Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To BDS or not to BDS? If You’re a Liberal Zionist, Try TBDS

I had the privilege of meeting Rebecca Vilkomerson, director of Jewish Voice for Peace, in Jerusalem a few months ago. At the time I was deeply pessimistic about the future. After months of reading Haaretz's print edition, of seeing a society I once fell in love with sink deeper and deeper into a moral morass, I was amazed to find her upbeat. "Every one here seems so pessimistic," she said. "Things are looking much better in America." What she meant was that that the direct action program that JVP and others have been engaging in was beginning to show results – the solid support for Israel's policies of hafrada and expropriation was not only crumbling, but fundamental questions about Zionism were being asked by the younger generation of those who care about their Judaism, and even about the millions of Jews living in Israel.

That feeling of upbeatness spilled over to the recently concluded J Street Conference. Actually, there were two J Street Conferences: the one for the old guard of liberal Zionists, those who actually are interested to hear what failed negotiators like Dennis Ross and Ron Pundak have to say; and the other for, well, "Beinart's army" – the Jews who would be perfectly happy to see Jewish self-determination fulfilled in an Israeli-Palestinian entity or entities that replace the Jewish ethnocracy founded hastily, and with so much injustice, in 1948. These Jews want to see the end of the regime of ethnic privilege, to quote Asaf Sharon, of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement. (For a sense of that upbeatness, you won't find a better report than Phil Weiss's here. If there were a National Jewish Award for optimism, it should rightly go to Phil and to Mondoweiss.)

The question of questions do we get there? There is no single answer and there is no single way. But we won't get anywhere without building coalitions. So once again, I am writing to my liberal Zionist friends to endorse the Global BDS Solidarity Movement.

I am not asking liberal Zionists to support boycott, divestment, and sanctions in all cases. Let them target the boycotts, sanctions, and divestment, depending upon what they think will work, and what they think is right. Targeted BDS, or TBDS, has already been adopted by many Jewish progressives, including two of the three speakers who opposed BDS at the J-Street Conference session on that topic. But many have been hesitant to call what they advocate "BDS" because they don't want to be tarred with the "deligitimization brush", or because they are liberal Zionists who are concerned about their coalition partners.

When Bernard Avishai finds nothing wrong in boycotting settler's products, why call that TBDS? Well, for better or for worse, the BDS label is now a worldwide trademark, and it is a rallying point for groups opposed to ethnic injustice against Palestinians. At J- Street, the question, "Do you support BDS?" popped up all over the place. And why? Because people want Israel to understand that there are consequences for their actions, that the world won't accept what they do in silence. The Global BDS movement is not merely against the Occupation, but also against ethnic discrimination against Palestinians within Israel, and against those who are barred from returning to their homes. Global BDS is at its core an anti ethnic-discrimination movement. And the common denominator for all the progressive movements on Israel should be just that – opposing ethnic discrimination.

Actually, I would prefer another trademark besides BDS, one that articulates a vision for a decent, if not just society for Palestinians and Israelis. Perhaps that trademark will emerge, perhaps BDS will lead to it. But in the meantime, supporters of TBDS or of BDS should work together, and not against each other, in trying to advance the vision via non-violent platforms like BDS.

Were a colleague to ask me whether he should accept an invitation to go to Israel to speak, I would say to him, "Go to Israel; deliver your speech; but please, go to Hebron, Bil'in, Taybeh, or Sheikh Jarrah. See with your own eyes; become a witness. Return and get active." Some one else may say to the same colleague, "Don't go to Israel; let them understand by your absence your disapproval of their policies." Let my colleague make her decision, but she should also know that both her colleagues are on the same side – and that our disagreement is tactical. (I happen to support the international artistic boycott of Israel proper; at least I do at the time of writing today.)

At the moment, BDS is largely symbolic – it doesn't really hurt Israel's economy to the detriment of Israeli citizens. (Would that other sanctions be so considerate of civilians) But it does say to the world, Israel is not a normal state; its actions are reprehensible, and there will be consequences.

Liberal Zionist Jews who care deeply about Israelis should ask themselves, What do I do when a beloved relative's addiction has caused him to become violent and abusive? Should I talk with him and try to mend his ways? Should I go to the authorities, thereby shaming him and risking our relationship? Or should I just try to forget about it, and hope for the best?

When somebody reports an abusive family member to the police, she is not delegitimizing him or demonizing him. She is protecting the lives of those around him, and of himself.

Its time for an intervention.


Unknown said...

At this point BDS is counter productive for implementing change within the American Jewish community. Sometimes the answer is not "If not now , when?" but rather " How pleasant is a word in it's (the appropriate) time"

Jerry Haber said...

Eric, point well taken. That may be why so many people who say they oppose BDS (like Avishai) actually endorse what I have called TBDS, targeted BDS, without using the label.

But as more mainstream people come out for TBDS, it will a) divide the American Jewish community (as it has done in the UK) and b) help build the global coalition I am talking about. And it will have a ripple effect on all but the tribalists.

At what point was it right to join the Civil Rights movement? Or the war against Vietnam? Those who said, "Go slow" lost out, thankfully.

But people have already started jumping on the BDS and TBDS bandwagon. The process has already begun, and BDS was in the air at J Street, especially among the youth. The young woman who led the fight against divestment at Berkeley, and who spoke against BDS at J Street, supports the artists' boycott of the territories.

The times, they are a changin.

Aron said...

I think this analogy of an abusive loved one needing an intervention is an apt one. I used it once years ago, when a friend reacted to my critical remarks by asking me why I 'hate Israel.'

Anonymous said...

oh please jerry,

despite your pal vilkomerson's allegation that "things are looking so much better in america"...bds is an epic failure and j street is on its last legs.

its been 10 years....israel's economy continues to prosper...and the movement cannot point to even one major success.

at every major american campus...bds has been voted down.

you guys cant even get hummus taken out of a cafeteria.

so...what is the point?

getting some 92 year old folk singer to agree that bds is a good thing?

oh thats right...israelis didnt get to hear the song stylings of elvis costello or the many settlements shut down because of that?

oh i know...maybe its so one of your buddies, max blumenthal, can say idiotic things like this, "You don't have to agree with me that a one state solution is the best solution," Blumenthal said. "You just have to agree that all discrimination is wrong."

man...that was deep

and as discrimination remains a fact in many places in the world...including the united states....when are you, max, rebecca and the rest of the nutters, gonna start a bds movement against the united states of america?

pabelmont said...

You write "At the moment, BDS is largely symbolic – it doesn't really hurt Israel's economy to the detriment of Israeli citizens." and then you write "Its time for an intervention."

In other words, BDS does not "bite" and if there is to be an intervention, it will have to be something else. Agreed.

That is why President Obama's VETO was so disappointing. USA will not take even baby steps (and that draft-resolution was a baby step if ever there was one) toward "intervention".

Unknown said...

@bacci40 Thanks for helping the BDS cause. The more sane well thought out responses like yours, the stronger the support for BDS gets. You should study the collective utterances of Sheen, Beck , and Qadaffi for lessons on how to build support for your ideas. Perhaps you can get yourself appointed to be in charge of hasbara for the State of Israel and thus help achieve your desire of her total isolation.

Reb Moti said...

Two issues:

Israel has consistently attempted to erase the Green Line by hiding the provenance of settler-generated products, making targeted economic action nearly impossible. The OJC (organized Jewish community), following Israel, refers to all economic action, no matter how targeted, as "boycotting Israel" and therefore "delegitimation," whatever that means.

Second, if someone makes a living through any of the institutions of the OJC (including most synagogues, Hillel, kal v'chomer Federations and JCRCs), they are sacrificing their livelihoods if they advocate for T or and other kind of BDS.

The vilification of people who hold even moderately liberal-Zionist positions is intense, as the comments of the earlier commenter indicated.

HHM said...

I'm grateful there are human rights-based alternatives to J Street such as the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network which already has bds and "tbds" campaigns in place and is currently co-sponsoring a tour of Holocaust survivor, Dr. Hajo Meyer.

Please check out their "points of unity" to better understand how Jewish groups can best support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.

Points of Unity

While we all come from diverse organizing and activist experiences, and have diverse relationships to our Jewish histories and identities, we share the following points of unity:

* Solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian self-determination, including full political, economic, cultural, social and land rights for all those living in the historic Palestine, and the right of return for its refugees;

* Rejection of the Israeli apartheid state, premised on Jewish supremacy and Zionist ideology, and support for all struggles for legal and economic equality against it;

* Support for the building of just societies in historic Palestine, the larger region, and the other places in which we live;

* A commitment to the values of democratic self-determination, social justice and solidarity, gender equality and cultural rights, and to assert the same values in our own organizing and political practice;

* Commitment to the call from Palestine for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel;

* Challenging the current use of Islamophobia as a strategy for defending and justifying an imperialist US-European agenda;

* Challenging white racism, including its manifestations as Ashkenazi racism against Mizrahi Jews;

* Challenging the privileging of Jewish voices in conversations and negotiations about Palestine;

* Rejection of the ways in which the Zionist movement and Western governments exploit the Nazi holocaust to justify the historic and current actions of the State of Israel; and

* Rejection of alliances with anti-Jewish racists, white supremacist and Nazi holocaust deniers in our Palestinian solidarity work.

Anonymous said...

oh look jerry...another great bds success

you know, i remember the boycott of south africa...very few of the artists who refused to play sun city were has beens

of course, all the main stream hot acts have been very busy...accepting million dollar gigs from ghadafi

btw jerry....did you consult of the brit mini series, the promise?

because they spent alot of time chatting with all your pals, and basically follow your narrative about the creation of the state and about modern day israel.

you can watch it online

Unknown said...

Anyone who, with a straight face, talks about 'ethnic Palestinians' is someone who cannot think critically, let alone is a 'philosopher'. It's someone who falls victims to any number of basic fallacies.
And anyone who supports a boycott of Israel but not (inter alia) of China, is an antisemite.

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