BDS: the dangers of fudge
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was initiated by a coalition of more than 170 Palestinian organisations. Commercial, military and cultural isolation were intended to pressure Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.
This was no vague abstraction. It meant three distinct things: ending the occupation; equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel; and respecting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194 of 1948.
But this is not always remembered. There is continuous debate about methods and targets (e.g. whether to target Settlement goods and profits or Israel as a whole), but the goals are often left undefined. And, as “Oslo” treated the return of refugees in a Two State solution as a lost cause, the BDS movement often does so too.
At a recent debate in New York on “Jewish perspectives on BDS”, the Chair’s introduction stated BDS was “against the Occupation and for Palestinian self determination”. One could take that as a straight endorsement of just about any Two State solution that came along.
While it’s understandable that a certain amount of fudging will go on in the interests of building a broad movement, and that anyone is of course welcome to take any action for their own reasons, four Jewish writers — concerned that Jewish supporters of Palestine could impose their own slant — warn that: “Organizing to gain the approval of … Jewish popular opinion, liberal Zionist organisations, or US public opinion undermines our ability to be in solidarity. Likewise, in the long-run, rewriting Palestinian demands (e.g. excluding the right of return from BDS campaigns) to fit agendas that reinforce peace as a strategy for maintaining an exclusive Jewish state does not challenge the foundations of Zionist policies and principles.” (Electronic Intifada),
One Democracy would, naturally, ask the writers of that article if they are not themselves fudging, in that they seem to oppose Zionism and all its works, but still fail to raise the need for a single democratic country with equal rights for all, in place of the default position of two hostile camps including an unchanged and unchallenged Israel.
At the end of the 2-hour New York debate a panel member remarked that it had actually all been about goals, not methods. Throughout the meeting, from the panel and from the floor, the question of Israel’s status and continuation as a “Jewish democracy” completely dominated the discussion, bubbling up over and over again, and demonstrating how important it is to get this right.
Yet significantly, while those speaking against BDS did so on the clear grounds that they wished Israel to continue (albeit with some modifications and improvements which they felt sure would follow on from a two state deal), the panel member who spoke most forcefully for BDS and an end to Zionism (Jonatan Shapira) still took refuge in the agnostic “One state, two states, twenty states” pose rather than advocate the only goal that fitted in with his ideas in every respect. (Anyone with insomnia or a couple of hours to spare can watch this lively debate.)
For now, the BDS campaign is powering ahead. In the wake of Mavi Marmara, Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman (self-hating Jew no doubt?), and Prince Albert of Monaco (banker to the Arab oil industry) have pulled out of attending the Jerusalem Film Festival. The discussions BDS engenders about Israel’s cruel and illegal deeds against Palestinians are challenging its myths among a whole generation of young people. In America especially, the movement has echoes of the Vietnam war period radicalisation. The proposal for Berkeley to Divest from two companies engaged in Israel’s military operations drew nearly 1000 students to slog in out in two ten-hour all-night sittings.
Israel is desperate to cut the feet off this movement quickly, before it expands exponentially.
First it tried the complaint of anti-semitism. But this relies on the assumption of Israel’s virtue and innocence (“why are they singling us out when we’ve done nothing wrong? It must be because of anti-semitism”) which has lately leaked credibility at the rate of an undersea oil spill.
Next comes a new draconian law to levy heavy penalties (ranging from civil financial liability to loss of citizenship and deportation) on anyone within Israel’s extended borders who calls for or in any way aids the BDS campaign. This will even apply to foreign nationals, who could be barred from entering the country for ten years if they are associated with BDS. But this may backfire and give extra wings to the BDS argument.
Far more effective than either of these in undermining BDS would be a Two State deal, agreed by the “Palestinian Authority” (whose mandate has expired both legally and politically), and passed off as Palestinian self determination. It would be recognised by Washington and arm-wrestled through the UN with a lot of razamatazz.
That is when the aims of BDS will really be tested. If not spelled out and firmed up at this stage, the soft liberal supporters will have their exit route clearly signposted. The world will be regaled with stories and images of this or that outlying settlement fighting against Tel Aviv for its existence and being carted away in tears, or images of selected IDF units being stood down from West Bank duties.
Huge efforts will be made to isolate, divide, minimise, demonise and demoralise the Palestinian resistance, which would be pilloried as ungrateful, irrational extremists.
If we don’t want that to include News features that lovingly linger on footage of Jaffa oranges being loaded up for export now that “the boycott has ended”, we need to strengthen BDS and clarify what it is for, so that it’s not easy for Israel to dismantle it and turn its demise into a weapon against us.
The best way to protect the original aims of BDS is the slogan of One Democratic Country, which is the only outcome that cannot be trimmed down and chopped up and presented as a just resolution when it is nothing of the sort.
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