Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Invest AND Divest: Where the Liberal Zionists Get BDS Wrong -- And What Their Position Towards It Should Be

A few minutes ago I got the following appeal for funds to combat yet another movement that threatens the very existence of the Jewish State. Here was the "scare" quote:

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions is a loose international network waging a campaign to delegitimize Israel's very existence, comprised of Arab and Islamic groups, so-called post-Zionist Jews and Israelis and elements of the radical European political left. Their call has even been adopted by some elements of the Christian Church. Using language that sounds liberal and claiming to seek justice they negate Israel's right to exist and call for a combination of actions to cripple Israel. Pretending to be rooted in the movement that ended apartheid in South Africa they oppose the two-state solution hiding their ultimate goal, the destruction of the state of Israel.

Who was behind this? ZOA? Or maybe AIPAC? Or even Hillel because of college campuses? I was aware that the Jewish Council for Public Affairs was taking aim at the BDS movement, as reported here.

But then I saw that the folks raising money were….Ameinu, which calls itself liberal and progressive! I mean these are the same guys who had a gushing interview with Sarah Beninga, one of the Sheikh Jarrah Activists here.

It's a pity they didn't ask Sarah and other Israeli activists where they stand on BDS. (Or maybe they did…)

It's also a pity that Ameinu can't raise money by talking about Sheikh Jarrah. I guess what brings in the money today is not countering Israeli injustice against the Palestinians, but saving Israel from imminent destruction

Look, there are reasonable people who oppose, on various grounds, the BDS movement. J-Street issued a sharply word-condemnation of the movement here and elsewhere. It has also has begun an innocuous campaign on campus called, "Invest, Don't Divest," which asks student to fork over two bucks (one for each of the two-states) to promote Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. It sure beats the Keren Ami money I forked over when I was in Hebrew school.

But there is a difference between opposing BDS on principled grounds and lying about it to raise money. And it's about time that both liberal Zionist orgs realize the following things about BDS:

First, BDS is a non-violent, mainly Palestinian movement. It brings together a lot of groups and is a big tent – including those who call for selective divestment from the companies that support the Occupation, or a partial boycott of Settlement products, to those who want a full-court international press against Israel. It has little real effect against an economic giant like Israel, but its symbolic importance is vital. It says that a price, even a symbolic one, must be paid for continuing injustice. And stopping injustice is its real goal, not a cover for the destruction of Israel. As the global movement website says here

BDS are the most effective non-violent, morally consistent means for achieving justice and genuine peace in the region through concerted international pressure similar to that applied on South African apartheid.

Second, while many of the BDS'ers are one-staters, many are two-staters. There is no inconsistency between calling for boycott and sanctions of Israel and being a Zionist. There is no inconsistency between divestment in some areas and investment in others. The BDS movement against South Africa did not hurt a single South African. Nor did it destroy South Africa. It set it on a progressive path. Just like Sarah Beninga and her fellow activists want to do with Israel.

Instead of demonizing the BDS movement, liberal Zionist organizations that call themselves progressive should offer reasoned and respectful arguments against it, if they like. They can stake out their opposition (both on principled grounds, and as a tactic to keep their place at the table) but they should also understand that true progressives must link arms in a broad-based coalition to focus on the real prize, which is the end of the Occupation, and the creation of just and decent societies in the Land of Israel/Palestine.

Most of all they should focus on the common enemy of the liberal Zionists and the progressive Palestinians the Status Quo-ers on the left and the right. I am convinced, for example, that on many campuses, liberal Zionists and Palestinians BDS'ers are on the same street.

And it is not J-Street.


pabelmont said...

Indeed, it is not J Street. It is for this reason that -- allowing that there may be some policy differences today between J Street and AIPAC and may be more tomorrow -- J Street seems to me and to many like another label on the same brand of toothpaste.

For me, the test of a movement for Jews who believe in universal human rights is proceeding forward with the Goldstone Report and calling for removal of all the settlers and all the wall from all occupied territories (i.e., calling for compliance with well-settled law in the interest of human rights).

BDS seems to do this and, in addition, proposes a mechanism for action, something missing from most other movements.

An ethical, law-respecting Israel would have nothing to oppose in BDS and northing to fear from it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there's just one problem with your argument: Mustafa Barghouti, one of the main spokespeople for the BDS movement, clearly states that it aims not only at ending the occupation of the West Bank - but also at ensuring the right of return of all refugees to Israel proper. That doesn't sound like mutual recognition and a two state solution to me. It's not just that "some of its supporters support a one state solution"; denying the legitimacy of Jewish self determination is one of its founding principles.

Jerry Haber said...

Anonymous, "Some of its *main* supporters are one-staters". Are you happy?

By the way, having Israel recognize the right of return is entirely consistent with being a two-stater. So forget the right of return business. I already concede that there are one-staters in the movement. So what? Why can't two-staters and one-staters fight together to end the occupation? They agree on that.

Anonymous said...


Two-staters and one-staters can definitely work together to end the occupation, but the BDS movement's stated goals don't include just ending the occupation - it is also explicitly aimed at realizing the right of return.

If we're really talking about a joint effort to promote human rights (which is what the BDSers claim to be about), there needs to be a true, honest recognition of each people's legitimate right to political self determination. Denying the Jewish right to self determination is just as bad as denying Palestinian rights, and actually serves to prolong the occupation and conflict. Another problem with the BDS movement is that it is predicated on the unfounded assumption that the occupation is "all Israel's fault", and that the Palestinians are blameless victims. I deeply oppose the occupation, both for what it does to Palestinian rights and for what it does to Israel, but the Palestinians are just as much to blame for the prolongation of the conflict. What is needed to end the occupation and achieve peace and justice in Israel and Palestine is a true mutual recognition - and BDS is a step in the opposite direction.

Jerry Haber said...


1) Recognizing the right of return as embodied in UN Resolution 194 is perfectly compatible with recognizing the state of Israel as a fait accompli. Look at the following statement from the 2005 resolution of BDS

"These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

1. Ending its 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; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

You cannot explain the second goal according to your misinterpretation. If the goal of BDS is to destroy Israel, why would it call for civil equality for Palestinian Israelis?

Do you really think that any Palestinian will ever accept the "right of Jewish self-determination" as a state in Palestine." You sound like Bibi. It is not enough for you that Palestinians recognize Israel, they have to become Zionists?

Anyway, I will make a deal with you. You start your own BDS movement which is geared to ending the occupation and nothing more...and I will sign up for that. Are you fine with that?

There is no movement that I agree with 100%, just like there is no petition that I agree with 100%. Some times I have so many disagreements that I decide not to sign. But that does not mean that I can't work the framers of the petition on matters of common interest. It is called a coalition. You think that BDS is one-sided. Fine, don't join it. But don't demonize it either. And if you are truly progressive, you will see that of the two sides to the conflict, one has almost everything and the other has almost nothing. So why can't we work on common goals, or at the very least, agree not to demonize each other?

Y. Ben-David said...

Jerry-Whether you like it or not, to most Israelis the expression
"one state solution" has the same ring as the expression "the final solution" had 60+ years ago. I know you will indigninantly point out that "there are many fine one-staters who don't want to throw the Jews into the sea and view the single state as a prosperous, multicultural, democratic state with all religious and ethnic groups living in harmony...blah, blah, blah". Something like Iraq or Lebanon. Problem is that you can't sell that to more than a handful of Israeli Jews. Most Israelis hear official Palestinian and other Arab media pushing the line that "the Jews are decendents of monkeys and pigs" or "the Jews have been conspiring against Islam since the time of Muhammed (a Sayyid Qutb gem), or the moderate Abu Mazen's statement that "the creation of Israel is the greatest crime in the history of mankind". People that believe these things are not going to want to live in peace with Israeli Jews. So I am glad the BDS's have a lot of "one-stater" discredits them in the eyes of most people who support Israel.
I know you have stated that "I support anyone who opposes the occupation" but are you really that naive? You don't take into consideration what their ultimate goals are even if they are diametrically opposed to your own? Is "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" always the best policy?

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many Palestinians actually want to return to their homes that are located within the 1967 borders of the state of Israel?

Some may, but I'd think most would prefer to live in the state of Palestine once that state has been established... and the illegal settlements, the "Jewish only roads," the wall and the many checkpoints are gone.

The occupation is what is causing the wars. Certainly no one should imagine that a peace treaty will bring complete peace. There are bad feelings on both sides of the border. But when Palestinians have a state of their own, I think most Palestinians will prefer to live where they are wanted and accepted.

Jerry Haber said...

Y Ben D

You got me, brother.

Certainly there are some people who oppose the occupation whom I won't build coalitions with. Like neo-Nazi skinheads.

I was talking to the liberal Zionists. I am trying to convince them to read the BDS stuff and stop demonizing them. I still remember the day when it was taboo to talk with the PLO. Or when people said that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people. Or that the Israel didn't expel hundreds of thousands of Arabs during the 1948 war but that their leaders incited them to do so.

Reasonable people when they think will come to all sorts of conclusions. When they just repeat slogans, that's the problem.

Jerry Haber said...


I also wonder. I have an idea. Let's leave the choice up to them. And then let Israel examine the question whether a certain individual is a serious security risk before the return.

In fact, let's have a serious discussion about the social impact of returning Palestinians. HOw will they be absorbed? What will be their housing and employment opportunities?

WE have a ministry of absorption. Let them draw up plans. Let social scientists debate the social consequences. What about job-retraining, etc. How can we insure that the returning refugees don't become a new underclass, etc.

In other words, let's consider the question rationally

Grendal said...

"But successes recently have been impressive, both in their own right, and as a morale booster for the Palestinians."

What successes? BDS has really been a dismal failure.