Tuesday, February 28, 2012

MJ Rosenberg on Targeted BDS

The indispensable MJ Rosenberg has written a nice piece railing against those politicians who are progressive except for Palestine.He then endorses what I have called “Targeted BDS,” i. e., boycott, divestment, and sanctions that focus on the Occupied Territories.

But he goes on to criticize those who wish to extend BDS to all of Israel with some of the strangest arguments that I have heard.

Here’s one: “Boycotting Israel, all Israel, only makes sense if one wants Israel itself to go away.” Substitute for “Israel” in that sentence “Iran” or ‘South Africa”  and you see how bizarre this claim is.  If a rock star cancels a concert in Tel Aviv because she wishes to send a message about Israel’s discriminatory policies against its Arab citizens or its legislation against human rights NGOs,  that means she wants to annihilate the state? If I boycott produce from Arizona because of its immigration laws, I want Arizona to be destroyed? Or produce from Israel because of its discrimination of Palestinians on both sides of the green line and the refugees outside  its ever shifting borders?

All strikes, boycotts, sanctions, etc., ultimately affect people who are not involved or responsible.  A boycott of settler products may affect settlers who are not responsible for Israel’s policy on settlements. The point of all these boycotts is to draw attention to the fact that Israel is a massive violator of human rights and to get them to correct that. That’s all.  (Norman Finkelstein disagrees, but he’s wrong on this one.)

There are many who endorse the Solidarity/Global BDS movement’s three calls – ending the occupation, equal citizenship for all Israeli Arabs, and a just resolution of the refugee problem -- but who do not boycott, divest, or sanction everything Israeli with any consistency.  I am not a fan of academic boycotts, although I may be changing my mind about targeted academic boycotts. I once heard Hilary Rose  press her case for a boycott of Israeli academics in front of Israeli and Palestinian academics.  The Israeli Boycott from Within movement supports Global BDS but that doesn’t mean they boycott their colleagues (or themselves). They do so out of a sense of solidarity with the worldwide movement. It is not only the settlers who are responsible for the settlements – the Israeli government and Israeli society shares responsibility.

Here’s another argument, which sounds like something I have heard before.

It is particularly maddening to see Americans join in those boycotts. Did they boycott themselves when we, the United States, illegally invaded Iraq and proceeded to destroy the country? How about when we overthrew Allende, supported fascist death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala, and backed blood-drenched juntas in Argentina and throughout Latin America?

MJ should explain why,  if it is wrong for Americans to boycott  Israel  because they didn’t boycott themselves when America acted abominably,  is it right  for them to boycott the settlers?  Who has the right to boycott the settlers? The Israelis who live in the Tel-Aviv bubble who benefit, directly and indirectly, from the Occupation, as do all Israelis?

As for that favorite question of apologists for human rights violations everywhere, “Why boycott here rather than in other places?” that question is conclusively  answered by Peter Beinart in his new book, The Crisis of Zionism, and I doubt that MJ will disagree with it.

MJ concedes that

To be honest, I would have supported a boycott against my own country in those days if it was targeted against the people responsible for those atrocities. I would have welcomed it as a way to make those responsible for these atrocities pay a price. But I would not have supported a boycott that targeted all Americans.

MJ doesn’t tell us whether he supported the global boycott of South African sportspeople or other artists during apartheid, those who were not directly responsible for apartheid. That’s the last time I heard a similar argument, and it has some merit. Perhaps he is unaware that the last iteration of the British academic boycott of Israel targeted only those institutions – within the Green Line -- that are most involved with the Israeli military or the occupation and exempted others. Anyway, I haven’t seen anywhere that the BDS movement targets all Israelis for the sake of targeting Israelis. As I said, the goals of the movement are very clear. 

I  agree that  innocent people shouldn’t suffer greatly for the sins of their government, even the ones they democratically elected, and whose policies they support. Those who think otherwise accept  the Bin Laden justification for  9/11.  But how much suffering has the BDS movement afflicted on Israel? With all due respect, a cancellation of a Tel-Aviv concert, or a boycott of Sabra Humus,  doesn’t hurt the Israelis at all, except, perhaps, emotionally. Such boycotts send a clear message, get front page coverage in all the press, and are used by Israelis as proof that Israel is an international pariah. We are not talking about crippling sanctions here.

Let’s face it: whatever steam the BDS movement has is because of the  Occupation. Nobody has cancelled a concert because the Palestinian refugee problem is unresolved, or because Israeli Arabs suffer discrimination. Maybe they should, but they haven’t. The three calls of the Global BDS movement should remind liberal Zionists (among others) that while the Occupation is the most egregious injustice perpetrated by Israel, it is not the only thing rotten in the state of Israel.

Endorsing targeted BDS and disagreeing with global BDS is fine for liberal Zionists. I am glad that MJ is on that bandwagon.  But dissing the global BDS movement, with its three eminently reasonable calls is not. Or rather, it is consistent with the tribal attitude of many liberal Zionists I know who are quick to throw stones against the settlers from their glass houses in Tel Aviv – or their stone Arab houses in South Jerusalem.

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