Thursday, April 15, 2010

13 Reasons Why Liberal Zionists Should Give Guarded Support to the BDS Movement

J-Street, the organizational voice for liberal Zionists in the US, has gone to the barricades against the Berkeley student government divestment resolution. Read here. 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? Here are 13 reasons.

1. You already support two of the three central aims of the movement, which are

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. It is important to express solidarity with, and sympathy for, the Palestinians, after all their suffering. BDS victories provides them with that.

They don’t have an army. They are not allowed by the world armed resistance. Where else, besides in some world organizations, can they score victories? I realize that this is am impure motivation, and my point is not to ask you to sacrifice your principle to make them happy. It is to stand with them not because you are convinced they are right, but you are convinced that they have been wronged.

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.


pabelmont said...

BDS seems to call for a right for Palestinian (refugees) to return to their home--their home being generally understood to be Israel (before 1967).

And most Israelis want to live in a country of which most of the people are Jews (or so identified--like the Russians).

OK. Here's a question. What would the population statistics be for Israel if Israel, with all its present Jewish citizens, were to shrink back down to the territory suggested by the UNGA in 1947 and if a FULL return by Palestinian refugees (including descendants) were also to take place? Notice that not all the Palestinian refugees would be entitled to return to shrunk-Israel, only those that "came" from there. Has anyone done the population statistics to answer this question?

In case you wonder, this is related to the question of what the population of Israel would have been today had Israel and the Palestinians both accepted UNGA 181 and there had been no war in 1948.


evildoer said...

13 good reasons, although I'd that BDS and the US organized Jewish reaction to it is a good reason why liberal Zionists should stop being liberal zionists. (OK. I know, but I'm allowed to dream) Here's more:

Anonymous said...

I will have to take some time to answer, and will try to do so after Shabbat, but meanwhile here are some points from an *extremely* liberal Zionist:

1. Supporting an "end the occupation" movement spearheaded by people totally uncommitted to the two-state solution is beyond counterproductive. If BDS were just about the occupation, it wouldn't be BDS.

2. BDS smacks of the same immoral delegitimization of the other's legitimate aspirations as Yisrael Beiteinu (or worse). Lieberman wants Israel to withdraw from territories too; that doesn't make him a visionary human rights figure worthy of support.

3. You claim on the one hand that BDS is harmless and won't cause any real damage, while at the same time arguing that it has a chance of being effective. Which is it?

4. You argue that if you oppose BDS, you stand with AIPAC. That's disingenuous at best. I would say quite the opposite: if you support BDS you stand with those who cannot reconcile themselves to Jewish self determination, rather than with JSTREET and others who are striving for real mutual acceptance and peace.

5. "BDS strengthens the peace camp in Israel". Are you kidding? BDS is just another step in a long series of feeble attempts to address the injustice in Israel/Palestine by pretending that the situation is one-sided. That kind of thinking - which alienates and deligitamizes the silent majority in Israel, who would be happy to leave the territories and make peace if the Palestinian leadership were willing to display even a modicum of empathy - serves merely to further decimate the already weakened Israeli peace camp. The last thing the Israeli peace camp needs is another pathetic attempt to convince the world that in order to create Palestine, Israel must first be dismantled and the Jews must disown their most basic identity.

6. Partial disinvestment from the territories or from companies that do business with settlements is not BDS.

7. BDS is the Palestinian Ghandi? Come on! BDS is nonviolent, and that's a good thing - but I'm sure Ghandi could muster up more empathy than the BDS folks. Ghandi's positions didn't force the British to choose between occupying India and surviving as a nation state.

8. A movement with a real chance of ending the occupation will have to be one which sincerely and genuinely accepts each nation's right to self determination.

Anonymous said...

re pabelmont: So you want a democracy that guarantees you are in the majority? What 'democracy' would that be?


Anonymous said...

I have read that any BDS effort will only force Israel into "defense mode" and push it even farther to the right. What do you think about this?

Jerry Haber said...


1. You claim that BDS is totally uncommitted to the two-state solution. That is true. It is also totally uncommitted to a one-state solution. In fact, it is totally uncommitted to any solution. Or to put it otherwise, IT IS AGNOSTIC ON THE FINAL SETTLEMENT. So you, and others, are criticizing for what it does not say. Why not criticize what it does say.

And why is agnostic? Because the Palestinians themselves do not agree on one state or two states. That is not the issue. The issue is justice for the Palestinians.

2. If the BDS movement said, "We believe that the Jewish people have no right to self-determination" then your comparison to Lieberman might be more apt. But once again, you are attacking a straw man because of your preconceived notions and neuroses. It simply does not take a stand on the question of Jewish nationalism or self-determination.

3. What do I mean by calling it harmless and begin effective. Good question. It is harmless to the greater economy of Israel; effective in drawing attention to Israel's status as a human rights violator. I suppose that in so far as it wants to draw attention in that manner, some would argue that it weakens Israel. But those people argue that groups like Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem harm Israel.

4. BDS is compatible with liberal Zionism. The difference between J Street and the BDS movement is a matter of degree (and tribalism). By the way, I think it is a matter of time before many J-Street supporters sign on to, at least, partial divestment.

5. "Partial disinvestment from the territories or from companies that do business with settlements is not BDS." So call it something else. You know what -- I would be happy if liberal Zionists like J Street say, "We don't want to be aligned with global BDS movement, but we support the Berkeley students resolution for partial divestment." Will you do that? Will liberal Zionists go public on a boycott of settlement products?

I would like to respond to this statement of yours:

That kind of thinking - which alienates and deligitamizes the silent majority in Israel, who would be happy to leave the territories and make peace if the Palestinian leadership were willing to display even a modicum of empathy - serves merely to further decimate the already weakened Israeli peace camp.

My friend, the number of people who are willing to leave the territories entirely and make peace with the Palestinians number a handful. Oh, sure, Israelis want peace -- provided they have their settlement blocs, their water, their security control, their airspace, etc.

Peace is a pipe dream. It's not going to happen -- precisely because although there are two sides to every story, this story has one immensely powerful side and one immensely weak side.

Israelis are not prepared to give up anything they really care about The last thing that secular Israelis care about is the West Bank and Gaza. If it weren't for cheap housing they never would have gone there in the first place.

The only possible way that there will be a two state solution is if it is, you will pardon me, rammed down both sides' throats.

It is way past time to start using more sticks than carrots. If you are looking to convince the Israelis by appealing to their self-interest or better nature, forget it. It hasn't happened in the last 62 years.

Jerry Haber said...

Re Gandhi -- did you know that Gandhi never recognized the right of the Muslims to have a state in Pakistan. He was non-violently opposed to Muslim self-determination. Those Palestinians who are willing to come to an accommodation with Israel, but who deny a right of the Jewish people to a state of Israel are precisely following Gandhi's model.

Jerry Haber said...

"I have read that any BDS effort will only force Israel into "defense mode" and push it even farther to the right. What do you think about this?"

There is no question that Israel, like Iran, cannot take criticism well. But I think that pushing Israel further to the right may not be such a bad thing, because that will further delegitimize it.

I dont think that Israel has the resources to make peace with the Palestinians. The collapse of Oslo convinced me that. Barak offered the Palestinians a "rotten compromise" to use Avishai Margalit's phrase,and the Israelis to this day can't understand why the Palestinians turned it down.

But it is also not clear that a successful BDS campaign will push Israeli further to the right. After all, the settlers really don't care and they call the shots. Neither labor nor kadimah nor likud will ever remove outposts or settlements on the west bank.

So what is there to lose by starting to portray Israel as the serial human rights violator that it is. The only reason why it has gotten off with a slap on the wrist to date is because it will always say that pressure impedes the peace process.

What peace process?

Jerry Haber said...

evildoer, I am sure that the hysterical reaction of J-Street and Ameinu pushed some liberals in the BDS camp.

fiddler said...

To the first anonymous, I feel sorry for any Jew who has adopted zionism and the state of Israel as their "most basic identity".

Y. Ben-David said...

This is one of your more incoherent pieces, but I am not surprised by it because your "peace camp" is in total dispair, realizing that there is no chance of any peace agreement being reached on any terms, and that a large majority of the Israeli public realizes this. Thus, you have given up trying to convince the Israeli public, which having seen the Arab progpaganda deligitimizing Israel's very existence and the suicide bombings and rocket attacks, won't go along with what you want. So your last hope is to get some deus ex machina outside force to impose a withdrawal on Israel. The far Left's advocacy of this, of course, will turn off even more Israelis to your views, which is good.

Your point no. 4 is is ALL a "slippery slope" because a signifcant part of the crowd calling for BDS OPPOSES ISRAEL'S VERY EXISTENCE. So you are making an alliance with them hoping that the the movement will end once Israel is back at the Green Line. They will say "good, now we will continue BDS until Israel accepts the right of return". You have no grounds for saying that won't happen. Your making alliances with extremist anti-Israel groups is very dangerous and I think most people on the Israeli Left realize this.

You claim that BDS is becoming "effective" is also wrong. GANDHI HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH BRITAIN LEAVING INDIA, except by delaying it and turning the partition into a bloody catastrophe by his (unintentional) stoking of sectarian religious discord....Britain would have left India by 1947 even if Gandhi had never existed. Ha'aretz had a long article several weeks ago pointing out that BDS has never ONCE brought down a government or forced it to change policies. This includes Rhodesia and South Africa. They pointed out that it is a myth that South Africa was BDS's big success story. Apartheid ended for two reasons: (1) The fall of the Communist Bloc convinced the ANC to give up the idea of nationalizing white industries and businesses, which reassured the whites of the position in a post-apartheid SA, and (2) The industrial/financial sectors came to realize that the apartheid system was seriously damaging the economy for internal not educating blacks to fill skilled positions that were not being filled by the white population.
Also, suppose you convince Caterpillar to stop selling armored bulldozers to Israel. Don't you think a country that makes tanks and jet aircraft can't produce a substitute bulldozer? BDS along the lines you are proposing might very will help our economy and make us more self-reliant. I support ending US financial aid to Israel for the same reason.
The reason I oppose Jews supporting BDS is NOT because of the supposed damage it might cause to Israel or the settlements, but because it is painful to watch Jews going at each other's throats. It simply gives more ammunition to antisemites who will think we are badly divided and it will increase anti-Jewish and antisemitic feeling around the world. That is the real problem.

Your point no. 6 is simple demagoguery and I surprised you stooped to using it..."if you oppose BDS you are allying yourself with 'right-wing extremists'!. What don't you go all the way and say "Yigal Amir opposes BDS". That might stir up the troops, too! You complain when Right-wingers point out you are associating yourself with radical anti-Israel groups but you then turn around and do the same thing. The difference is that stopping BDS is a end to itself to the "Right" but the radical anti-Israel allies you are working with on the Left have a much more ambitious agenda than moderates like yourself.

Roadie in Vancouver said...

Kapos the lot of you. You have no shame.

Unknown said...

Re Gandhi millions more in India regard Nathuram Godse (the man who assassinated Gandhi) as a hero than they do Gandhi. His non violence campaign was effective only on the British because they wished not to be regarded like the those they defeated. At my college there were Tamils whose first names were Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini because in their historical view those two were anti-British and thus anti-Colonial and they were the ones who depleted Britain economically so India could be free. BDS is an important technique but whether it will work in this care is very uncertain.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at this response by Ahmed Moor on Mondoweiss.

Moor makes no bones about his wholesale delegitimazation of Jewish self determination. As far as he is concerned, Jewish self determination is a racist notion that should be simply discarded. He compares Jews who wish to preserve the one corner of the world where they can control their national destiny, to whites trying to keep black people out of their neighborhoods.

And he is clear on another point too: Palestinian "right of return" spells the end of the Jewish state: "The right of return is an inviolable and sacrosanct principle which necessarily spells out the end of the Jewish state, as such."

Moor's positions are no better than those of extreme Jewish nationalists who deny Palestinian national aspirations. A movement founded on the denial of either group's legitimate needs and aspirations lacks moral vision and and cannot help us find peace.

Liberal human rights discourse recognizes the difference between a hegemonic majority trying to keep minorities out, and minorities trying to protect a "safe space" where they can exercise self determination. A white neighborhood in the US that tries to keep black people out is shamefully racist; an Arab village in Israel, on the other hand, struggling to maintain its demographic balance in order to preserve its culture, is quite different. While Jews are the ruling majority in Israel/Palestine, globally and regionally they are a miniscule minority with a long history of persecution. As such, their desire to preserve Israel as a "safe space" is not racist; it is entirely justified in liberal human rights terms. That doesn't mean that anything goes or that all means can be justified to preserve a Jewish majority in Israel(proper). What it does mean, however, is that those who seek to fundamentally delegitamize Zionism and the Jewish need for self-determination in the name of human rights are morally misguided.

It is in this deep sense that BDS undermines peace, justice and equality, rather than serving it.

and BTW - in Berkeley they are not talking about limited BDS to end the occupation.

Charles said...

Great post man. And yet....
I think you are trying to hard.
I heard a relatively high ranking BDS spokesperson(Barghouti) argue with R. Waskow on DemocracyNow over this, and he was pretty clear: BDS is about refusing to allow the conflict to be defined by the question 'occupation yes or no.'

This is a shame, but let's show the BDS camp some respect. They say it's not about ending the occupation, but about fighting the occupation as part of a broad based struggle against the legacy of injustice caused by the creation of Israel.

Liberal Zionists are pretty committed to ensuring that at least some of those injustices remain in place - and I'm not saying that in a mean way. Surely some injustices will fail to be corrected, no?

Gush Shalom is the real pioneer of boycott as a tool in the modern era. They have pursued, with great success, the use of boycotts to pressure the settlements. And their approach has been completely sidelined by the vast majority of Palestinian and foreign solidarity movements.

I support selective BDS, but feel more comfortable doing so while refusing to endorse or stand with the full-throated supporters of BDS generally. They scare me. I think they might succeed in marginalizing the voices of reason in Palestinian society that are committed to living alongside Israel. They tend to do a good job of marginalizing liberal Zionists, two staters and other legitimate view points within the American left and peace camp.

Jerry Haber said...


Two points:

If the BDS movement is calling for regime change in Israel, it is going nowhere fast. That is why -- as far as I have seen -- it has not officially called for regime change, nor is it smart for them to do so. It would not won a single battle if it iid.

That said, yes, Bargouti is a one stater, and many of the one staters don't want to recognize any Jewish self-determination in Palestine, even non-statist. I can understand their position, but I think it's too late for that. There are simply too many Jews who think otherwise. Maybe somewhere down the line....

My original post said "cautious support". If the global BDS movement starts becoming essentially a one-state movement, then two-staters should do what Gush Shalom does -- not join the larger movement, but call for boycotts, partial divestment, etc. on their own grounds.

That enough support would allow there to be coalition on the tactical level.

My response to Ahmed Moor will follow.

Anonymous said...

I can understand their position, but I think it's too late for that. There are simply too many Jews who think otherwise. Maybe somewhere down the line....

Can you please clarify what you mean by that? Thank you.

Richard Witty said...

So long as the broad term BDS (Boycott, divestment and sanctions) is used, that effort will be nakedly maximalist, punitive, arbitrary.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions is not a precise, limited communication.

LD (limited divestment) might appeal. Using the term BDS though is acknowledging that the movement is a shady used car operation, with no right to return lemons.

Jerry Haber said...

Richard, some quick responses

1. I don't check my blog that often, so some times there is a lag between comments being written and published. I moonlight as a blogger. The only comments I don't publish are spam and offensive.

2. I did not distinguish between supporting varieties of tactics like boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, and supporting the BDS movement. Frankly, I think the distinction is unimportant, since the movement is quick to crow about even partial divestments as is the Berkeley case. Clearly there are maximalists within the movement -- maybe they constitute a majority -- but there are fellow travelers who focus on a rich menu of options.

So when I try to convince liberal Zionists to support the BDS movement, I am not saying that they should have to be maximalist. Somebody who says, 'I am opposed to academic boycott and government sanctions, but boycott of settler products and divestment from companies who make money off the Occupation is fine with me" is using some of the tactics that the movement is founded on. Even a hypothetical Berkeley senator who wants to dissociate himself from the movement, but who supports the Berkeley divestment motion will be welcome, except by the true believers. And they will be demonized by most of the Zionist camp.

Is it so hard to say, "I support some of this stuff but not all"?

If you want to set up a Limited Divestment Movement, I will support that, too.

Finally, Jerry Haber is not a separate identity; it is a nom de plume like Ahad ha-Am or John Le Carre.

pabelmont said...

Please read:

Maybe (with permission?) you can republish it.

What she speaks is what I feel, she a Palestinian, and I an American of Jewish ancestry married until her death to (another) Palestinian.

Thanks for your valuable blog.

Laur said...

Richard, when I was at JStreet, there was at least one speaker who said he supported boycott of West Bank Settlement products.

Richard Witty said...

I want to share some of my personal experience.

In 2003, I attended a demonstration in support of Palestinian rights at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. My shul's rabbi also attended.

At the demonstration, the rabbi carried a peace sign surrounding a Jewish flag on one side and a Palestinian on the other. We were harrassed, including by some obviously Jewish students. A couple rocks were even thrown.

At that time, I began expressing some displeasure (a light word for it) on an internet discussion forum that had started as a liberal forum, but devolved to a left-dominated one due to name-calling and even indirect threats of violence. (I got one oblique death threat - I don't think he was serious, just "demonstrating" what "AIPAC does".)

After these two incidents, I determined that the experience of abuse of liberal sympathetic dissenters was not an isolated incident, and I vowed NEVER to attend a demonstration or lend my voice in any way to any movement that ever articulated "Zionism is racism", or sought to remove the Jewish state except by consentual election.

I believe that even though there were advocates for a dominant, expropriative state from the beginning of the movement, the spirit of the movement was overwhelmingly self-affirming in contrast to other-debasing.

I believe that the decision to pursue an exclusive and partially expanding state occurred nearly universally among the mass of civilians in response to violence. That the first response was to organize watches, then more formal defense, then later confirmed as a need for a formal and permanent state (as early Canaanite Hebrews shifted from rejection of a kingdom as an idolatry compared to the sovereignty of "God", to an actual kingdom for defensive purposes.)

Many proponents of live and let live shifted their views in the repeated and repeated traumas of the British imposed restrictions on immigration even during the beginning of the nazi power, 36-39 arab uprising,holocaust, 47 civil war. People like Albert Einstein, and I believe Martin Buber reluctantly acknowledged that a state was necessary.

If you wish to discuss what conditions would make a Jewish state unnecessary, that would be a relevant discussion.

I have suggestions, as I've made at Mondoweiss, but there I'm pigeon-holed as an enemy of the anti-Zionist movement (which I am frankly).

I am a staunch advocate of the effort to reform Israel, including advocacy for the three provisions of the academic boycott, applied moderately and concisely, not maximally and ambiguously.