BDS Background Papers – Summary
Below we present a summary of two papers advocating opposing positions with regard to JfJfP’s BDS strategy.
Richard Kuper has made the case for maintaining JFJFP’s current strategy, and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Deborah Fink have made the case for adopting a more inclusive and aggressive strategy in accordance with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. This paper summarises and contrasts the two positions.
(A) Richard’s paper advocating JFJFP’s current strategy
- JFJFP is a voluntary network of Jews who support the struggle for Palestinian rights. The basis is achieving the maximum agreement on a very basic policy.
- We campaign in three ways: to work within the Jewish community, to develop solidarity with other groups in struggle for Palestinian rights, and to engage with British and EU officials and elected representatives. There are tensions between these three activities, especially between the first and second. Concentrating too much on one can hinder us in the other. This is inherent in our strategy, so a balance must always be struck.
- We have to appreciate that the more marginal we are perceived to be – or can be presented to be – within the Jewish community, the less valuable our support is to Palestinians.
- Our campaigning strategy has been to support boycotting the “occupation”, i.e. boycotting settlement goods, divestment from companies that operate in settlements or sell equipment that is used in the occupation, specifically boycotting arms sales to Israel, opposing Zionist trade fairs where settlement property is marketed, and campaigning for suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement until Israel respects the agreement’s human rights provisions.
- It is vital not to end up posturing, i.e. speaking more “extremely” for its own sake without any clear idea of how that would make us more effective within the Jewish community or the wider solidarity movement.
- Gaza has profoundly shocked many in the Jewish community, but the question is how to relate to this potentially larger constituency.
- Our current policy is “spot on”, but needs to be pursued much more vigorously. All Richard’s conversations lead him to believe that extending the policy would not expand our influence in the Jewish community. Our signatory survey about support for an academic boycott showed the issue to be deeply divisive. A more generalise boycott policy would no doubt have a similar effect and might well cause loss of some of our signatories.
(B) Naomi and Deborah’s paper advocating a boycott strategy along the lines of the BDS campaign.
- The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is founded on calls from the Palestinian Campaign for the Economic and Cultural boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the Palestinian National Committee for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). They call for BDS until Israel respects international law and universal principles of human rights.
- Growing accusations of Israeli war crimes and growing awareness of Israeli brutality make it harder to justify the distinction between settlement goods and other Israeli goods and between the Israeli state and the occupation.
- Signatories join JFJFP as a platform to contribute, as Jews, to a just peace. Insofar as the boycott movement is working for the same goal, we should maximise our contribution to it.
- An effective campaign needs a clear message. The BDS message is unequivocal: a state which acts as Israel does cannot expect to do business as usual with the rest of the world. This is particularly important because there are no other constraints on Israel’s behaviour while it has US and European support.
- A strategy of boycotting settlement goods lacks clarity because Israel is able to blur the distinction between goods produced in Israel proper and settlement goods, which makes it hard for the general public to make the distinction. Boycotting Israeli agricultural produce would be particularly appropriate because it is relevant to all consumers
- Boycotting Israeli universities is justified because they contribute to the occupation by taking government funds for military research, offer special courses for members of the IDF and Shin Bet, and provide elaborate rationales for wars of deterrence and war crimes. The academic boycott campaign is aimed at cooperation with institutions, not individual Israeli academics. Critics allege that an academic boycott would be contrary to the fundamental principles of academic freedom, but Palestinian academics are denied academic freedom by Israel, without opposition by their Israeli counterparts. Israeli academics are extremely sensitive to the possibility of their institutions being boycotted by foreign academics. If it occurred, many of them would begin to question Israeli policies.
- Boycotting sports and cultural exchanges would be targeted at events formally supported by Israel or Zionist organisations. It would send a clear message of disapproval of Israeli policies. Israel vigorously promotes sports and cultural exchanges as good PR. Critics of a boycott allege that they promote mutual understanding, but they also bolster Israel’s unwarranted image as a normal, civilised state.
- Israel will never change its practices unless foreign action, such as boycotts, exacts a price for not changing. Zionist and Israeli outrage at the boycott idea proves, not that it a wrong tactic, but rather that it is feared. Palestinians are continually exhorted to renounce armed struggle and adopt exclusively peaceful means. Boycott is, par excellence, the non-violent weapon of resistance. By only supporting partial boycott, we imply less than wholehearted support for the Palestinians.
- JFJFP, being the largest and most influential Jewish group which supports Palestinian rights, would immeasurably strengthen the BDS campaign. JFJFP support would give the lie to the charge that boycotting Israel is racist, and it would reassure non-Jews who are hesitant about supporting boycott. JFJFP would be able to use its lobbying activity to support the BDS.
It seems to me the difference between the two papers is essentially one of focus.
Richard focuses on the Jewish community and how, in his view, a change of JFJFP’s boycott policy would adversely affect our influence in the community, or certainly not enhance it. Any increase or decrease in our wider effectiveness is seen largely through that lens.
Naomi and Deborah focus on the wider community and see adopting the BDS strategy as directly increasing our wider effectiveness. They see the “Jewish” aspect of JFJFP as a means of strengthening the effectiveness of the BDS strategy in the wider community.