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.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Maryland General Assembly Concludes: BDS is not Anti-Semitic nor Should It be Demonized

It started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Or as the Turks used to say (and Israelis still say), “The mountain gave birth to a mouse.”

In the wake of the American Studies Association’ decision to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education, bills were introduced in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates that would forbid state colleges and universities from using state funds for institutional memberships in the American Studies Association (the University of Maryland at Baltimore County is a member), and travel to and from its conferences.  The penalty for such travel? A  3% deduction from the state allocation to that university.

It seemed like an easy sell. After all, some of the presidents of the universities had harshly criticized the ASA decision, and nobody supported it. All of them oppose BDS. How can Palestinians and/or leftwingers compete with the power of the Baltimore and Suburban Maryland organized Jewish communities? 

Yet in the end the bill stalled in committee, and relatively tepid language condemning the ASA and opposing the global BDS movement, produced in committee,  was ratified as an amendment to the budget narrative– not even as a separate resolution. 

Anti-boycotters will say, rightly, that for the first time the state had declared its opposition to the global BDS movement.  But oh, boy, did they lose this round.

From the beginning, legislative sources indicated to me that the 3% penalty was dead in the water. That became quickly apparent after public disagreement broke out between the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Washington Jewish Community Relations Council, which thought the bill went too far. The universities were dead-set against the bill. The principle advocate of the bill, delegate Ben Kramer, thought the penalty essential:  He was quoted as saying “Why have a law if there are no sanctions, no penalties? Penalties are what cause people to abide by the law…The penalty will mean nothing unless a university decides to violate the law.”

So Kramer and the anti-BDS movement lost round one big time. But round two was more interesting, since the universities effectively dropped out of the picture. And here’s where the anti-Boycott movement was emasculated.  Here’s the original language, which was provided to Kramer by some pro-Israel group (or Israeli government agency). Identical language is cropping up in other state legislatures.

The [Maryland] General Assembly finds that anti-Semitism is an intolerable and ugly form of bigotry, prejudice, and hostility directed toward individuals of the Jewish faith and the State of Israel, often based on ethnic, cultural, or religious identity; Israel, a democratic nation, the only country in the Middle East that is a democracy, is a strong ally of the United States based on shared values and interests and invaluable cooperation in cybersecurity, medicine, biotechnology, agriculture, and bilateral trade and commerce, as well as educational, research, and cultural exchanges; the American Studies Association is an academic organization composed of approximately 5,000 members, all of whom are members of academia specializing in the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history; the American Studies Association, through a vote of its members, has endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and their scholars who are serving as representatives from those institutions; the boycott adopted by the American Studies Association is consistent with a movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel; and the State of Maryland has ratified a Declaration of Cooperation with the State of Israel resulting in the successful exchange of commerce, culture, technology, tourism, trade, economic development, scholarly inquiry, and academic cooperation, which has served to improve the quality of the lives of their respective peoples for well over two decades.

The General Assembly further finds that an academic boycott of Israel: is antithetical to the principles of academic freedom and to the free and open exchange of ideas; results in the restriction and stifling of Israeli scholars and Israeli institutions of higher education; disengages Israeli scholars and Israeli institutions of higher education from invaluable global academic collaborations and conferences; and invokes fear among the international academic community by creating a hostile learning environment and condoning the use of an academic community as a political pawn.

The General Assembly declares that it is the policy of the State to  condemn, in the strongest terms possible, the American Studies Association’s academic boycott against Israel as an inappropriate act on the part of the academic community; recognize that such conduct, particularly within centers of academic study, is unacceptable and must be denounced; and strongly encourage that all colleges and universities support the open flow of public discourse, debate, and academic freedom, particularly with respect to nations with which Maryland has a ratified Declaration of Cooperation;

Here is some of how Kramer defended the amendment on the floor or the house:

Now the ASA is welcome to its discriminatory boycott. It is welcome to be as racist as they choose. That is called freedom of speech. However, the people of the state of Maryland do not have to use their public dollars to support such a racist organization. Particularly when it undermines Maryland’s state policy as articulated in the declaration of cooperation which MD and Israel have shared since 1988 and every one of you should have a copy of that declaration sent to you by email this morning. As a result of that relationship, as established through the referenced document, the people of MD and Israel have benefited greatly financially, intellectually, and academically. The amendment that I am offering would simply prohibit the use of public dollars by a public university by being used to pay for membership in or travel to an organization that has declared a boycott against Israel or its universities. it’s just that simple. Allowing public dollars to be used for such a purpose is antithetical to our state policy and completely undermines the beneficial relationship that we share with Israel and that serves Maryland's people so well. There is nothing that will prohibit anybody from being a member of this organization. Nothing at all. There is nothing that will  prohibit someone from attending one of this organization’s events. Absolutely nothing. there is no sanction of any kind against any professor who chooses to do this.They are free to be members in the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan if they so choose. But must we subsidize their travel costs with public dollars to attend the cross-burnings? I say ‘no.’ We have no responsibility to use public dollars for that purpose.

The ASA members who support BDS are free to be members of the Ku Klux Klan!

Due to a concerted effort by progressives in the state, aided by a direct appeal from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Senate and House of Delegates budget reconciliation committee  watered down the Kramer amendment to the following:

The General Assembly finds that: (1) intellectual and academic freedom are essential to democracy, human rights, human enlightenment, and human progress; (2) academic boycotts against institutions of higher education and their faculty are anathema to free societies and free minds; and (3) official state control of intellectual inquiry and activity is a mark of authoritarian societies and is strongly disfavored in a pluralistic democratic culture.  The General Assembly declares that it is the policy of the State to: (1) reaffirm our Declaration of Cooperation with the State of Israel that has resulted in the successful exchange of commerce, culture, technology, tourism, trade, economic development, scholarly inquiry, and academic cooperation for well over two decades; (2) oppose Maryland public institutions’ support of the movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel; (3) condemn the American Studies Association’s boycott against institutions of higher education in Israel; (4) affirm intellectual and academic freedom in Maryland and our reputation as a leader in intellectual inquiry and dialogue; and (5) strongly encourage that all colleges, universities, faculty, staff, and students protect and advance the open flow of public discourse, debate, and academic freedom.”.

BDS as anti-semitic or racist? Gone.  Forbidding the use of public funds to support travel to ASA conferences? Gone. Condemnation of institutional membership in the ASA? Gone. Condemnation of the ASA “in the strongest possible terms”? At least half-gone.

Instead, you have “opposition” to the “the movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel.” Heck, the sentence is ambiguous enough to actually allow support of any BDS movement against Israel that is not designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel, but simply to call upon it to honor human rights.

In short, the global BDS movement.

The State of Maryland is known as liberal and overwhelmingly democratic, so I wouldn’t infer anything from the defeat of the Kramer bill for other states.

But it is heartening to know that under severe pressure in an election year, the legislature took a position that is articulated by J Street and other liberal Zionists, and rejected a position that has overwhelming support in the activist pro-Israel community.