BDS drives the future of Liberal Zionism/UPDATE Conference news
Jerry Haber, 1st and Peter Beinart, 2nd, disagree on where support for BDS will take Liberal Zionists.
Demonstrators hold a placard urging the international community to take action against Israel’s settlement policy in the occupied territories as left-wing Israeli and foreign peace activists join Palestinians in a protest [not dated]. Photo by Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images
By Jerry Haber, Open Zion
February 11, 2013
Liberal Zionists want to end Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza, abolish institutional discrimination between the Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel, and witness the establishment of a Palestinian state that will allow Palestinians to live as a free and secure people in their own homeland. As liberals, they insist on preserving the civil and human rights of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. These objectives are virtually identical with two of the three aims of the Palestinian BDS National Committee. The sticking point is the third, which is “respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in U.N. resolution 194.”
I don’t agree with Mira Sucharov that an endorsement of the Palestinian right of return is incompatible with the State of Israel having a Jewish character or that such an endorsement will lead to millions of Palestinians returning to their homes and properties. Conjuring up that scenario (which has zero likelihood of coming about) allows Zionists to justify the demographic cap of “only 20 percent Arab” that they consider necessary for the continued existence of a Jewish ethnic state.
Still, I realize that the right of return is a red flag for the vast majority of liberal Zionists, who use it to explain why they won’t endorse the Palestinian BDS movement. So let me argue why I think this is the wrong approach for them to take.
Liberal Zionists have three options, as I see it:
1. They can continue to oppose BDS and support liberal organizations as effective as J Street, shaking their heads at reports in the New York Times about the latest Israeli settlement expansions, and placing their faith in a U.S. administration that has done nothing to stem Israel’s inexorable march toward a state that is Jewish and democratic and apartheid: Jewish for the Palestinian Israelis, democratic for the Jewish Israelis, and apartheid for the Palestinians living under the control of the military and the settlers. They can continue to defer for generations the moral scandal of the Palestinian refugees, a problem created when Israel unilaterally barred their return to their homes, populated its state with Jewish immigrants, and made use of their Palestinian property in defiance of international law and U.N. resolutions (not to mention the Balfour Declaration).
2. Or, publicly eschewing the Palestinian BDS movement, they can practice their own “targeted BDS” or “Zionist BDS,” focusing their efforts on boycotting products produced in the Occupied Territories, like SodaStream and Ahava beauty products, or supporting divestment from companies like Caterpillar that benefit from the Occupation. (Some of them may extend this to Israeli agricultural companies.)
3. Or they can express solidarity with the global BDS movement as a non-violent protest movement emerging from Palestinian civil society, while at the same time making known their reservations about endorsing the right of return. In other words, they can join hands with the global BDS movement in its efforts to end the occupation and institutional discrimination against Palestinians, while agreeing to disagree about the right of return. Two out of three aims is basis enough for joint action.
In a post written three years ago, I tried to persuade liberal Zionists to offer support, if only qualified, to the BDS movement. As I anticipated, my “bridge proposal” was criticized by both sides for conceding too much to the other. The liberal Zionists gave the standard arguments: BDS will harden the Israelis, strengthen the right wing, and hurt the peace camp. Adopting the tactics of the “demonizers” will only make the Israeli left less relevant (if that’s possible). Some called the BDS movement potentially dangerous to Israel. Others called it weak and ineffectual, a minor annoyance. I was told that liberal Zionists can only have influence if they stay within the tribe, ally themselves with “moderate Palestinians” like Salam Fayyad (who has endorsed BDS in the territories) and distance themselves from the Palestinian one-staters. And then there is Eric Alterman’s view that the Palestinians’ “only hope can come by convincing Jewish Israelis that the risks and benefits of peace outweigh the risks and benefits of continued conflict.” That’s going to be a tough sell when Israelis are doing quite well without peace. They have shown that they can handle the occasional intifada, and they know that the benefits of occupation outweigh the risks of ending it—especially when there’s no external pressure to do so.
Neither segregation in the South [of the USA] nor apartheid in South Africa ended when blacks convinced the majority of whites to end it. Concerted action, including but not limited to boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, were instrumental in convincing a few white people in power that the status quo was untenable. It took an intifada to convince Yitzhak Rabin that the occupation was untenable.
The BDS movement is currently the only game “out of town,” i.e., outside of human rights activism and political organization within Israel and the territories. And it has been partly effective. Israelis, except for the hard-core settlers and the ultra-Orthodox, care deeply about their image. Every cancellation of a concert by a fading rock star, or of a lecture by a protesting academic, is front-page news. The artistic boycott of theaters in the settlements, the European supermarket boycott, the various divestment campaigns—all have tremendous psychological value. We are now at the stage when major Christian denominations, European supermarkets, and TIAA-CREF are contemplating some form of BDS. Even those individuals who boycott shitake mushrooms from Tekoa make a statement.
BDS, in fact, may be the best hope for liberal Zionists who haven’t given in entirely to ethnic loyalties or to a blind faith in an illusory and never ending “peace process” that serves only one side, the powerful one.
Traditional Jews are familiar with the problem of the agunah, the “chained wife” whose husband refuses to divorce her unless it is on his terms. Both sides may have legitimate grievances. But according to Jewish law, the power of divorce lies entirely with the husband; the wife is powerless to effect anything on her own. If the husband refuses until he is able to extort his terms from the other side, Jewish law empowers the court to force him to “voluntarily” divorce his wife. In the old days, recalcitrant husbands would be flogged. Today, communities publicly shame them, and in Israel they are jailed. (Just yesterday my shul rabbi publicly shamed a recalcitrant husband, and community protests have been organized against the offender.)
In the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, both sides have legitimate grievances. But in terms of the power equation, Israel is the recalcitrant husband and the Palestinian people, the agunah. Shame and ostracism are not guaranteed to be effective; like the recalcitrant husband, Israel may indeed dig in. But as an Israeli I have more faith in my country than that. As I wrote above, Israel is acutely sensitive to its public image, and most Israelis want to be part of the community of nations. A broad coalition between Palestinians and Jews, occasionally acting together, occasionally acting in parallel, may be the best hope for allowing the divorce that liberal Zionists feel is important for both sides.
At the very least, by endorsing the BDS movement, albeit with reservations, liberal Zionists will have publicly declared their moral priorities and will have importantly set limits to their ethnic loyalties.
By Peter Beinart, Open Zion
February 12, 2013
From its start, Open Zion has been a liberal Zionist blog dedicated to open and respectful dialogue with liberal Zionism’s critics, both hawkish Zionists on the right and post and anti-Zionists on the left. In some ways, my model has been the New Republic of the 1980s, a neoliberal publication that published both conservatives like Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes and left-liberals like Hendrik Hertzberg. That’s why, in our coverage of the controversy at Brooklyn College, we’ve published not only liberal Zionists critical of BDS like Eric Alterman and Mira Sucharov, but also writers like Jerry Haber, who are critical of political Zionism and sympathetic to the BDS cause.
Demonstrators hold a placard urging the international community to take action against Israel’s settlement policy in the occupied territories as left-wing Israeli and foreign peace activists join Palestinians in a protest. (Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images)
Since Jerry’s most recent article is addressed to liberal Zionists like myself, it’s worth answering. Haber starts with the claim that liberal Zionists agree with two of the BDS movement’s three demands: “Ending its [Israel’s] occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” and “Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.” But speaking for myself, I’m not sure that’s true. I certainly want Israel to stop subsidizing settlements and to do everything possible to create a viable Palestinian state on the vast majority of the West Bank. But if “all Arab lands” means Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, where Israeli control imposes a much less serious moral cost than in the West Bank, and where Israeli withdrawal would mean giving over control to the monstrous regime of Bashar Assad, or the chaos that may follow him, count me out. And if “Arab lands” means nothing more or less than the 1949 armistice line—and the loss of Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall—I’m also opposed. I don’t support a return to the 1949 line armistice line; I support land swaps that allow Israel to retain a small amount of land in the West Bank in return for an equal amount of equal quality land inside Israel proper. Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to that principle, but judging from the plain text of its call, I’m not sure the BDS movement has.
Similarly, I deeply oppose the ongoing discrimination against “Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel” that the Israeli government itself has chronicled. But if by “full equality” the BDS movement means an end to the “right of return” that makes Israel a haven for Jews in distress, I’m not on board. As Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubinstein have detailed, many liberal democracies have preferential immigration policies for a certain ethnic group, and given Jewish history, I think Israel has the right to be included in their ranks. Indeed, I would expect that when a Palestinian state is created, something I yearn to see, it will have a preferential immigration policy for Palestinians.
Jerry acknowledges that liberal Zionists like myself disagree with the BDS movement’s third plank, which calls for “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes,” but he says that liberal Zionists should nonetheless “express solidarity with the global BDS movement as a non-violent protest movement… while at the same time making known their reservations about endorsing the right of return.” I’m not sure what this means. Yes, it’s vastly preferable that Palestinians pursue their national aims nonviolently, but I don’t “express solidarity” with movements whose goals I oppose just because I approve of the methods by which they seek to bring those goals about.
Jerry may deride liberals Zionists as ethnic chauvinists or fantasists enthralled to an illusory peace process. (I’d argue that even though the prospects for a two-state solution have undoubtedly receded, it’s still more realistic than expecting Jews and Palestinians to subordinate their national loyalties, under conditions of deep insecurity and stress, to a newly created “secular, binational” state.) But the point is that there’s a fundamental disagreement here, not one that can be papered over by expressions of solidarity for a movement whose aims fundamentally differ from my own.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jerry writes, “Israel is the recalcitrant husband and the Palestinian people are the agunah,” the wife being refused a divorce. They are like the chained wife, “powerless to effect anything on her own.” I don’t believe that. Yes, Israel has far more power than do the Palestinians. But the anti-Semitic Hamas charter is a document written by Palestinians, for which Palestinians bear responsibility. It is also Palestinians who lob the rockets from Gaza that traumatize southern Israel. Unlike some other Zionists, I don’t believe that if Hamas rewrote its charter and the rocket fire stopped, a two-state solution would magically appear. Sadly, the settlement enterprise has a momentum all its own. Yet I do believe that for both peoples to enjoy dignity, security and freedom, Palestinians as well as Israelis will have to change some of their destructive behavior. The BDS call takes no account of any such Palestinian obligations, and by comparing them to a powerless, “chained” wife, Jerry seems to endorse that perspective.
Knowing Jerry personally, I know that he sincerely wants the best for both Palestinians and Jews. But I can attest to the goodness of his intentions while still disagreeing with his goals, and with the BDS movement that seeks to achieve them. Respectful argument, yes; that’s what Open Zion is all about. But “expressions of solidarity,” no. I take the BDS movement seriously enough to recognize that it’s not the left edge of liberal Zionism. And I take liberal Zionism seriously enough to defend it against those who wish to make it extinct.
14 February 2013
Saturday 2 March 2013, 24 Greencoat Place, LondonSW1P 1RD
£10 (concessions £5) Reservations by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheques to J-BIG, 4 Crestway Parade, The Crestway, Brighton, BN1 7BL
Bank transfers to sort code 08-60-01, account number 20241234
1.00 Welcome, registration, tea and coffee
1.15 Jewish values in support of Palestinian rights
BUNDA’IM, a short film (48 minutes) introducing the last comrades of the Bund mass movement. Exterminated in Europe and ignored in Israel, its ideas live on.
The screening will be immediately followed by discussion with:
David Rosenberg – Editorial Committee, Jewish Socialist magazine
Antony Lerman – author of The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist
This session will deal with aspects of Zionism and Bundism in pre-WWII Poland, how Zionist leaders have marginalised Bundism in the diaspora, the relationship between Zionism and the universalist, humanitarian philosophy central to much Jewish thinking, Zionist attacks on proponents of Jewish universalism and the conflation of antisemitism with opposition to Zionism.
3.15 Refreshment break
3.45 Panel discussion – BDS: imperative for all who uphold Palestinian rights, Jew or non-Jew
Sue Blackwell, British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP)
The University and College Union faces concerted Zionist attack for its willingness to debate BDS and refusal to apply the so-called EUMC working definition of antisemitism which seeks to outlaw criticism of Israel.
Michael Deas, coordinator in Europe for the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC)
Why BDS is central to the anti-racist, anti-colonialist Palestinian struggle; the PACBI and BNC calls; defending the movement against Zionist attack.
Tony Greenstein, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG)
Why it was necessary for J-BIG to publish Zionism and Antisemitism: Racist Political Twins.
John Rose, author of The Myths of Zionism
Unpicking the Zionist myths used to perpetuate the idea that Israeli Jews confront eternal Arab hatred and Israel therefore has the right to “defend itself” by any means.
5.30 Refreshment break
6.00 Entertainment compered by Deborah Fink, “The Diva with a Difference”
Music from Leon Rosselson and Kareem Taylor with Raast
7 pm – Finish
This conference is twinned with another event at the same venue on the following day, Sunday March 2, 10.00 a.m. – 6.30 p.m.
Reclaiming an Alternative Jewish Culture and Identity
Ilan Pappe: Jewish Culture In A Non-ZionistOneState In Palestine.
Moshe Machover: Hebrew v. Jewish Identity
Prof. Helen Beer: Jewish Identity Without Yiddish?
Yuval Evri: 19C. Palestinian Arab Judaism
Murray Glickman: BCE Judaism
Cloe Skinner: Gender & Zionism
Sai Englert: The Bund & The 1917 Russian Revolution
£20/concessions £15. To book email: J.Reclaimed@gmail.com
Attend both days combined for £25/concessions £20.
Reservations via either email address.