Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) and the “Anti-Semitism” Charge

Many people have different positions on the wisdom, and even the legitimacy, of tactics involving boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) directed against alleged human rights abuses in Israel/Palestine. But all should condemn recent attempts in some quarters to brand these tactics as “anti-Semitic”. BDS is neither motivated by anti-Semitism, nor it is it, in effect, anti-Semitic. The “anti-Semitism” charge against BDS is false, intellectually lazy, and morally repugnant.

The “Anti-Semitism” Charge against BDS is False. Anti-Semitism has been defined as “a prejudice against, hatred of, or discrimination against Jews as an ethnic, religious, or racial group”. Anti-Semitism is commonly considered a form of racism, in its broadest sense. By contrast, the BDS movement is a movement initiated by Palestinian civil society and its supporters to promote and defend the human, civil, and political rights of the Palestinian people living in Israel, the Occupied Territories, and the Palestinian diaspora, most notably the rights of liberty, equality, and self-determination. The movement comprises people of different creeds and nationalities, including Israelis and Jews, and explicitly condemns all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. The BDS movement is in its essence a human rights movement, grounding its call on international human rights law, conventions, and decisions. It not only explicitly opposes anti-Semitism; it is diametrically opposed to it.

The “Anti-Semitism” Charge against BDS is Intellectually Lazy. One of the arguments for BDS’s alleged anti-Semitism is that in singling out Israel for moral opprobrium, the movement reveals its true motivation, which is hatred of the Jewish state, ergo Jews. This is the tired argument of all those who wish to deflect attention away from their own human rights violations. Similar arguments were made by South Africa in response to calls for divestment during the apartheid era; by the Soviet Union, in response to calls for sanctions during the struggle for Soviet Jewish rights; by some southern US states, in response to calls for integration during the civil rights movement. To expect of Palestinians and their supporters that they will devote more of their energies to human rights abuses that little concern them is morally unreasonable. It is also hypocritical, in so far as those who criticize the BDS movement usually devote more of their own energies to supporting Israel than to fighting human rights violations elsewhere in the world. By their example they undermine their own argument.

Another argument is that the global BDS movement, in so far as it deals not only with Palestinian human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, but also calls for full equality for Israeli’s Palestinian citizens and recognition of the Palestinian right of return, wishes to delegitimize and destroy the State of Israel. And since the State of Israel understands itself as the expression of Jewish self-determination, the BDS movement is, in effect, if not by design, opposed to Jewish self-determination, ergo anti-Semitic. Yet this argument rest on a string of questionable assumptions. It concedes, unnecessarily, that the State of Israel can only survive if it foundationally discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens, or defies international recognition of the refugees’ right of return. It confuses criticism of Israel on these points with anti-Zionism, and anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, all of which are distinct positions.

As for the “delegitimization” charge: Israel is a member of the United Nations and recognized by many countries. Its political legitimacy is no more nor less than that of the United States, Germany, Russia, North Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran. But its moral legitimacy, like that of all states, rests on its adherence to human rights standards expected of all states.

The final argument is that the BDS movement, while itself not anti-Semitic, has attracted supporters who are either motivated by anti-Semitism, or who use anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes. But even conceding this point, similar things are true of the pro-Israel movement, which has attracted supporters who are Islamophobes, anti-Palestinianist, Nakba deniers, and advocates of Jewish spiritual and metaphysical superiority. Bigotry is, unfortunately, a common vice, and its manifestations are to be condemned. But just as opponents of BDS are not necessarily, or even mostly, anti-Palestinian bigots, so the proponents of BDS are not necessarily, or even mostly, anti-Israeli bigots, much less anti-Semitic.

The “Anti-Semitism“ Charge against BDS is Morally Repugnant. Anti-Semitism, like racism, is one our era’s “mortal sins”. To accuse a movement of anti-Semitism is not only to criticize or delegitimize it; it is to tar it as immoral. The BDS movement has been embraced, in part or in whole, by the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people and its leadership. To label as “anti-Semitic” Palestinians and their supporters who are fighting for their rights using tried and true non-violent tactics is morally repugnant and itself represents a sort of bigotry. Moreover, in supporting the charge with insufficient evidence and sloppy arguments, one not only fails to establish one’s point; one trivializes and cheapens genuine anti-Semitism.

In short, the “anti-Semitism” charge against BDS is not only offensive to Palestinians; it is offensive to all those who reject anti-Semitism.

It should have no place in the ongoing, legitimate debate over BDS.


Raymond Deane said...

This is crystal clear logic - exemplary. It should be widely read, and I'll disseminate it as widely as I can.

snakley said...

This is so helpful, clear and smart. Thank you! I'd be interested in hearing what you have to say about the academic aspects of the boycott, in particular. Do you find these tactics productive or counter-productive?

Unknown said...

What about the same BDS supporters who show up at Holocaust commemoration events that have NOTHING to do with Israel? Does that not indicate anti-Semitism?

Unknown said...

What about the same BDS supporters that show up to Holocaust commemoration events that have nothing to do with Israel in order to protest Israel? How is that NOT anti-semitism?

John Welch said...

Well argued, "Jerry".

Incidentally, I have family connections to members of a resistance group who hid Jewish children from the Nazis. I go to Holocaust memorial events. I have not seen people there to protest Israel. Maybe it has happened, but that's rare.

I am a member of a BDS group: United Methodist Kairos response. See https://www.kairosresponse.org/ I support Jewish Voice for Peace and Breaking the Silence; I read your blog, Mondoweiss, and +472. Have seen no "anti-semitism" in those groups.

There is, certainly, deep anti-Semitism among the Southern Baptists of the "Christian Zionist" movement. They read the "Revelations of John" to mean that Christ will only return after Jews have been gathered home to Israel and have converted. The modern state of Israel, then, becomes a part of their strange theology and their cult-like belief in "end-times". The Netanyahu government seems to welcome them.

Unknown said...

Thank you Jerry! The clarity of your writing betrays your academic training. I am a BDS supporter, I am a Christian, and I support the state of Israel. I do not support Zionism although I understand the historical reasons for Zionism’s existence. I understand the historical context for the birth of Zionism given the appalling history of persecution that the Jews had to endure throughout history. However, Zionism is a political ideology that is antithetical to a properly constituted, democratic nation-state that must be supportive of multiculturalism, pluralism, the rule of law and human rights for all.

I believe that the Holocaust is a horrific part of history that must never be forgotten. The world that we have all inherited post World War II is built squarely on the gargantuan suffering of millions of innocent Jews who perished during the Holocaust, as well as those who survived this benighted and evil slaughter. I am not racist against anyone, and I am especially not anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. Despite this I have been attacked as racist and anti-Semitic for supporting the BDS by some Jews who have accused me of being anti-Semitic for supporting the BDS.

All of these accusations were levelled against me on Facebook and I was very hurt by them. What made it worse was the fact that I have been a supporter of the state of Israel all of my life as well as for my lifelong awareness of the Holocaust. The Shoah continues to have a profound impact on my civic and personal set of values. You cannot know someone deeply by conversing with them on the internet, without meeting and associating with them over an extended period of time.

Facebook is not a proper place to discuss divisive political issues because it really needs moderating by someone who is both fair and educated. Ideally, it should resemble a civilised debate supervised by a knowledgeable journalist. Despite this unfortunate experience, there were many Jews who were kind towards me even if they did not understand or accept my support for the BDS. Thank you very much for your post!

AIG said...

"It concedes, unnecessarily, that the State of Israel can only survive if it foundationally discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens, or defies international recognition of the refugees’ right of return."

The equivocation between "defying international recognition" of the ROR, and advocating for the right of return makes your argument very weak. Obviously, international recognition of the ROR will not bring an end to Israel as a Jewish state. However, the actual implementation of the ROR will with high probability, but of course not necessarily, bring an end to the Jewish state. And therefore the BDS movement is antisemitic because it supports a course of action which will with high probability bring an end to the Jewish state.

Unknown said...

Israel is at war with its neighbors because of the ideology of Zionism. Israel is a Jewish state that is based on privileging one group of individuals over another based on one’s religion. This is not acceptable or fair in a modern, cosmopolitan nation-state. When Israel came into existence in 1948 it was three years after the end of the Shoah. The devastation of the Holocaust was very raw and uppermost in the mind of those who helped to bring Israel into existence. The Shoah is an inexcusable horror visited on millions of innocent people and together with the ideology of Zionism, has led to the creation of Israel.

When Israel began there was far more respect for non-Jews such as Palestinians than there is today. Time has ensured that greater mistrust, suspicion, mutual dislike and the repression of Palestinian human rights is more severe and far more commonplace today than in 1948. How does Israel remove itself from this interminable conflict with those it barely tolerates? The answer lies in mutual respect based on human rights and genuine equality between all people, i.e. a secular state not a Jewish state.

That is what the BDS is striving for and I ask you what is wrong with that? I wouldn’t support any movement that is not respectful of every person regardless of race, religion, culture, colour, political affiliation, human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

I live in Australia where multiculturalism, pluralism and cosmopolitanism are the norm. We are not perfect as no one is. We don’t have any serious problems between Jews and Arabs that live in Australia. Why is that not the case in Israel today?

Peace and harmony are worth working for if for no other reason other than it is the right thing to do. If children are our most precious possession and peace and harmony are the greatest gifts that we can leave them, then why persist with an ideology that separates and divides communities? Why lay the groundwork for intolerance, hatred, division and war? Isn’t it better to rid yourself of an ideology that has failed you time and again, and replace this with a more workable state based on equality and human rights? Your children are worthy of these sentiments. Please work for their sake through peace and harmony.

CD-Host said...

Jeremy --

Most historically anti-Semitic groups defined themselves as supporting some sort of affirmative cause. To pick an American example the KKK was an organization founded for resistance to Northern Republican party's Reconstruction-era policies especially colonial economic policies and the use of internal subversives to undermine the governing structures of the south. That didn't stop it from being America's foremost racist organization. An organization can easily have both a liberation agenda and be racist. In fact I'd argue that most liberationist groups are going to be racist since human universalism would tend to correlate more strongly with reformist rather than anti-colonialist politics.

Obviously Palestinians don't hate Jews primarily because of anti-Semitism. While Palestinian nationalism is anti-Semitic their hatred, when it exists, is driven situationally. However grouping "supporters" in with the Palestinians themselves is quite different. There is no good reason for some German, French or American liberal with no ties to Israel to pick this particular cause out of the hundreds of other possibilities. Most of the supporters can't really express good reasons as to why they are obsessed with this particular tribal dispute and when they do those reasons are usually firmly anti-Semitic. So if a American Hispanic liberal activists finds Israel morally repulsive in the same way they find: Somalia, Saudi Arabia or Myanmar repulsive that's not anti-Semitism. If however they choose to focus on Israel / Palestine in a way they don't on Myanmar then there is reason to suspect anti-Semitism.

As for tried and true non-violent tactics... what does that have to do with anything? The white citizens councils made frequent use of BDS. Tried and true non-violent tactics support racism as comfortably as they support anti-racism.

CD-Host said...

@John --

I'm not Jewish but... the goal of BDS are to:
a) chop off huge sections of Israel, ethnically cleanse them of their Jewish inhabitants so that most historically Jewish parts of Israel fall under enemy control
b) flood Israel with foreign invaders
c) prevent the Jewish population from defending themselves against this invasion so that the Jews become subservient to the new population

It is entirely reasonable for a Chinese nationalist to argue that Tibetan society was a terrible society, chopping off huge sections of Tibet, ethnically cleansing it and flooding the rest with non-Tibetan Chinese was the "right thing to do". It is not reasonable to hold that position and call yourself a supporter of Tibet. If you want to destroy the Jewish state you don't support the Jewish, you are an opponent of the Jewish state.

BDS is not striving for human rights based on mutual respect and tolerance. Those are the stated goals of Liberal Zionism, not anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism is quite explicit that the Jews are not a legitimate people and their national aspirations are to be crushed. That is precisely the opposite of respect. The tone of moral disgust you hear at BDS rallies is not a tone of respect.

As for Australia neither the Jews nor the Arabs are indigenous nor a majority population. They get along because they have nothing to fight about. Neither one of them has a national identity in Australia nor any plausible chance of establishing one. That's a terrible analogy to Israel / Palestine. What is a good analogy is Australia's handling of its indigenous population who did resist the new civilizations, yours. In the 1760s Australian settlement started to spur violence. When negotiations failed there was a period from 1780s-1920s of violence intermixed with some attempt at settlement. After the natives were decisively crushed everyone now lives in peace. The Gaza wars are a lot like your 1870s Queensland wars.

Someone who advocated the permanent oppression of all non-indiginous Australians by the indigenous Australians would be rightfully classified as anti-Australian, would be rightfully seen as an enemy of Australia and its people...

Jerry Haber said...

CD Host, it's Jerry, not Jeremy

"An organization can easily have both a liberation agenda and be racist." Quite agree there, especially with ethnic nationalist liberation movements. Not all Zionism is racist, to be sure, but there is certainly racist Zionism. But I fail to see the relevance of this to anything I said.

"There is no good reason for some German, French or American liberal with no ties to Israel to pick this particular cause out of the hundreds of other possibilities." By the same argument, you, who are not-Jewish, have no good reason to pick this particular cause out of the hundreds of other possibilities. So, by your argument, I should suspect you of bigotry and baseless hatred of Palestinians. God forbid that you should support Israel on the merits of its case. If you protest, then why shouldn't non-Palestinian liberals should support Palestinians on the merits of their case.

By the way, I answered all this in my post here

CD-Host said...


Sorry for the name slip.

I don't support Israel out of hundreds of other possibilities. I came to your blog originally on the Hillel issue, which is an example/analogous of Jews exercising church discipline over support for BDS. Judaism hasn't really had excommunicatable (again analogy, I get that Jews aren't literally in communion with each other) heresy except for explicit apostasy. So while there was some friction with Messianic Judaism / Completed Judaism this fell neatly into that category. Same as Reconstructionist and Reform Jews not considering children raised Christian in an intermarried female-Jewish couple as Jews. With JVP/BDS you have an example of something other than explicit apostasy being classified as a disqualifying heresy. A Hillel that preaches BDS ceases to be a Hillel. This is the same as Christians with say the trinity or a church that rejects sacraments are ex opere operato. My whole blog is on church discipline so I'm following this BDS issue as it develops. I follow Presbyterian cases more closely than Jewish ones, and Mormon ones equally closely. You are not being singled out.

As far as Israel / Palestine. I'm an American. I don't like seeing our allies destroyed by our enemies. I'm wasn't happy about the rise of anti-American Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and what had been a friendly government becoming hostile. Similarly in Turkey with Erdoğan. Israel is a close friend to the USA. I"m happy to see Israel govern all of mandate Palestine as a friendly government. I do think the Israelis are sometimes unnecessarily cruel to the indigenous minority population. They are contradictory and Palestinians hatred of Israelis is justified. On the other hand who cares about whether it is justified? For people who would like to fix the problem, I do think there are reasonable solutions to this crisis like how America resolved problems with its minorities and wish the Palestinians would make those possible. Ultimately though I don't think your solutions on this blog are reasonable. I as an America wouldn't give the SouthWest USA back to Mexico even while believing the Mexicans are justified in believing we stole it from them.

Finally on your link I totally disagree with your moral position. The first rule of life is survival. If Paul really wants Pete dead then he is a threat. Regardless of how it started Paul's desire to kill Pete justifies Pete's violence. Pete should obviously see if he can make peace with Paul, but ultimately if he can't he may have to put Paul down. Paul may or may not be entitled to the garment but he is not entitled to attack Pete to get it. Paul may be morally justified in wanting to kill Pete, but once he acts on that Pete is morally justified in killing him. Your analogy is very similar to George Zimmerman & Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman clearly provoked a violent confrontation. He acted threatening. Zimmerman created the situation that led to the death. But once Martin ambushed Zimmerman, was on top of Zimmerman and was smashing his head into the concrete the next step of drawing and shooting the gun was justified. At the point of the shooting Martin was a guy trying to kill Zimmerman and Zimmerman was defending himself against an attacker.

The Gazans have every right to hate the Jews for destroying their country. But the moment they act on that hatred Israel is entitled to defend itself. Shooting missiles is a completely unacceptable solution to their dispute with Israel and they should try good faith negotiation where they look at the problem form the Israeli point of view. To use your analogy if Paul wants to get up, he needs to start looking at the world from Pete's point of view and asking himself how does he facilitate Pete letting him up.

Jerry Haber said...

CD Host, you wrote: "Paul may or may not be entitled to the garment but he is not entitled to attack Pete to get it. Paul may be morally justified in wanting to kill Pete, but once he acts on that Pete is morally justified in killing him."

Is Pete justified in organizing a boycott against Paul?

Look you raise an important question. But from a moral standpoint, Paul and Pete have equal standing. So just as Paul has a right to self-defense, so does Pete. I want to push for a solution which will promise, or guarantee, or at least will aim and maximizing the liberty and opportunity of both Paul and Pete. I cannot allow Paul to guarantee's Pete's security or vice-versa. Each one is convinced that right is on his side; and neither side has been successful in destroying the other, but one side -- the Israeli -- has come very close. Palestinians have to be empowered. BDS is preferable to an armed insurgency. It is not the only answer and it will not work on its own. And many Israelis and their supporters will reject it for obvious reasons.

CD-Host said...

@Jerry (part1)

Is Pete justified in organizing a boycott against Paul?

I think you meant Paul organizing a boycott against Pete in your analogy . Assuming that's true and flipping. Of course. As I said Paul is quite likely justified in killing Pete much less organizing a boycott against him. The issue is not why Paul hates Pete. Paul hates Pete because Paul stole his garment and now is imprisoning him. The issue is why 3rd parties would choose to focus on Pete and Paul while as you mention Samantha has 50 people in her basement tied up that she's cannibalizing, and Davie just kills people regularly to take their jackets.

The Palestinians may or may not be anti-Semitic, but their hatred of the Jews doesn't originate with anti-Semitism it originates with the cruelty and unfairness. As an aside I'd say the question for them is not "what's justified". Anything is justified. But rather the question is what’s Paul’s best course of action to get Pete to stop sitting on him and potentially be generous with the garment: "given the terrible hand you are holding what's the best way to play it to achieve the maximum good". More on that below.

The question we are asking is not whether the Palestinians are anti-Semitic but whether the BDSers are i.e. the secular liberals who are drawn to focusing on the Palestinian cause. That focus needs explanation. So for example I have no trouble understanding why a typical black or hispanic activist might side against Israel, decide to support Palestine and get casually involved. They are generally against governmental oppression this would be just one more foreign policy cause regarding a government they don't like. But that's very different from the level of focus that Israel receives. How does it get from cause #51 to cause #1? That's the question. Your argument in the main post had specific counters to prove that BDS wasn't anti-Semtitic. But these same arguments only modifying the who if accepted would apply show that the KKK / White Citizen's councils weren't racist. A reductio ad absurdum. And that's what I was pointing out. BDS is anti-Semitic not because the cause isn't justified but because the motivation for the excessive focus on the part of non-involved parties is born of anti-Semitism.

CD-Host said...

I cannot allow Paul to guarantee's Pete's security or vice-versa. Each one is convinced that right is on his side; and neither side has been successful in destroying the other, but one side -- the Israeli -- has come very close. . Palestinians have to be empowered. BDS is preferable to an armed insurgency. It is not the only answer and it will not work on its own.

Now lets drop the analogy and ignore the BDS movement. There are a variety of ways the Israelis will ultimately solve the Palestinian problem: extermination, expulsion, classic colonialism, integration, assimilation, a generous partition that is accepted... Let's say there are 100 of these solutions.

Now I'd like to propose we accept a few basic premises about the Israelis.

1a) The Israelis are reluctant to engage in extreme measures, as demonstrated by the fact that when provoked they generally do not.
1b) The Israelis however are willing to engage in extreme measures, they are on the table, as demonstrated by the fact that they engage in them occasionally and talk about them.
1c) The Palestinians have no viable way to resist extreme measures if Israelis choose to engage in them.
1d) Thus the Palestinians need to convince the Israelis not to engage in extreme measures.
1e) Israel's two occasions of engaging in extreme measures (ethnic cleansing in 1948-9 and 1967) both happened in the context of a severe threat and a war when the Palestinians sided with Israelis enemies.
1f) So I'm going to argue that this is a behavior the Palestinians should not repeat. That is whatever the Palestinians do, they should not be acting as a 5th column for foreign intervention.
1g) BDS is if successful a hostile foreign intervention, a slow siege.
1h) Israel when confronted with slow siege type operations has historically utilized war to break the siege and change the situation on the ground.
1i) In short BDS is unlikely to be more than an annoyance. If however it becomes more than an annoyance. The Israelis will respond violently and move towards resolving the Palestinian situation via. partial implementation of an extreme measure.

2a) The Israelis conversely have generally been generous to Palestinians when the Palestinians are not threatening and are cooperative. For example lifting the military government in 1966 and integration (though partial) since then of the Israeli Arabs into the Israeli economy. Or the situation in the territories during th e 1970s.

2b) Assimilation is a viable solution to the Palestinian question. We are both Americans and in our history there are several examples of groups being assimilated that had deep structural problems doing so: Catholics and Blacks being the foremost examples.

2c) The Palestinians individually would benefit tremendously from assimilation. Though obviously that’s agreeing to their national destruction.

2d) A temporary alternative is classic colonialism, autonomy but not sovereignty, a Palestinian homeland inside Israel which would allow a cooling off period for both peoples. We know Israelis find that acceptable since they’ve engaged in it several times in the past enthusiastically.

2e) Both classic colonialism and assimilation create strong economic incentives away from extreme measures and thus make them decidedly less likely. They turn a military confrontation into a civil rights struggle and thus potentially might move those measures from being on the table to off the table.

Tell me were you disagree so far. Before I go to 3, 4, 5….

Unknown said...

This is a bit off topic, but were modern Orthodox Jews non-Zionist when Israel was founded and during the first years of the state's existence?

CD-Host said...


By Modern Orthodoxy do you mean people like Rav Kook and the Religious Zionist movement? In which case they were Zionist. If you mean the denomination that existed in the USA at the time: it was strongly Zionist. M.O. Jews were tied to the same Jewish organizations as other Jews and often more strongly. They completely rejected the hard pro-assimilation movement of the 1930s and 40s that rejected Judaism as anything more than a religion. Like most Jews of that era they were mostly concerned with events in USA politics but in so far as they had opinions on Israel they were pro. MO Jews and Conservative Jews helped smuggle arms and money when they could, built public support did a lot of fund raising for Israel.