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.


wkovacs said...

i rebuke you publicly for your lie that the bds movement does not call for the end of the state of israel....that is exactly what it does

so you are either deluded or a liar

i choose the latter

Jerry Haber said...

Hi Geoff,

Thanks for the "rebuke". I noticed that your link did not refer to the BDS movement, only some of the folks who support it. Some are one staters, others are two-staters, etc.

So now I can publicly rebuke you for not reading this. I see how you think Omar Barghouti is an expert on the real intentions of the movement. So you will agree with him that it is not a one-state movement.

Larry Snider said...

Professor Haber, There are a multitude of problems with your presentation. I will concentrate on two: 1) Whether Barghouti; (the Palestinian civil society version) or Beinart's Zionist BDS, the first challenges the legitimacy and future of the State of Israel, even as the second promotes the continuing enhancement of the first, (no matter how he carves it down into a measure of Jewish social justice or how the Presbyterian Church USA put's it forward on paper. This is to some degree the other meaning of your article;"The Case for a BDS Coalition." 2 Israel is not South Africa and the Occupation as horrendous as it is is not Apartheid. That being said, the daughters and sons and grandchildren of the Holocaust will never surrender to an international campaign of delegitimization any more than the children of the Nakba will leave the Refugee Camps before they get a reasonable hearing and adequate compensation. BDS is a form of resistance that takes aim at Israel and will only do damage to any prospects for peace.

Tom P. said...

"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."

there is no symmetry here. People in the BDS movement have come to that conclusion ages ago. Ali Abunimah has written a book about how Jews and Palestinians will live together in one state (that is his personal position, not the official BDS one which is agnostic). On the other hand,proponents of "Zionist BDS" like Peter Beinart refuse to engage Abunimah and Barghouti, and continue to make distinctions between the West Bank and so-called "Democratic Israel." This is a convenient position for people who want to remain within the Zionist consensus, and it's unlikely to change any time soon. So this coalition is unlikely to materialize.

Jerry Haber said...

Tom, you didn't finish the quote. At the end of the paragraph I wrote, "Many on both sides have done so already." That was my reference to Omar and Ali on the Palestinian side. On the Zionist side I was not referring to Beinart, but to Israelis like Chaim Gans and Moshe Berent who consider themselves Zionists but who call for significant changes in the Israeli within the 67 borders.

Jerry Haber said...

Larry, we can agree to disagree. I actually think that BDS will cause a lot less pain to average Israelis, especially those who live in Israel, than most sanction campaigns. The issue is not surrender; it is realizing that ongoing human rights violations should not be sanctioned.

What is happening to the Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank is not apartheid, but much, much worse. The South African blacks were considered racially inferior but they were considered South African. Palestinians under Occupation have been subject to a regime of humiliation, theft, restriction of movement, arbitrary jailing, spying, and collective punishment for three generations. I wouldn't insult Afrikaaners by comparing that to apartheid. As for Israeli Palestinians, they do not live under apartheid, just permanent alien status, with many laws discriminating against them, and no political power. repeat: no political power. They have the right to flush their ballot down the toilet, or elect representatives who have no political power and cannot deliver on promises. That's Israeli "democracy."

wkovacs said...

i apologize for giving you tochacha. it is asur to give tochacah to one who will not listen.

and yes, i read your other piece, which went out of its way to cherry pick what abunimah and barghoutti say

in response, i will use the words of the person who you spent years defending

so here is normna finkelstein explaining why what you say is so much bs

Shaun said...

Your blog is always informative and refreshing, despite that fact that I disagree with almost all your analysis and conclusions.
If you don’t mind indulging me, I have a number of problems with the BDS that are never addressed and I am curios to read your views on these issues..
All supporters of BDS, seem to ignore the eventual end game and instead cloak the obvious results of BDS in a language of “human right s and justice”.
A boycott if Israeli academia will invariably lead to the eroding of Israelis educational standards. While an economic boycott and sanction will lead to massive unemployment and financial ruin. No good can come out of a country already divided by ethnic tensions that is then faced with economic collapse and educational decay.
Yet this is the victory that BDS seeks.
The answer of “it doesn’t have to come to that” is just another deflection of reality. A stated aim of BDS is to convince a critical mass of Israelis to accept that their situation is unsustainable. Yet looking around the world today, and especially the region, Israel’s situation with all its injustices is not only sustainable it’s actually successful.
Keeping with the historical narrative of “it worked in South Africa”. South Africa today is plagued with massive unemployment, out of control corruption, a failing health system, an ineffective police force that was stripped of its power and a failing educational system on all levels.

Jerry Haber said...

Your argument is an argument against crippling sanctions. First, that's important. I am always heartened when those who oppose BDS in the case of Israel also oppose sanctions in the case of Syria and Iran, especially Iran, where the human rights violations often don't reach the order of the human rights violations on the West Bank.
So what can I say to those who oppose crippling sanctions in all cases? My answer is that the degree of sanctions has to be proportionate. If the violation of human rights caused by the sanctions outweighs the human rights violations that the sanctions are trying to overcome, then that is indeed a problem.

As for South Africa, yes, it has problems. And Mussolini made the trains run on time. There was a certain social stability under slavery in the South. And don't forget the squash and watermelons in Egypt.

I am not being facetious. The quesiton is simple: on the whole, are the people of South Africa better off now than they were under apartheid? Would the Palestinians and the Israelis on the whole be better off in a society that was not one of "occupartheid".

You know, when you can ask an Israei Jew what's wrong with a binational state, they always say, look at how bad that's worked out in Lebanon. But if you ask a Palestinian Christian on the West Bank, where are Christians better off -- on the West Bank or in Lebanon (minus the issue of where do they feel at home, of course), and all of a sudden, Lebanon looks rather nice.
So, yes, I can understand the problems of giving up privileges for those who have them.

Shaun said...

Thanks for the answer although I believe it is only partial and incredibly subjective. You made presumptions regarding full sanctions. Yet, Personally I don’t agree with them regardless of the country. This would include Iran, Syria, China and every other nation on the planet.
Regarding the South African experience, I’m not sure that the average South African will agree that they are better off. Perhaps more equally (although not totally) worse off is a better description. Unless, like in animal-farm, “better off” simply means self-governance and freedom.
Statistically today, South Africans regardless of race are more likely to be violently assaulted or raped.
Murder of Afrikaner farmers, has a reached frightening levels.
Economically, the average wage has not increased in line with national inflation and with a failed outcomes-based schooling scheme, the entire education system is crumbling.

How you can simply brush all this aside by saying “Mussolini made the trains run on time” is bewildering at the least.
Finally, the scare tactic employed by progressives, liberal –Zionists and anti-Zionists don’t work anymore. Yes, Lebanon is a great example to use. How many people of various ethnicities were murdered in the past 40 years for the present day Lebanon to be seen as a good place for Christians? With the present instability in the region, that is spilling into Lebanon. Israel is still far more stable than most of the binational states established over the past 70 years .
Giving up privilege for subjective ideals of harmony is a fool’s errand only suited for a theoretical world.

Jerry Haber said...

We can disagree about sanctions, although, frankly, I am not too far from you on the principle. As I wrote, when sanctions really hurt the population, as in the case of Iran, then to me they cannot be justified. But I think you will agree with me that Israel is nowhere need that.

But you have to bite the bullet and say, for example, that you would have opposed an academic boycott against German universities in the 1930s on principle. Nothing wrong with that; I simply don't agree. I am not an absolutist on academic freedom, though it certainly is an important value.

As for South Africa, you really have to do better than that. All the South Africans I have spoken with are proud of their country, despite the problems they face, and none would go back to apartheid. True, I don't know any Afrikaaners. So, the burden of proof is on you.

As for Lebanon, I am not asking what you or an Israeli Jew would prefer. I am asking what you would prefer, were you an Arab: living in Lebanon or living under Occupation, where you had no liberty or self-determination.

It's not just about stability. The South was very stable during segregation until the late 1950s. But one side was oppressed by the other.

Anyway, thanks for writing.

wkovacs said...

even chomsky says you are running a fools errand

Jerry Haber said...

Geoff, are you referring to where he supports limited BDS but doesn't agree with two of the goals of the BDS movement? Perhaps you agree with him when he writes.

“There's not much to say. I've been involved in BDS activities since long before the term was invented. It's a tactic, not a principle. Like any tactic, one has to evaluate particular proposals. Some are fine, some counterproductive,” stated Chomsky."