strident about it. Don’t rain on the Palestinian parade. Sit on the fence and wait, if you must. But don’t fall on the side of AIPAC and ZOA.