Sunday, December 7, 2014

How Open Should Hillel Be?

Several years ago, when Richard Joel was the president of Hillel International, the goal of Hillel was formulated as  “maximizing the number of Jews doing things Jewish with other Jews.”  It was the notion of “doing things Jewish” that I liked, because that could be interpreted in many ways, religiously, socially, politically, recreationally, etc.  Of course, playing basketball is not just a Jewish activity, and maybe it’s not a Jewish activity at all. (Tell that to Jewish day schools…) And indeed there are many places for Jewish students to do things on campus that are not Jewish, or not with other Jews.  I teach Jewish Studies, and I don’t “do Jewish” in my classroom, and I may penalize students if they “do Jewish” on their assignments. “That’s for Hillel,” I tell them. I’m not in the Jewish identity business; HIllel is.

“Doing things Jewish with Jews” casts a wide net.  It can include Zionist and anti-Zionist groups  provided that they frame their respective activities within the discourse of “doing Jewish”.  I know many Jews that are deeply offended as Jews by the way Zionism has been implemented in the State of Israel, and needless to say, there have been many historically anti-Zionist Jewish groups. They should be welcome at HIllel not merely as individuals, but as spokespeople for ideologies that criticize and offer alternatives to Zionism and to the State of Israel.  By the same token, ultra-Zionist groups, like the Zionist Freedom Alliance, should also be welcome. I believe that there  should be limits; it is hard to see how a group that preached racial or religious hatred should be welcome, even if legally some of the claims may be protected speech. On the other hand, views offensive to some students should be allowed, provided that there is a willingness to be part of a community, and a common agreement to disagree.  You don’t have to go a presentation by the Zionist Freedom Alliance or Jewish Voice for Peace if you don’t want to. When Meir Kahane came to my college campus, many did not go to hear him; I did.

It is sad, though not surprising, that some want to open Hillel just enough to let their own excluded group in.  “Just let J Street U in,” they say to the gatekeepers, “We are part of the family; it’s those Jews who partner with the Students for Justice in Palestine --  the BDS crowd that should be excluded.”  A recent post by a disappointed Open Hillel-er, herself from J Street U, decries the intolerance of those on the left who ridiculed her desire to invite Elie Wiesel to the Open Hillel, and who only invited rightwing groups for strategic purposes, i.e., to show how open they are.  Open Hillel is presented as a ruse to provide legitimacy for views that she considers illegitimate. But this is confusing the ideology of some members of Open Hillel with what Open Hillel wants the ideology of Hillel to be. Open Hillel is overwhelmingly a left wing enterprise, ranging from liberal Zionist to non-Zionist and anti-Zionist. I never heard that it pretends to be representative of all voices, certainly not the voices of Closed Hillel.  Rather, it wants HIllel to give the excluded groups  a place at the table with the included groups.

How does one explain that the same author who called on Hillel to open its doors to BDS and anti-Zionist groups a few weeks ago now wishes to exclude them? I suppose she doesn’t like the fact that some of these groups find more in common with  Students for Justice in Palestine then with J Street U.  SJP is not about dialogue with liberal Zionists; it is about joint struggle with anybody who will support Palestinian rights. In some places it will not “dialogue” with liberal Zionist groups like J Street U or partner with them to bring liberal Zionist critics of the government to campus.

Hillel has no obligation to host an event sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, even if its president is Jewish. That’s because SJP’s mission is not a Jewish one, though obviously many of its aims can coincide with the aims of Jewish students doing things Jewish.  Dialogue between Jews is a value, but it’s not the only way to do things Jewish.  Once the motive is a Jewish one – and human rights or moral protest can be framed as a Jewish value --  then the organization acting on that motive has a place at HIllel.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Academic Freedom in the Service of Liberal Zionism

Most academics share a loyalty to the cherished ideals of their profession, including the ideals of  academic freedom and opposition to academic boycotts. Such a loyalty need not be absolute; reasonable people can disagree whether boycotting academic institutions is ever justifiable, and some academic organizations will allow their members to make an individual decision on this point. But even if not an absolute value, opposition to academic boycotts is, or should be, the default value for academics. Or so I believe.

So when I heard that there was a group of American university professors that oppose  academic boycotts of Israel,  and that serves as the Academic Advisory Council to an organization called  “The Third Narrative”,  which calls itself  “pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian,” I was curious. I wondered whether its position on academic boycotts would be based on an adherence to the ideal of academic freedom.  Such a group would attract not only ideologically liberal Zionists,  but scholars of Middle Eastern studies, Arab and Israeli academics in this country, and others for whom academic freedom is sacrosanct. In principle, it could attract non-Jewish conservative and progressive supporters of Palestinian liberation. Such an organization could be a serious voice in the debate on campus over academic boycotts and the silencing or chilling of speech. And it could find at least some willing ears. The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is not exactly overly populated with liberal Zionists, and yet it has not backed an academic boycott of Israel. Noam Chomsky is not a liberal Zionist, and yet he opposes the academic boycott of Israel and he thinks a two-state solution is the only realistic alternative to the status quo, much to the chagrin of many supporters of Palestinian rights. You don’t have to be pro-Israel to be an opponent of academic boycotts. There is room for a bipartisan, or nonpartisan, organization.

So I was saddened, but not surprised, to find that very few of the Academic Advisory Council  come from Middle East studies, or from progressive supporters of academic freedom tout court. The board opposes  academic boycott of Israel because it feels, somewhat oddly, that boycotting Israeli academic institutions is  counterproductive to its particular liberal Zionist vision of a two-state solution, and because it feels that academic boycotts unjustly single out Israel.  Or to put it crudely: as bad as Israel’s policies may be, those policies aren’t so bad as to warrant an academic boycott.  The fact that the boycott could actually help convince Israel that there is a price for the occupation is irrelevant to these liberal Zionists. 

Of course, there is nothing wrong with this.  The “Third Narrative,” it turns out, is sponsored by Ameinu, which is a liberal Zionist organization, and Tony Lerman notwithstanding, liberal Zionism is far from dead (although, judging from the average age of the members of the Advisory Counicl, it seems to be getting pretty old.)  I know a lot of people on the Advisory Council, and some are friends. But make no mistake -- the “Third Narrative” is positioned  between the Jewish Zionist narrative on the right, and the Jewish anti- or non-Zionist narrative on the left,  It is a Third Narrative within the tribe,  and its proponents take part in a  debate among family on behalf, primarily, of the family,  just as they have done for the last sixty years.

The only game in town that brings together progressive Jewish voices in coalition with progressive Palestinian voices is Jewish Voice of Peace, whose mission statement speaks of “security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians.” Like MESA, which is an academic and not an advocacy organization, it doesn’t take a position as an organization on academic boycott, although, unlike MESA,  it does express solidarity with the global BDS movement.  This organization includes Jews, Christians, Muslims, and None of the Above; it supports a just solution for Palestinians and Israelis, but it recognizes the fundamental disparity of effective agency between the two groups.

To my colleagues in academia who care about a just solution that provides equal measures of self-determinism and security to Palestinians and Israelis, but do not wish to jump on the BDS bandwagon,  may I suggest that they sit this one out and watch to see whether  the Academic Advisory Board of the Third Narrative will be yet another group in the already crowded field of Israel advocacy on campus, a well-intentioned liberal counterpart of the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.  It will be as powerless to advance its liberal Zionist agenda as organizations like J-Street or Meretz USA or Ameinu, whose handwringing has brought 0 results.  At best, it may provide some protection for pro-BDS academics who are harassed by the non-academic Israel advocacy organizations, though I doubt it will be necessary in this regard.

And the Academic Advisory Council seems committed, because of its stance, to oppose an academic boycott of Ariel University, or any of its scholars, despite the fact that the university is built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. Theodore Bikel has expressed sympathy for an artistic boycott of Ariel, and some of the members of the Academic Advisory board agree. Apparently, artistic freedom is not as precious in their eyes as academic freedom.

Speaking of freedom, the freedom not to join organizations or to sign petitions is also rightly prized by academics. Again, I hope my friends who are on this group will watch very carefully how much energy it devotes to defeating Palestinians initiatives on campus that – at best – give Israel a very symbolic slap on the wrist.  When the academic boycott movement in England started up in the early 2000s, many Jewish progressives academics vocally opposed it. Many still do, but their voices are muted.  I expect that this will happen in due course with those who have joined the Academic Advisory Board of the Third Narrative – the ones who are true liberals.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

On Offensive Speech and Ethnic Sensitivities -- Part Two

When I was growing up in the late fifties and  early sixties, my best friend’s mother was an outspoken Jewish liberal who embraced every progressive cause. She would drag my friend and me to civil rights protests and talk about the issues of the day with great liberal passion.

Once I told her that my older brother was  considering buying a Volkswagen, and she replied,  “I simply cannot buy anything from Germany, certainly not a Volkswagen.”  I pointed out to her that Volkswagen cars were sold in Israel, that Germany had paid reparations to Israel, and that many Germans had volunteered to work in Israeli kibbutzim. But she wouldn’t budge; she could not bring herself to buy anything German, even though this was twenty years after World War II, and it was a different generation.

Her position bothered me at the time, since I had been taught that we shouldn’t blame the children for the sins of the parents. Her personal boycott of Germany and Germany goods didn’t jibe with her liberalism. I never talked to her about it; had I done so, she probably would have  conceded that she was acting from her gut.  But she was my best friend’s mother, a close family friend whom I loved dearly, and so I just kept quiet. Even today I will excuse a holocaust survivor who feels that way.  Still, not buying from the Germans today simply because they are German strikes me as bigoted, and while I may excuse somebody who acts in a bigoted manner because of some extenuating circumstance, I have to understand that it is the only extenuating circumstance, and perhaps the principle of charity, that excuse that person. The bigotry itself is worthy of moral condemnation, though in the greater scheme of things there are worse sins than not buying products from a certain country because of a historical grievance.

Which brings me back to Prof. Salaita’s tweets. Though I was offended by them less than others, I did find some of them coarse, unenhanced, and demeaning for a university professor. I particularly didn’t like the one that wished that all the settlers would disappear like the three kidnapped Israelis had disappeared.  Don’t misunderstand me. I consider the settlement movement a moral abomination;   through the systematic theft of land it not only destroys the lives of particular people, it destroys the life and aspirations of a people. The settlement movement is not merely an “obstacle to peace”; it is a crime against humanity  and to the extent that I am an Israeli citizen, and pay taxes, I am complicit in that crime.

But at the same time, settlers are human beings and cannot be just wished dead. So like Prof. Klug who will not march in the company of somebody carrying a sign equating a Jewish Star with Nazism, so too I will not retweet those tweets that I find offensive, not just to Jews, but to any decent being.

That said -- and said loudly – let us not forget that in the greater scheme of things the crudeness of a few tweets pales behind the enormity of the crime of Israel against the Palestinian people, a crime that ebbs and flows from the banal evil of the day-to-day occupation to the demonic evil of its periodic outbursts where Israel feels it has  to “establish deterrence” by collectively pushing the Palestinian  people into the mud.  (I am sure that I have just offended many of my coreligionists. I have tenure, but I do not plan to tweet that remark, and I ask you you not to retweet it.)

And when a member of the group who has suffered, and continues to suffer, says something that is offensive to the group responsible for that suffering (or who supports the group responsible for that suffering), then by all means call out that person for his offensive remarks – but cut him some slack and get over it. 

The only reason I have spent this much time on the subject is that every month there is a Finkelstein or Blumenthal or Abunimah or Salaita who says something that may strike some Jews as offensive. Instead of rushing to condemn these people, who speak for the victim, perhaps intemperately at times, it would be better to invite them to explain their harsh words.

That was what the President of the University of Illinois should have done at the outset with Prof. Salaita.   Had he been a tenured member of the faculty he would not have been treated in this dismissive manner.  At my university, when professors say something that is considered out of line,  they are given a hearing in the appropriate forum.

That’s what she should still do now. And until she does, the university will suffer the consequences for her insensitivity. 

As for my liberal Zionist friends who have been pummeling Prof. Salaita; may I suggest that they all take a deep breath and keep things in proportion. Reject the tweet, if you like, but try to cut some slack to the tweeter. And invite him to explain his position.

On Offensive Speech and Ethnic Sensitivities -- Part One

“Even if one grants that the University of Illinois acted wrongly in the case of Stephen Salaita, the tweets themselves should be considered deeply offensive, and,  while not overtly anti-Semitic, they conjure up themes and motifs that smack of anti-Semitism. This may not be grounds for dismissal, but it is certainly grounds for condemning the tweets on their own.”

The above is a composite of several reactions to the post below  that I would like to examine. But before I do, consider the following  case, taken from Brian Klug’s essay, Offence: the Jewish Case

At a pro-Palestinian rally  in England, following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, there was a placard that represented an Israeli flag, only instead of the Star of David there was a swastika (or a Star of David and a swastika with an “equals” sign between them).  Now to a Jew this is deeply offensive, for when a Jew sees the Star of David, he associates it with Jews in general or with Judaism – after all, the Nazis required Jews to wear the yellow star well before there was an Israeli flag.  The placard is taken by many Jews to  imply that the victims are to be identified with the perpetrators, and worse, that Judaism is Nazism.  Even a  placard that explicitly stated that  Israel Defense Forces were acting like German soldiers, as offensive as that might be to many Jews, would be less offensive than one in which the Star of David is identified with, or is replaced by, the swastika. What could be more anti-Semitic than that?

Klug points out that this reaction is understandable given Jewish sensitivities and memories, but it is also possible, and maybe actually the case, that the placard writer didn’t mean any of that, that she just wanted to protest vehemently against  Israeli military actions against innocent civilians, and she used the swastika, a universal symbol of evil often used in other, non-Jewish contexts, such as anti-war protests in the United States.  His point, I think,  is two-fold: that Jews, like other groups, have understandable, and in some cases commendable, sensitivities,  but that in assessing whether something is anti-Semitic or not, the intentions of the author should be taken into account. Even something as prima facie anti-Semitic as defacing a synagogue, though criminal and condemnable, is not necessarily an anti-Semitic ac; it depends in large measure on the intentions of the perpetrator. 

Klug writes of the offending banner:

I was not on marches where placards with this image were displayed…Some of the protesters who stepped out under the aegis of this image are, I am sure, decent human beings whose views about Israel’s actions in Gaza are not very different from my own. I might even agree completely with what they say. But if they asked me to join them under their banner I would have to reply, adapting a phrase that wasn’t Voltaire’s, I approve of what you say, but I wouldn’t be seen dead in your company.

Klug was referring to the marchers. To the placard writer, I would say, “I approve of your condemnation of the massacre of innocents, but, as a Jew, and, frankly, as a decent human being, your rhetoric, no matter what your intent, renders it impossible for me to link arms with you in this procession.”

That’s not the end of the story; two further points should be made. First, offence is subjective, from which follows that not every offence carries the same weight, and indeed some offence may be morally praiseworthy, e.g., offending an Israeli military that has committed war crimes. Second, even when being offended is understandable and even  justifiable,  “getting over it” might be the right thing to do, especially when the one giving offence has historically suffered at the hands of the offender's group, or the group the offended supports.  Much depends on context, not just the context of the offence, but of the offender and the offended.

But more of this in Part Two.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Some Short Takes on the Salaita Affair

Since Corey Robin has done such a fine job of reporting and commenting on the Steven Salaita affair (Prof. Salaita’s job offer was revoked by the President of University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign after some pro-Israeli donors had complained about some of his tweets that offended them), I have only a few things to add.

1) First, I have yet to see a single person defend the President’s decision who is not pro-Israel.  One would expect that advocates of civility codes would be the first who feel that universities have a right to monitor the social media of professors to see if anything they say or write is deemed offensive to a particular group of students.  Mind you, I am not talking about what they say in the classroom, although I tend to be fairly conservative here in my commitment to freedom of expression.  I am talking about what they say and write outside the classroom.

2) Prof. Steven Plaut at Haifa University denies that there are Palestinians (he places the term in “quotes”) but considers them all to be terrorists!  Does that offend some Palestinian students? I suppose it does. But the offensive claptrap that Plaut writes  is his own damn business – unless it presents an imminent danger to individuals or groups. I realize that this is my American meshugas, that there are hate speech laws in European countries (and in Israel).  But what can you do, I’m an American and believe in those values. That is why I opposed banning Meir Kahane’s Kach party many years ago, and I still oppose banning it today. That is why I opposed banning the vile book Torat ha-Melekh or Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

3) I have no way of assessing Salaita’s quality as a scholar, but two universities have offered him tenured positions based on his teaching, service, and scholarship. So even his critics have to admit that he is admired and respected within his profession (or at least I haven’t heard anything to the contrary). 

4.  Finally, I would like to address the content of what one writer considers Salaita’s “most hateful tweets”, and, as an intellectual exercise, pose the following question to his detractors.

Had Salaita tweeted or blogged the following:

a. By conflating Jewishness and Israel, Israel is partly responsible when their disproportionate attacks on civilians are followed by regrettable anti-Semitic incidents in Europe.

b. If criticizing Israeli treatment of and attitudes towards  Palestinians is anti-Semitic, then insofar as that criticism is justified, and indeed, commendable, so is anti-Semitism.  But of course, criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not anti-Semitic; it is “anti-Semitism” only in the eyes of the Zionists, who conflate Judaism and Zionism.

c. The IDF spokesperson appears to justify violence committed against the Palestinian people, using techniques that are reminiscent of apologists for ethnic cleansing.

would his detractors still have argued that he is unfit to teach at the University of Illinois? No doubt many would. But I agree with much of those sentiments. So why do they go after Salaita and not go after me?

Either because Salaita’s language is more blunt and vulgar than mine, or because he is a Palestinian American, rather than an American Israeli. I have the creds that he lacks, and so I am protected in ways that he isn’t. 

I have the feeling that the latter explanation is more accurate. Being part of a powerful minority, with Jewish and Israeli creds,  has its advantages.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

On Demonizing the Enemy

Do you think that Hamas celebrates death, intends to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible, deliberately fires rockets from populated areas in order to increase Palestinian casualties and to embarrass  Israel on the world stage, and forces Gazan civilians to act as human shields?  Do you think that if they could, they would wipe out every Israeli man, woman, and child, and that it is only Iron Dome and the primitiveness of their rockets that prevents this outcome?  Do you think they built tunnels for this purpose? 

If you do, I don’t know why. You don’t have any credible evidence to warrant these claims.  And yes, I have read the Hamas Charter, and yes, the movement is anti-Semitic.

Here’s two more questions: Are you a liberal who feels bad about the suffering of the Gazans, but who makes a sharp distinction between them and Hamas? Does it make a difference to you that while some Gazans express reservations about Hamas’ fundamentalist ideology, many, perhaps most of them, support Hamas’s resistance against Israel – and I assume  that is also true of most West Bank Palestinians?

Like most insurgent movements with a military wing, Hamas is hardly a paragon of virtue in wartime. There is  considerable evidence that Hamas recklessly endangers the lives of Palestinian citizens by firing indiscriminately rockets and missiles. This constitutes a war crime.  I really can’t see that they actually endanger the lives of Israelis – they certainly frighten them --  but firing rockets into Israel the way they do should be considered a war crime. An occupied people under a brutal siege has a right to armed resistance.  If it were the Jews and not the Palestinians, you would agree.  It may not be prudent for them to exercise that right, but they have it.

People ask, “What is Israel supposed to do when rockets are fired at them?” To them I ask, “How are the Palestinians supposed to fight justly when they can’t get close enough to well-protected IDF  forces to shoot at them?” These are hard questions but whatever their answers, both sides must take maximum reasonable precautions to spare civilians. Once again, both sides didn’t, and both sides committed war crimes, though not of the same magnitude.  I have not yet been entirely convinced that Hamas fought a just war  – although political theorist Anthony Burke makes a persuasive argument for the justice of Hamas’s waging war under international humanitarian law and the laws of war. Their demands for a truce are reasonable, and in most cases, Israel has agreed to these demands in the past.

Now here’s a question for me: if I think that the Palestinians have the right to resort to armed resistance as a last resort, why do I detest Hamas? That’s easy. They are a  religious fundamentalist political party that opposes all my liberal values. I detest all religious fundamentalist political parties. I shudder to think how the Jewish Home party, or better, the Shas party, would fight a war were they to be in control of the Israeli government, and Israel  was under Palestinian occupation for generations, and a decade long-siege. Needless to say I detest Hamas’s  anti-Semitism, just like I detest the anti-Palestinianism and anti-Arabism of the Jewish fundamentalist right.

But just because I detest a political party, that doesn’t mean I have the right to interfere with a democratically-elected government, provided that government is not interfering with my country.  And when they do interfere with my country, I only resort to war as a last resort, after all other resorts fail. In this case, of course, the Palestinians are not a separate independent country, but a people under occupation and siege. 

What I have written makes me a defender of liberal values, not Hamas.  In wartime, those values often get chucked overboard by liberals, especially if they feel a need to rally around the flag.  Demonizing the enemy is as old as warfare.  We shouldn’t do it. Especially when that enemy has been under a brutal occupation for decades.

Monday, August 4, 2014

We Are Romans, Mourning for the Destruction of the Temple

We are Romans, mourning for the destruction of the Temple.

We are Romans, born of a great civilization with a noble destiny.

We rain havoc on Jerusalem and its people.

And blame the Zealots for the deaths and displacement .

“Terrorists.” “Suicide-bombers.” “Haters of all things civilized”

“We wish no harm to the people.”

“We willingly grant them autonomy.”

“The destruction of Jerusalem is the work of the Zealots.”

But the hurban is the work of our hands.

Our hands have shed this blood.

We are Romans, mourning for the destruction of the Temple.


Tisha B’Av, 5774

Friday, August 1, 2014

Zionism 2014: Power Without Agency

Classical Zionism argued that the loss of political sovereignty involved the loss of Jewish political power, and hence the loss of Jewish political agency.  Jewish existence was considered to be ahistorical in the diaspora, and Jews were shuttled from land to land “as a driven leaf.” Classical Zionism called for a “return of the Jewish people into history,” to use Emil Fackenheim’s phrase, and the return of power to Judaism. Jews would be for the first time in two thousand years the masters of their fate, not dependent upon the nations of the world. Jews would have real power, and hence, agency.

So it never ceases to surprise me that supporters of the Jewish state today,  at the zenith of its power and influence, a power the founders of Zionism could never have imagined, actually deny Israel agency in its dealings with non-Jewish groups, especially the Palestinians. These supporters  deny Israel agency in order to avoid  moral accountability for its actions.

For example, it is well known that anti-Semitic activity correlates with  hostile activities directed towards Palestinians. This has been shown in study after study. During the first two years of the Oslo Accords, anti-Semitic activity was at a record low.  Yet when one holds Israeli actions in part responsible for ebb and flow of anti-Semitism (I emphasize, “in part”), many people say that no matter what Israel does, there will still be anti-Semitism; and that Israeli actions merely provide a convenient “excuse” or  “pretext” for  anti-Semitic activity.  Israel has power, but it lacks agency; hence it is not at all responsible.

As of this writing, Israel has wreaked havoc on an entire population, killing over 1400 people, and wiping out whole neighborhoods.  Yet supporters of Israel deny any responsibility on the grounds that Israel is merely reacting to Hamas’s provocation. In other words, Hamas forces Israel, against its will, to kill hundreds of civilians. One would think that Hamas is quite literally holding a gun to Israel’s back, saying, “We will kill you if you don’t kill our people.”  Israelis will say, “What can we do? Our people are under attacks from rockets, We are forced to defend ourselves.”

Power without agency. No agency, no moral accountability.

The most recent attempt to absolve Israel of most of its moral accountability for war crimes is the philosopher and liberal Zionist, Michael Walzer, writing in The New Republic. Walzer has a novel argument; it is not so much only that Israel is forced by Hamas to commit war crimes, but rather it finds itself in the position of power in an asymmetric war, and this is almost a recipe for atrocities against civilians. Israel, or any strong power, can’t help but committing atrocities.

In asymmetric warfare, low-tech forces—call them terrorists, militants, or the more neutral "insurgents," which I will use—aim at the most vulnerable targets, civilians, and they launch their attacks from the midst of the civilian population. The high-tech forces respond, in defense of their own or of allied civilians, and end up killing large numbers of enemy civilians.

Walzer believes that in such circumstances, for the asymmetric war to be waged justly, the powerful party has to assume a certain amount of risk for its soldiers in order to spare the lives of civilians.  He assumes that on the whole, Israel does this, despite bringing no evidence for that view (besides the curious fact that Israel is a “democracy”). He also assumes that Hamas deliberately launches rocket attacks from populated areas in order to inflate the number of civilian casualties from reprisals, despite bringing no evidence for that view either.  Walzer has written about how powerful parties can wage an asymmetric war justly; he has written less, to my knowledge, about the weaker parties. He ends his article as follows:

I would strongly advise anyone contemplating the loss of life in Gaza to think carefully about who is responsible, or primarily responsible, for putting civilians at risk. The high-tech army, for all its claims to precision, is often callous and clumsy. But it is the insurgents who decide that the death of civilians will advance their cause. We should do what we can to ensure that it doesn't.   

Once again, power without agency. So much for moral accountability.

So much for the Jewish return into history.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Will American Rabbis Go Beyond “Feeling Sympathy” for the Gazans?

As the extent of the brutal and inhuman bombing of Gaza becomes known, it is hard for Jews who consider themselves relatively decent not to speak out.  Some American rabbis are beginning to express sympathy with the innocent victims of the IDF onslaught and to imply, ever so gingerly, that Israel should reconsider what it is doing, from a “Jewish” standpoint.

These expressions of sympathy are inevitably accompanied by expressions of support of Israel, unquestioned faith in the purity of its motives, blind acceptance of the morality of the Israel Defense Forces and the truth of the IDF spokespeople, as well as ritual  condemnation of Hamas.  Even as  we slaughter Gazans and bomb refugee camps into the stone age in ways that the Palestinians never did, and never could do, it is important for our own self-image to imply that we are, deep down,  more moral than they are.  After all, we deliberately and openly arrest Palestinian civilians in reprisals for the murder of our civilians,  whereas the terrorists kidnap soldiers.  We kill civilians and express (occasionally) regret; but when  they fight and kill our soldiers, they aren’t legal combatants of an occupied population under attack but terrorists. We invade; they infiltrate.

I gave up on orthodox rabbis years ago.Their morality is entirely tribal, with the added moral smugness about how we Jews are different from them.  The dean of American modern orthodoxy, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, was simply incapable of understanding why Arabs would oppose Zionism,  and he actually raised the halakhic question of whether those who oppose the Jewish state (“the mobs of Nassar and the Mufti”) should have the law of Amalek applied to them, i.e., to wipe out their men, women, and children. And he was considered one of the more liberal of the modern orthodox rabbis!   One can pity and excuse the Rav for these sentiments – I really like to believe that in cooler moments he would have rejected his own inference -- but no decent human being cannot be revulsed by them.  In Israel, the religious Zionist rabbis range from the enlightened colonialists to the Judaeo-fascists. Moral chauvinism is almost part of the “DNA” of modern orthodoxy; expecting orthodox rabbis to rise above it would be like expecting the Pope to endorse abortion.

So when I read a piece by a well-intended conservative rabbi who believes “that our hearts should grieve, that we should not be able to sleep at night, for the hundreds of Gazan non-combatants who died horrible deaths this week, yesterday, today, and are dying right this minute,” I asked myself: Should I be happy, or at least relieved, that finally, American rabbis have broken their silence? After all, unlike Rabbi David Seth-Kirshner, this rabbi doesn’t adopt the terrorist reasoning behind the Hamas suicide bombers and Osama Bin Laden that makes  civilians into combatants if they elect a government hostile to one’s interests.

No, I should not. For if is the best our rabbinate can do, I can only grieve for American Jewry,  whose hearts have become so hardened that only when there is mass slaughter of innocents and wanton destruction is their sleep disturbed. Where was the rabbi when the people of Gaza were put under a long and callous siege, the calories of their food counted, their movements restricted, solely because they had democratically elected representatives that were not to Israel’s liking? Where was the rabbi when the Israeli government rounded up released Hamas prisoners and government officials on the West Bank who had nothing to do with the murder of the three Jewish students? Where was the rabbi when the ongoing occupation led to the deaths of many Palestinians, at a time when Hamas was “relatively quiet”? My God, the rabbi throws in suicide bombing into the mix? How many thousands of Palestinians civilians have been killed by Israelis, since the last suicide bomb went off, well before Hamas became the recognized government in Gaza? 

It seems to me that the good rabbi, like many other good American Jews sleep peacefully through the moral nightmare of Palestinian existence – in refugee camps, the diaspora, under occupation, and even within Israel. It takes the noise of 120 one-tonne bombs to disturb their sleep. 

How have we Jews gotten to a situation where we can “sleep” so soundly? How have we excused ourselves by saying that Israel is existentially threatened, when, on the contrary,  the only existential threat is Israel for the Palestinian people?

I have yet to read a piece written by a rabbi of any denomination that achieves the moral clarity of Haaretz’s Gideon Levy , Amira Hass, former  M.K. Avraham Burg, and others. These are the Jews  that keep me Jewish during this long, long night of hardened hearts --  along with the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace, God bless them, and the many Jews and non-Jews fighting for justice and human rights.

In the honor/shame culture that is contemporary Judaism, expressing sympathy for the most egregious victims of our post-Holocaust neuroses, ultra-nationalism, moral chauvinism, and lethal weapons, is apparently the best our rabbinical leadership can come up with.

How moral we Jews are for unanimously condemning the pouring of kerosene down the throat of an innocent Arab youth and burning him alive!

And that is one of the most depressing lessons of these terrible times

Thursday, July 24, 2014

When Palestinians Live Up to Israel’s Moral Example

I was sent today a blog post by a self-described “progressive” rabbi entitled, “I’m Done Apologizing for Israel.” After repeating the standard hasbara talking points  the rabbi concludes, “We must do what we can to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else.”

The rabbi and I are in fundamental agreement about this conclusion. Israelis have the right to protect their own people and are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. But that “anyone else” includes the Palestinian people, and, as a progressive, he surely doesn’t hold that Israelis are more deserving of life and quiet than they are. So the rabbi must hold that the Palestinians have the same right to protect their people, and the same right to self-defense that Israel does. Like Israel, they have the right to wage war, not with primitive rockets, but with tanks, missiles, and fighter jets. The Palestinians have the right to do whatever it takes to provide themselves with the security and pride that the IDF provides Israelis. Furthermore, the Palestinians, like the Israelis, have the right to determine their own destinies and not depend on others to treat their wounded, or to provide them with building materials, or to ration different products, or to restrict their movement in the name of the other’s security. The Palestinians do not have the right to restrict the importation of materials into Israel, to control where Israelis can fish, to blockade Israeli ports, to restrict Israeli movement – unless, like the Israelis, they consider it vital for their security.

Perhaps the rabbi may reply at this point, “Hang on -- in principle, I grant that Palestinians have these rights, but first they have to prove to Israel and to the world that they can run their state in a civilized manner.” In other words, unlike those Israelis who chant “Death to the Arabs,” who pull up chairs and cheer when the IDF drops bombs on Gaza killing overwhelmingly civilians, who call for revenge and bombing Gaza into the stone age, and who justify holding millions of people indefinitely in an open-air prison, in the name of security, in short, who control not only their own lives and destinies, but the lives and destinies of millions of other in a horrendous occupation – the Palestinians must be held to the same moral standard that Israel was held to before it could have a recognized state, an advanced military, and self-determination.

Fair enough. So here is my proposal for the progressive rabbi. Let Israel unilaterally withdraw from all occupied territories and place them for ten years under a UN trusteeship. At the end of those ten years, during which the Palestinians equip themselves with a powerful army, the Palestinians will unilaterally declare a state, and will continue forcefully expelling from its lands those Israeli settlers, whether peaceful or not, who are a perceived threat to its territorial contiguity.  If Israel wishes, it can attack the Palestinian state, but that state will be justified to retaliate, and  if successful, it will be justified, in the name of its security, to seize additional territory, turn millions of Israelis into refugees, bar their return, expropriate their land, place some of them under occupation, and the rest under military rule. Then, when the Israelis under Palestinian occupation elect a political leadership that has a military wing,  the Palestinians can arrest the politicians and place the Israelis under a siege.

Only when Palestinians achieve this moral bar – and it is not an easy bar to attain -- will the Israelis and their supporters be expected to recognize the State of Palestine.

In fact, their recognition of the Palestinians state will be considered a precondition for the recognition of their own state, a demilitarized state that will be established on a fraction of the historical Land of Israel.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Does the Hamas Response to Israel’s Abrogation of the Cease Fire Violate Just War Principles?

The beginning of the current round of hostilities should be dated from Israeli actions in a Gaza tunnel that resulted in the deaths of six Hamas militants. Although Israel denied responsibility, it admitted that it had carried out operations in the area that plausibly led to the incident. This was Monday night, and Hamas retaliated with rockets. A time line can be found here; thus started the current round of hostilities.

If we assume that Israel had a hand, directly or indirectly, in the deaths of the Hamas militants, that would be a serious breach of the cease fire, and, assuming that no other effective recourse was open to it, it would be permissible for Hamas to retaliate militarily, at least according to just-war theory.  It would be hard to argue that just war theory can only apply to state actors, and that Hamas, a “terrorist organization”, is not a state actor – because Israel considers Hamas to be the governing body of Gaza, and hence accords to it some of the responsibilities of a state actor. (This would be different, for example, were Hamas to be operating in the West Bank in areas under Israel’s direct control.)

The only principle I can think of that would counter this is that the Palestinians do not have a right to self-defense. I can’t think of any convincing argument for this.

So having established that the Palestinians in Gaza have a right to self-defense, and hence, to retaliate (jus ad bellum), the question would then turn to the morality of their conduct of military operations (jus in bello) And here they are on much weaker ground, since their conduct consists solely in indiscriminate rocket firing towards civilian targets.

Yet this is where the question gets interesting:  were the Palestinians to have a serious weapons capability, and were they then to fire indiscriminately then it is clear that their conduct of the operations would violate just war principles. The same would certainly be true if Hamas turned to suicide bombing. But, paradoxically, the primitiveness of the rockets, together with the Iron Dome defense, and Israel’s early warning system, has so far guaranteed few if any civilian casualties. True, there is some damage, and certainly there is the inconvenience of having to go to shelters, and the rockets make people anxious, despite the heavy odds against them being hurt. It may be irrational to buy a lottery ticket, given the odds, but people do all the time. Still, the fact that the odds  that a given person will be actually hurt by a Kassam rocket are extremely low, virtually nil, given early warning systems and Iron Dome, plus the Hamas’ militants knowledge of this fact, suggest that if this method of conduct is not just (and I don’t think it is), it is a lot less unjust than the Israeli response, which has claimed to date over a hundred lives, most of whom are civilians.  It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the Israeli public’s suffering does not compare to that of the Gazan people on any metric; the Israelis have a highly effective defense against primitive weapons, whereas the Gazans have no defense at all against highly sophisticated and deadly weapons.

So both sides are committing war crimes, but those of Hamas pales in comparison to those of Israel. And this, of course, without reference to the fact that Israel broke the cease fire. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Latest Gaza Op: Groundhog’s Day? Or Frozen?

The nightmare returns. It starts with Israelis killing Palestinians, Palestinians killing Israelis, whomever.  Israel decides that it “has to” kill Hamas militants. Or it “has to” round up the usual suspects. Eventually, Hamas “has” to retaliate by sending rockets that traumatize the heck out of people but rarely injure anybody.  This annoys the hell out of Israel, which “has to” escalate by killing more militants, often senior ones. Then Hamas really sends barrages of rockets. And at the end of the day – and the night is still young – some Israelis are wounded, on very rare occasions there are fatalities,  and tens, maybe hundreds, of Gazans are killed, many of them civilians, most of them non-combatants. And the destruction in Gaza is horrific.

And the world? Well, the world reports two things: the number of rockets fired against Israel, and the number of casualties on both sides. Nobody cares that that the firepower that  hits in Gaza in a few days  is more deadly and horrific than what falls in Israel in a few years.

And, like the movie Groundhog’s Day, we condemn ourselves to repeat this ritual of death and killing periodically.  Some cynics call it “spring cleaning,” the need  to deplete periodically Hamas stockpile of weapons.  And Hamas “has to” play the game, even though they know they are going to lose, because they have to retaliate, right? I mean, they aren’t exactly a peace movement, and they can’t lose face, can they?  We wouldn’t sit still; why would they?

It is 10:30 in Jerusalem. A siren half an hour ago sent our  two grandchildren, who came to us for safety from Tel Aviv, to the reinforced room. Maybe tomorrow we’ll stay with my daughter in the South.

Netanyahu decided that we have to escalate.  I mean, we have to do something, don’t we? We can’t just sit here!

There is nothing inevitable about this. We didn’t have to kill two innocent Palestinians in May at the Beitunia protest, and then suggest that the video which captured the killing  was faked.  We didn’t have to round up Hamas political leaders and imprison prisoners released in the Shavit swap after the murder of three Jewish students, when we had grounds to believe that they were murdered. When we suspected that two members of a rogue Hebron clan were involved, and Hamas did not take responsibility, we could have kept out of Gaza. We were playing with fire when we thought up ways of undermining the Fatah-Hamas unity government.

So, as usual, we are reaping what our leaders have sowed. Sure, Hamas leaders  bear some responsibility.  But while they are safe underground, the Gazans are suffering and dying. Every hour the numbers of their fatalities will go up, until we decide that too many fatalities will just get another Richard Goldstone involved.

Remember how yesterday the whole Jewish world mourned the death of an innocent Palestinian child? Today, how many of those “mourners” give a damn about the deaths of innocent children in Gaza?

Groundhog’s Day? Or Frozen?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

How Mainstream Israelis Cope with Jewish Terrorists

Moral chauvinism is the view that a certain people is morally superior to another. It’s hard to find peoples or nations that aren’t afflicted with it. I believe that we Jews are especially afflicted with it because, traditionally, we have had to compensate for our lack of political power, and we have had to explain to ourselves why we were the chosen people, despite the fact we were living as a minority under a majority religion.  They were stronger; we were more moral.

Moral chauvinism has taken a beating in Israel the last few days, and here are some of the psychological mechanisms that will enable Israelis to cope with the revelation that Jewish terrorists are (still allegedly) responsible for the murder of Mr. Abu Khedir. 

1.  Shock. “Omigod, there are Jewish terrorists?”  This is a particularly bizarre reaction, since there have been Jews killing innocent Palestinian Arabs throughout the history of Zionism, whether in or out of uniform.  In fact, honor/revenge killings, or other criminal activity, is as Jewish as cholent – or as Arab as humus. Jews are people, and people, especially ignorant and barbaric people, take revenge in this way. Why should Jews be any different?  I hear this reaction every time Jews commit crimes of this sort. Nobody remembers the Jewish Underground. Nobody remembers Ami Popper. Nobody remembers Barukh Goldstein. Nobody remembers the Jewish terrorists before the state. And I am not even talking about the ones in uniform. 

2. Emotional over-reaction. Rabbi Daniel Landes of Pardes Institute wrote in my opinion a particularly wrong-headed post in which he said that Jewish terrorists should be punished the way Palestinian terrorists are punished, by blowing up their family houses, etc. This is supposed to be fair? The fact is that justice is served in neither case. If blowing up a house as retribution/deterrence is wrong – and it is wrong, period – then why blow up anybody’s house, Jew or Arab?

3.  Belittling. We are going to see a lot of this in the coming weeks. “Sure, this was a despicable deed, but we have so few terrorists compared to them.” How many people are going to argue, “Considering we have an army, and a border police, who carry out “retaliatory” actions and collectively punish Arabs under the name of deterrence, the fact that this is not good enough for some of us speaks volumes about who better controls their lust for vengeance, Jews or Arabs.”

4. Sympathy for the families of the terrorists.  I remember this from the 1980s and the Jewish Underground.  In the beginning, the perpetrators were condemned, then money was raised for their families (why should they suffer?) and the criminals’ defense (aren’t they entitled to one?) and little by little, they underwent a rehabilitation, without expressing remorse and regret. That, and presidential pardons, did the trick. Those who were collecting money for the families of Jewish terrorists would never think to do that for the families of Arab terrorists.

5. “Should our sister be made a harlot”? Condemn the perpetrators not for taking revenge, but for taking revenge in the way that revenge was taken.  After all, isn’t Jewish honor a supreme value? (Answer: no.)

There is a pattern in these things that repeats itself: shock, condemnation, outrage, vows of punishment, then as time passes, commuted sentences, pardoned perpetrators, and life goes on. This is particularly true of those murderers who have political clout, such as those in the Jewish Underground of the 1980s. There is noise every time there is a price-tag crime, and occasionally suspects are rounded up. But how many trials and how many convictions, and how many people are actually sent to jail? Only the lone wolves,  without any political lobby,like Ami Popper.

And the most prevalent way of coping:

6. Change the channel to the Mondial.

What is Necessary for a Decent Religious Zionism

In the preceding post I spoke about Israeli religious Zionism today. I did not mean to say that all religious Zionists in Israel adopt the morality of the enlightened colonialist or that of the unenlightened tribalist.  That’s not the case. But sadly,  I cannot think of one Israeli-born and educated rabbi whose moral teachings fall outside that spectrum.  (Readers are invited to send me names, and directions where I can send my donation.)

Religious Zionism wasn’t always like this, and it doesn’t have to be. By “religious Zionism” I mean a Zionism that rests on a Jewish religious world-view. Since there are many “Zionisms” and many “Jewish religious world-views” that’s a very broad definition. “Religious Zionism” more narrowly defined is the belief that Jewish self-determination in the Land of Israel has religious significance, that it is a Divine blessing, or at the very least a positive challenge, and not a curse or a punishment, or neutral. Even this is vague, because religious people will disagree over how God works in history, and how fathomable is his plan.  For some, the state of Israel is the beginning of the final redemption; for others it is the actual redemption; for still others, who are more modest in their claims, it is simply a very good thing for the Jewish people; we should see God’s hand in it, and thank Him accordingly.

I never was a statist religious Zionist. States have no religious significance for me, and although I believe that history is not neutral or indifferent, I am inherently skeptical about identifying God’s working in it.  So I was never even remotely attracted to the notion that the State of Israel was athalta de-geulah, the “beginning of redemption,” and I have always shared Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s characterization of the Gush Emunim/settler movement as a perversion of Judaism.

The more I became educated about the Palestinian Catastrophe, the more I became certain that it is as wrong to look for God’s hand in the establishment of the State of Israel just as it is wrong to look for God’s hand in the  Holocaust.  To attribute a religious meaning to either Shoah or Nakba beyond the admittedly deflationary idea that the response to both should be soul-searching and teshuvah/repentance, is inappropriate at best, sacrilegious at worst.  Of course, one can be happy in one’s lot, and one can be grateful for a Jewish home or homeland, and in that sense, the religious person will want to God to thank for that. If a drunk driver is the only survivor of a car crash for which he is responsible, he may thank God that he lives, even though he has caused the death of others.  But to see his survival as God’s“miracle”? Hardly.

Once I was asked whether I thought that the establishment of the State of Israel was a miracle.  Well, my God doesn’t make miracles that cost innocent people their lives, liberty, and land.  I am not interested in any god that has anything to do with causing the suffering of innocents. Worshipping such a god is idolatrous, in my opinion.  

Religious Zionism did not have to go down that route, and indeed, as I have written before, some of it did not. (See also here.) From the  beginning there were a handful of religious Zionists who were sensitive, sometimes more sensitive than the secularists, to what Zionism was doing to the natives of Palestine. They were educated in Europe, and so perhaps some religious Zionists would say today that they had a galut/exilic mentality. In any event,  they refused to have a Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs. And when they were unsuccessful in stopping such a state from arising, they protested the injustices committed in its  name.

What are the necessary conditions for a decent religious Zionism? (I say “decent” rather than “ideal,” lest I be accused of positing an unattainable high standard.)   The first condition is hakaret ha-het, the  recognition that we Jews have sinned, and continue to sin, against the Palestinian people. This is the greatest moral challenge facing the Jewish people today. The second condition is teshuva, returning/repenting, making amends for what have done, and what we do.  For a Zionist, that specifically means, in addition to addressing the needs of the Palestinians today, creating a political framework in the Land of Israel/Palestine that is a decent and fair political framework for all its people. Within that framework some measure of Jewish self-determination can be attained, but not at the expense of Palestinian Arab self-determination, and with neither self-determinations at the expense of the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of all.  This is the attainable goal to which we can aspire, and insofar as one attributes to that goal religious significance, that is what religious Zionism could become, im yirzeh ha-Shem, insha’Allah, if God wills.

That is, if we will it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Religious Zionism and Its Moral Defects

[Update: This post, written out of the pain I felt last week, gave the impression that all religious Zionists range from enlightened colonialists to mafia-morality tribalists.  That’s not true. I happen to know personally several religious Zionists  who are moral exemplars, who recognize our guilt has perpetrators of crimes against the  Palestinian people, and who do what they can to achieve peace and justice. Their voices are barely heard in orthodox Jewish circles and almost never amplified in the press. It may be hyperbolic to say so, but when it comes to religious Zionism as a movement, they are the righteous in Sodom.]

[Second update: the translation of Noam Perel’s statement has been changed; h/t to Shunra for pushing me on this, though I still claim there is a double entendre, for which, see Comments.]

It’s time to say this out loud: the most morally distasteful form of Judaism today is Israeli religious Zionism. I am not just referring to the ultra-nationalist religious Zionist rabbis and their minions, who claim religious authority for their mafia morality. These are the  garden-variety racist/bigots  common to all ultra-nationalist religious fundamentalisms. I am not even referring to somebody like Noam Perel, the General Secretary of World Bnei Akiva, the main religious zionist youth group, who wrote on his Facebook status earlier today:

An entire people and thousands of years of history demand vengeance. The government of Israel has convened a meeting of vengeance, which is not a meeting of mourning. The landlord (master of the house) has gone crazy at the sight of his sons’ bodies, a government that will convert its army to an army of vengeance, a soldier that will not be stopped at the “line of 300”  [kav 300] Philistine foreskins, through the blood of the enemy the disgrace will be atoned, not through our tears.

The operative term here is not only “vengeance” but disgrace, the disgrace that the superior  feels when he is successfully wounded by an inferior.   Like the hate-filled whites in the segregated US south, Israelis of this sort feel humiliated and violated by any Palestinians with any power. How dare these pishers murder our boys?

And when the negative reactions came in to Perel’s inflamed rhetoric, and they did, he was quick to clarify that he wanted the government and the army to take vengeance, for the sake of deterrence, as it had done in earlier cases of reprisal raids. In other words, killing and terrorizing civilians in the name of Jewish honor  (a.k.a. ‘establishing deterrence’)  should be left to the state and its army, and not to private initiative.

Whew, now that makes me feel a lot better!

It’s easy to go after somebody crippled by religious Zionist education like Noam Perel, who represents the mainstream.  But my argument is also with “liberals” like Rabbi Benny Lau in his  response to Perel. Let me first say that I agree with Rabbi Benny on many things, and that when it comes to religious Zionist rabbis,  I think that he is the best of the lot. (Full disclosure: I attend his synagogue.)

Lau criticizes Perel for running away with his emotions, for reacting with the anger of a fifteen-year old (By the way, my fifteen year old children never reacted that way). Here are some excerpts of Lau’s response to Perel, interspersed with my comments. After Lau strongly condemns the call for revenge, he  writes,

“We pray that God will take vengeance of our enemies, but do we want the character traits of our enemies?”

Commentary:  Arabs seek vengeance because it is in their nature. 

“We have a state, an army, a defense establishment, and prayer.”

Commentary:  God forbid the other side should have the dignity of having a state, an army and a defense establishment.  After all, they don’t have the same rights to self-defense that we do.

“We tell our students the words of Golda Meir, who said that she will not forgive our enemies  who cause us to raise generation after generation of soldiers. We turn to God with our appeal because we become people who fight not according to our nature.”

Commentary: Jews are by nature peace-loving; it’s only because the Arabs want to drive us into the sea that we have an army. It’s not because of national pride, or because of the peer pressure of eighteen-year olds,  or because a Jewish state should have a Jewish army.  We are most unwilling soldiers.

“Do we want to anoint for ourselves a culture that is completely evil? That is foreign to what we represent.”

Note there is no call for empathy for all victims, not to mention empathy with the natural desire for all people to live a life of dignity, free from humiliation.  Note that by definition, it’s the Other, not the Jew, who has all the negative traits.  If Rabbi Lau was not suggesting that Arab culture is a culture of evil, why doesn’t he take the opportunity to make that clear?

“To call for the authorities not to make concessions when a citizen is harmed is justified, but between this and the call for vengeance there is a deep gap.”

Commentary: What concession is the rabbi referring to? Blowing up the homes of the alleged assailments, collective punishment for the families of the innocent-until-proven-guilty suspects?

In Rabbi Lau’s statements above, substitute “Christian” or “Englishman” for “Jew” or “we”, and substitute “African” or “Indian” for “our enemies”, and you have your garden-variety colonialist morality of the Age of Empire.  To be sure, the practical consequences or Rabbi Benny’s rebuke are much better than those of Perel. The abhorrent theological belief  that God is a vengeful God (Maimonides allegorized the verses away) may help to restrain the passion that all humans qua humans feel. And restraining passions is a good thing in these instances.

But moral chauvinism and feelings of Jewish superiority simply ooze from the rabbi’s words.  And if that’s the best religious Zionism has to offer – and it is – well, no, thanks. I grew up hearing my Christian friends rebuke their fellow Christians by saying, “True Christians don’t do those sorts of things.”

Well, guess what? They do, and did. And so do Jews, who are no different from all other folks, neither better nor worse.

Except that here, in Israel/Palestine, we Jews have virtually all the power.  And we use it, all the time whining about Jewish honor, as if we were cowering before the nobleman and his dog.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Case for a BDS Coalition

There is a rule in movement politics: Your greatest rival is the one closest to you ideologically.

Supporters of the global BDS movement, the movement that arose as a response to the three calls of the Palestinian civil society organizations, are at best wary, and more likely,  dismissive, of progressive Zionists who support this or that boycott, divestment, or sanction measure against the continuing Occupation. Critics rightly note that these progressive Zionists are willing to settle for a “two-state” solution that doesn’t begin to do justice to the three divided constituencies of Palestinians: those under a brutal 67 occupation, those “citizen strangers” of Israel, and those exiled from their homeland.  Moreover, many of the supporters of the global BDS movement would oppose a Jewish hegemonic state anywhere on the planet, indeed, or even if it were located on some unoccupied territory of the Moon, simply because it is foundationally discriminatory against another group based on religio-ethnicity.

So why should the supporters of the global BDS movement pay much attention, much less give legitimacy, to what Peter Beinart has called, “Zionist BDS”?  Why should there be an unofficial coalition between these two groups? After all, insofar as Zionist BDS succeeds, so does a Jewish hegemonic state, one that excludes Palestinian refugees,  discriminates against non-Jews (and non-orthodox Jews in matters of personal status), and dominates a collection of Bantustans called “(New?) Palestine”.

Here’s why:

First, any call for boycott, divestment, or sanctions, for whatever motive (even on behalf of the settlers!) is seen, rightly, as a blow against the legitimacy of Israel. Progressive Zionists can protest until they are blue in the face; they can argue that they are acting out of the most statist-Zionist of motives; they can point to polls of Israelis who favor ending the Occupation – little of this matters. Even if their boycotting appears to some to be no more than a “liberal chic” tokenism that allows them to sleep better at night,  it will be rightly perceived by the pro-Israel crowd as  a threat, even an “existential one,” to use Prime Minister Netanyahu’s characterization of all  BDS.

Second, any call for boycott, divestment, or sanctions, however limited, is enhanced when those making the call present themselves as supporters of the boycott’s target.  An alcoholic who abuses someone should be turned into the police -- but when the person making the call is his brother, that makes a huge statement of the limits of familial loyalty.   I believe that when the history of the BDS movement is written, Peter Beinart’s call for “Zionist BDS” in the New York Times will deserve more than a footnote. I personally agree much more with Omar Barghouti’s Times op-ed. But “Zionist BDS” was written by  a former editor of the New Republic, a supporter of the second Iraq war, and a Zionist who attends an orthodox Jewish synagogue. “Zionist BDS” made a splash, and people who had not heard of BDS, and if they did, had associated it with Forces of Evil, heard for the first time “one of their own”  use the phrase “BDS” in a positive manner.

Third, the goal of the BDS movement, at least in my eyes, is not to punish the State of Israel. We are not talking about  retributive justice for the sake of justice, much less revenge for the sake of revenge.  The goal of the BDS movement is to get Israel to obey human rights protocols and human rights law, with respect to all sectors of the Palestinian people.  I daresay that the global BDS movement is not even a pro-Palestinian movement, except in the sense that the people whose fundamental rights are violated upon happen to be Palestinians. It is in its essence a human rights movement.

Fourth, the goals of BDS will not be achieved until a critical mass of Israelis, or at least their leaders, realize the unsustainability of the status quo.  This is one of many lessons from South Africa.  And what will enable that realization is being educated by people whom they consider trustworthy.

So what does this mean in practice? Minimally, the public disagreement between the sides should be respectful, but not blurred, with neither side dissing the other.  Both sides should wage a common fight against the brutal Occupation.  Since I don’t believe the Occupation is ending anytime soon, this will allow both sides to forge relationships that will lead to much more than a tactical alliance.  The pro-Palestinian side  will come to grips with the fact that there are over six million Jews living in Palestine; the pro-Israeli side will come to grips with the fact that Jewish hegemony cannot be morally sustained in an ethnic exclusivist state. Many on both sides have done so already.

Let there be a joint struggle, or, perhaps more realistically, an alliance of overlapping moral interests.  This is not normalization or endless dialogue; this is good old fashioned  coalition politics. There may very well come a stage when the assistance of the progressive Zionist crowd is not helpful or even welcome, when the Palestinian side has achieved enough strength and recognition to press on its own. (Cf.  whites and blacks in the US civil rights movement). There certainly will come a time when progressive Zionists have to choose between their contradictory values, and many are already making that choice.

As for the global BDS movement, there are rightly saluting the recent decision of the Presbyterian church in the US to divest from companies profiting from the occupation, despite the fact that the resolution explicitly reaffirms Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state and affirms the two-state solution, and takes no stand on the right to return but rather calls for justice for Palestinian refugees.

What comes next? The great Moses Maimonides/Ben Maimon/Ibn Maymun says in his Code of Law that one has a duty to rebuke his neighbor when the latter commits a wrongdoing. When it comes to interpersonal matters,  that rebuke should be done privately, taking care not to shame the wrongdoer. But in “matters concerning Heaven,” if the private rebuke isn’t effective,  the wrongdoer “is put to shame in public and his sin is publicized. He is subject to abuse, scorn, and curses until he repents, as was the practice of all the prophets of Israel.” (Laws Concerning Ethical Dispositions 6:8.)

The global BDS movement doesn’t call for the elimination of Israel, much less its destruction. It calls for Israel to “repent” by recognizing the rights of Palestinians enshrined in international law and conventions. Progressive Zionists will disagree, no doubt, on what Israel’s wrongdoing consists in.But it is time for “public shame, abuse, scorn and curses,” not as a punishment, or as revenge, but in the goal of human rights.

For if the plight of the Palestinians is not a “matter concerning heaven,” I don’t know what is.

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Response to U Wash Progressive Zionists

Dear Shahar and Ruth,

Thank you for answering my call to respond.

We clearly disagree over principles and tactics. On principles, I have maintained consistently for some time that the fundamental question is not what sort of political arrangement is best for the peoples of Israel/Palestine, although clearly that is a very important question. The fundamental question is how best to guarantee life, liberty, and the flourishing of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples in whatever framework that emerges,  two states, federation, one state, etc.  I have no a priori commitment to any particular state or configuration of states.

I wonder whether progressive Zionists are really pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian (as J Street U says). If they were, they would not consistently favor Israel’s security over Palestine’s security; they would support two-state proposals that empower Palestinian (more territory, end of settlement blocs, control of resources, a strong defense force, etc.) Instead, what they seem to be concerned with primarily is the flourishing of the Zionist state in such a way as not to hurt others, like the Palestinians.  They have genuine sympathy for the Palestinians, and they don’t want Israel to control Palestinian destiny. But when push comes to shove, it seems to me that their motivation (whether they realize it or not) is first what’s best for the Jewish state, and second what’s the best deal they can get for the Palestinians, given their unshaken  commitment to the Jewish state.

You state honestly in your response that you oppose the aim of the global BDS movement that calls for civil equality for Israeli Jewish and Arab citizens – presumably, because that would in some way threaten the Jewishness of the Jewish state. You seem to be willing, in principle, to support a state that creates a class of citizens who are excluded from the nation represented by that state. You bear no ill will to those citizen-aliens, and I am sure you would be happy to see their lot improved. But equality is out of the question because the state has to be Jewish in the sense that Israel today is Jewish. For the same reason, you presumably agree with the majority of Israelis who believe that Israel is a state of the Jewish people and not of the Israeli people. Here, too, we disagree.

All that said, there is an issue that is more pressing than the political and ideological ones, and that is the end of a brutal, immoral Occupation that screams to heaven daily.  And here we also disagree, if not over the principle of ending the Occupation, then over its urgency.  Many liberal Zionists are deeply upset over the Occupation, but appear not to feel any real urgency about it.  You, for example, will not support a limited divestment resolution with with you  agree, because in its preamble, mention is made of the global BDS movement, and there are members of that movement, and supporters of the resolution, who want to replace the State of Israel with a democratic state of all its citizens. Until a divestment resolution comes along that is entirely detached from the global BDS movement, you will stand with more conservative groups like Standwithus -- not because you  agree with Standwithus – you clearly don’t – but because at the end of the day, on a vote that does not allow for nuance or middle ground, you vote with those who don’t recognize that there is an occupation, much less an immoral one.

I fully understand and respect the desire to stand on principle. I also understand the predicament of standing with groups with whom one does not agree. It’s not the progressive Zionist’s fault that on this issue they are caught in the middle. 

But there are several options for progressive Zionists on campus faced with the situation that you were faced with: The first is to negotiate over a divestment resolution that focuses entirely on the Occupation,  that it is not explicitly linked to the global BDS movement. When that fails, the second is to offer one’s own divestment resolution and ask others to join on one’s own terms. And when that fails, the third option is simply to abstain on the grounds that opposing the resolution will be rightly interpreted as a victory for Israel and the current government.

This, of course, brings us to the question of tactics. As ineffective as the global BDS movement has been to end the occupation, J Street’s “middle way” has done even less.  J Street U’s have been instrumental in bringing the ugly face of the Occupation to campuses, and that is indeed praiseworthy. I should have been more charitable in my initial post about that.

But acting on principle carries with it consequences, and in this case, the consequences were clear – a defeat for the Palestinians and their supporters.

Surely you are not happy about that.

Professive Zionists at U Wash Respond

With summer break upon us, I hope to post more. 

At the end of my previous post, criticizing supporters of J Street U at U Wash for voting down a divestment resolution, I asked for their response.  I received one yesterday from U Wash students Shahar Golan and Ruth Ferguson, and I am printing it below, as I received it.  I will comment on it in a separate post.

Dear Mr. Haber,

This is Ruth Ferguson and Shahar Golan. We are the two students who are building a J Street U chapter at the University of Washington. We always appreciate hearing opposition to our personal views. It is always important for us to hear critique and challenge our own opinions.

With that said, we’d like to clear a few things up. Firstly, the foundation on which this article supports itself is mistaken. There is no J Street U chapter at UW. We are J Street supporters and plan to bring a chapter to UW in the fall, but for the time being we are free agents and merely students who opposed the UW divestment resolution. In fact, if you had heard either of our public speeches during the student senate hearing, you would have heard no ties made back to J Street. We only raise this point in clarification because it should be noted we acted on behalf of ourselves, not on behalf or representative of any organization, despite misleading media reports to the contrary.

The beginning of your post spoke about when J Street had “gone outside of the family” in the past and received a “crack of the communal whip” which brought it back to conformity in the tribe. One can only assume that you were appropriating this same conformity onto us in this statement based on the rest of your post.

Interestingly, in our statements in opposition to the divestment bill, we condemned human rights violations carried out by the Israeli government, criticized the occupation of the West Bank, and acknowledged the catastrophe of Palestinian suffering at the hands of a movement with which we identify strongly. We didn’t mention all of these issues, or ultimately oppose the resolution, because of concern about communal condemnation. In fact, we fully expected condemnation. And that is fine by us.

While you missed our speeches, StandWithUs did not, and they tweeted their disgust and disdain for our opposition to the occupation. Let us explain why we personally took a stance.

As many have noted, BDS is a set of tactics. Nothing is inherently good or bad about them. The question for us is “to what end?” Why are we utilizing these tactics?

Towards what ultimate goal?

We believe in a two-state solution that recognizes the rights of both Palestinians and Jews to self-determination and lives of dignity. We support efforts that we believe lead us towards that objective, and object to efforts which we believe lead us away from that objective. With that in mind, we were opposed to the divestment resolution at our school for several reasons.

First, although the divestment was specifically targeted at certain companies involved in the occupation of the West Bank, it was explicitly stated to be a part of the “Global BDS Movement.” The three demands of the global BDS movement were stated explicitly in resolution 20-39 presented at UW, including:

1. Ending its (Israel’s) occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of 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

As these demands are incompatible with the two-state solution we seek, we objected to the explicitly stated goals of the resolution as part of the broader Global BDS campaign.

Second, while we seriously oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, we were worried by the specific resolution at UW, and the Global BDS Movement’s lack of clarification regarding their interpretation of the term “occupied territories”. Some groups and individuals view Israel within the 1967 borders as an occupation of Arab land, an opinion that we wholeheartedly reject.

Finally, it was unclear to us what the ultimate goal of the resolution was and whether the resolution was intended to support an end to the occupation through two-states or another framework we do not support. As the sponsoring student group, SUPER, does not endorse either a one-state or two-state solution, we felt it unwise to support a tactic without clarity on the intention of the tactic.

You constantly accused us of guilt by association with the establishment pro-Israel groups. It is no secret that we hold different views than most supporters of groups like StandWithUs. While there is sometimes overlap in goals around particular issues, like some BDS efforts, it is quite clear that while some groups are apologists for the occupation, we are not. Our work includes challenging them and exposing them for what they are. This cannot and should not preclude us from working together, as it should not preclude us from working together with Palestinian solidarity groups. Further, your appreciation of the BDS movement's mass appeal (to one and two-staters), as well as your call for us to link “arms with over fifty Palestinian civil society organizations on this one point, despite its (J Street) disagreements with them on other points”, shows a double standard you apply to those you disagree with. You praise groups and individuals that overlook their disagreements to cooperate for the BDS cause, yet you attack us for doing the same and joining Huskies Against Divestment.

We are always open to criticism, and enjoy challenging our views. We encourage you to attend J Street U events (we are not sure if you have in the past) in the upcoming school year to hear our message first hand. We felt that your thoughts regarding J Street U at UW (which does not yet exist) rested on a lack of research on the actual occurrences at the UW. We respect your opinion regarding the BDS movement, although it differs from ours, and appreciate you posting our response.


Shahar and Ruth

Sunday, June 1, 2014

J Street U’s Choice at the University of Washington

Liberal Zionists have always been caught between the rock of criticizing Zionist injustice towards the native Palestinians and the hard place of  keeping that criticism within the family. The few times that a liberal Zionist critique went outside the family (e.g., J Street’s criticism of Israel’s human rights violations at the beginning of  the Gaza Op), a crack of the communal whip brought the liberal group back into the fold. The self-deception of being able to influence the mainstream from within, together with tribal loyalty, has always made liberal Zionists much more Zionist than liberal.

Optimist that I am, I thought the younger generation of liberal Zionists was different.  These young activists seemed to have none of the self-induced neuroses of the 67-generation, those of us who had been taught to believe that Israel was on the brink of extinction before the Six Day War,  a tiny David surrounded by murderous Arab states  (a myth put to rest by historian Avi Shlaim, inter alia, in The Iron Wall.) Unlike their parents, the millennial generation of liberal Zionists had grown up with a powerful Israel that built illegal settlements, collectively punished Palestinians, erected walls ostensibly for security, but actually for more expropriation of land.  These young people listened avidly to the testimonies of the soldiers of Breaking the Silence, and in some instances were willing to cosponsor events with Students for Justice in Palestine and other Palestinian rights group. This generation of liberal Zionists may not have endorsed the global BDS movement, but it was not shocked or scandalized by that movement, nor did it see it as anti-Semitic or illegitimate.

Well, at the University of Washington, at least, the scales have fallen from my eyes.  At stake was a divestment resolution  “to examine [the U of W’s] financial assets to identify its investments in companies that provide equipment or services used to directly maintain, support, or profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” and “instruct its investment managers to divest from those companies meeting such criteria within the bounds of their fiduciary duties.”  This was a rather modest proposal, not calling for divestment from Israel companies per se, only divestment from companies that profit from the Occupation. One would have thought, one would have hoped that J Street U would have linked arms with over fifty Palestinian civil society organizations on this one point, despite its disagreements with them on other points.  One would have expected that J Street U would stand with the oppressed, even if it meant being barred from the communal tent. Or one could at least have hoped that J Street U would have said, “No divestment this year, but next year, if the injustice continues, we may reconsider our position.” Or that they would have sat this one out.

Nothing of the kind.  J Street U at University of Washington decided to link arms not with the oppressed, not even with Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace,  but rather with AIPAC and with StandWithUS.  In a remarkable show of Jewish unity, J Street U combined with the other “pro-Israel” forces  and collectively spat  in the faces of the  downtrodden and their advocates. To the cheers of the right-wingers, another BDS battle had been won by Israel, and now, certainly, J Street U had earned its place at the Jewish communal table.  Mazal tov, J Street U at U Wash!

Just like their parents and their grandparents generations, the progressive Zionists of J Street U wimped out, preferring tribal loyalty to fighting for justice, preferring it even to their own principles. Or perhaps tribal loyalty is their principle.  Like a long line of liberal Zionists before them, the negotiations took place not between Jews and Arabs  but  between Jews and Jews. They complained that the other side was not interested in dialogue.  What the other side wanted was not dialogue but joint action. That’s the way the oppressed operate.  

J Street U made its choice at the University of Washington, much to the crowing of those who were happy to see the Palestinians in abject defeat.  They learned their lesson well -- criticize the tribe, but only from within the tribe. Call for boycott, but only the token “Zionist BDS”  of the settlements.  Oppose the Occupation, but never, never, even begin to punish Israel for the Occupation.  Call for peace now, but make sure that the playing field for the negotiations is skewed in favor of Israel.

And above all, never let the present intolerable injustice get in the way of the illusion of a two-state solution “just around the corner if we only work hard enough.”

I welcome a member of the J Street U at the University of Washington to respond.  I was unable to find a statement that differed from the self-congratulations of the mainstream.  Tell me why you have not become the “useful idiots,” the liberal fig-leafs, of those who support the  people and the mentality that brought us this immoral mess. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Abunimah and Barghouti: The Global BDS Movement is Compatible With a Two-State Solution (Old News)

Some of the initial comments on the post below, in which I envisioned a two-state solution compatible with the three calls of the global BDS movement, were dismissive.  The comments  claimed that Omar Barghouti and Ali Abunimah (inter alia) are “spokespeople” or “leaders” of the global BDS movement, and they are one-staters. So that must mean that the global BDS movement is one-state (by the law of invalid reasoning.)

My initial response was that “the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la, have nothing to do with the case.” Nobody is an official spokesman for the global BDS movement; the movement exists as a coalition of organizations that are bound by the three calls endorsed by Palestinian civil society organizations.  One can be a one-stater, a two-stater, a no-stater, and sign up to the calls.

But then I read a post by Ali Abunimah from EI last year, and it turns out that both he and Barghout agree with me, at least to the extent that they believe that the global BDS movement is compatible with a two-state solution.  In fact, this is no secret; Barghouti actually says this in the book he wrote on the subject. According to  Abunimah

Omar Barghouti makes this point in his book BDS: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights:

While individual BDS activists and advocates may support diverse political solutions, the BDS movement as such does not adopt any specific formula and steers away from the one-state-versus-two-states debate, focusing instead on universal rights and international law, which constitute the solid foundation of the Palestinian consensus around the campaign. Incidentally, most networks, unions, and political parties in the BNC still advocate a two-state solution outside the realm of the BDS movement (pages 51-52)

In other words, most of the Palestinian endorsers of BDS advocate a two-state solution, though not within the realm of the campaign, which does not take a stand either way. Surprise to some, not to me.

The issue is not whether the BDS movement is compatible with a  Jewish state. The issue is what is the nature of Jewish state with which the BDS movement is compatible. Is it compatible with an Israeli  state with a vibrant Israeli Jewish culture in the public and private spheres? Is it compatible with a state in which Israeli Jewish holidays are national holidays, Hebrew is an official language, and Jewish culture is taught in the schools? Absolutely.

Is is compatible with a Jewish state in which Jews are ethnically privileged by law over non-Jews?  No, it is not.

And that is what makes most Zionists opposed to the global BDS movement, even many of the so-called liberal or progressive variety.

Anyway, I urge people to read Abunimah’s post, “Why do Zionists falsely claim [the] BDS movement opposes two-state solution?” Had I known of its existence when I wrote my post below, I would have simply pointed to it and saved myself a lot of time. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

What if the Global BDS Movement Were to Achieve Its Goals?

What is the genius of the three calls of the global BDS movement, endorsed in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organizations?

Very simple: their moderation and eminent reasonableness.

Here are the calls, once again:
  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; and
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
As I have pointed out repeatedly, each one of these calls only makes sense under the assumption that the State of Israel exists. And this is what bedevils the opponents of the BDS movement. They would prefer that the BDS movement call for the demise of the Jewish state . They would prefer that the third call demand explicitly  the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel, and not merely “promoting the rights…as stipulated in UN Resolution 194,” which was overwhelmingly adopted in the UN, including by the United States, after it had recognized the Jewish state.  Since there is still a consensus in the world for the legitimacy of a Jewish state (though no consensus for the particular sort of Jewish state that Israel has become), the opponents of BDS would love the movement  to say that the goal is the elimination of the Jewish state, or replacement of the Israel  by another state in which Jews would be an ethnic minority.

But it doesn’t.  And that is not just a tactic. The truth is that there are Palestinians who don’t want’ to live in a secular state with millions of Israeli Jews. They would prefer their own state. But they also want dignity and equality for those Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel as well as the right of the refugees to return to their homeland, as called for by international law and convention, and UN resolution.

These eminently moderate calls  befuddle the defenders of the status-quo post 1948,   forcing them to say  – without a scrap of evidence – that  all this is a trick, that there is “hidden agenda,” “implied by the goals,” or, at least, a “possible (negative) implication of the goals.”  

Ask a liberal Zionist why she opposes the third call, and she may say, again without a scrap of evidence, that it would imply Israel being swamped by millions of hostile Palestinians. In other words, she would make an entirely nonsensical claim that has nothing to do with the third call.

Let’s make a thought experiment, shall we? Let’s imagine that the State of Israel is so negatively affected by the BDS movement that it ends the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967, dismantles the Wall, recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and respects, promotes, and protects the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.  And let’s give a specific scenario: the Jewish settlers are resettled within the 1967 borders, the Law of Return and the Citizenship law are amended to allow for full equality between Israeli-Jews and Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel in citizenship and immigration, and all the legislation that discriminates against Arab-Palestinians is abolished. (Indeed, according to most liberal Zionists, there is very little discriminatory legislation to begin with. )

Moreover, let’s assume something really unlikely, that around a million Palestinians opt to return to their homes and properties, a number that far exceeds all current projections in polls of Palestinians. And remember that, according to resolution 194, they return after having declared that they are willing to live in peace with the Israelis and to abide by the laws of Israel.
Under those circumstances, the State of Israel would have a population that would be over 70% Jewish and under 30% non-Jewish. it would be a state of all its citizens. Its official languages and cultures would continue to be Hebrew and Arabic; Judaism, Islam, and Christianity would continue to play a role (too large a one, in my opinion!) in the public sphere. In many respects it would be indistinguishable from Israel today, only less racist and discriminatory.
Now what would be so bad about that? I mean, even from a Zionist point of view?
Yet this democratic Israel is the nightmare scenario that the opponents of BDS really fear. Because they are not interested in a liberal democracy with a  a strong Jewish/Hebraic cultural content. They are interested in a state in which Jews qua Jews occupy a position of privilege,  a state in which non-Jews are recognized as “citizen strangers.” to use Shira Robinson’s felicitous phrase.  The anti-BDS folks want Israel to be for the Arabs like Poland was for the Jews, where Jews were citizens, but not really part of the Polish nation. This is what Israel has been since 1948, and this is what many liberal Zionists defend
And that  brings me back to the brilliance of the BDS movement, and why it is gaining traction in the world: More and more people are beginning  to understand that its aims are  much more moderate and moral  than the status quo within 1967 Israel.
And that what provokes many of the opponents of BDS to  misrepresent the global BDS movement, or to give absurd arguments against it, such as that the Palestinians should be more concerned with the slaughter in Syria, or human rights violations in China, than their own suffering in Palestine.
After all, by that reasoning, those who protested the treatment of Soviet Jewry in the 1970s were moral hypocrites, since they should have been out protesting the genocide in Cambodia during the same years.