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Now, Israeli Liberals Endorse BDS

boycott from within bds

Boycott from Within: Israelis supporting BDS

Though BDS is a controversial idea in pro-Israel circles, including among many liberal Zionists, it’s becoming more widely accepted.  Even among Israelis.  No less a figure than Ran Edelist, one of the original co-founders of Peace Now in 1979, penned an article in the Israeli magazine, Liberal.  Leonid Nevzlin, the Russian oligarch and part owner of Haaretz, is the founder and funder of Liberal.  Edelist essentially begs the world to stop Israel before it’s too late. His article’s ironic title, echoing the Israeli national anthem, HaTikvah, is Hope is Not Yet Lost (for International Pressure). Here is the money paragraph:

It’s clear that peace cannot take hold here either with this nation [as currently constituted] or its current government.  It’s also clear that if something drastic doesn’t happen, we are on the road to slaughter.  On the way to the slaughterhouse called a bi-national state.  But still, the skeptical Israeli public rocks in its chair gently and leisurely, living life in a bubble. Luckily, we have the world.  Slowly but surely, the world understands that it must draw out the splinter which interferes with too many people and interests.  Slowly but surely, more than a few Israelis understand that without international pressure we will continue our flight from the 50th floor toward the pavement below, an accident waiting to happen. This pressure isn’t meant to destroy Israel’s economy or security, but to clarify to those who are hopping a ride on the messianic-nationalist horse, that this horse is dead.  If we survey from a bird’s-eye view the organization of the pressure campaign against Israel, there’s much that is hopeful: economic sanctions, cancellation of artistic performances, academic boycott, arms embargo, prohibition on buying products marked “Made in Yehuda and Shomron.”  All this, by the way, is happening right now.  And if nothing changes, we will jump up step by step, till we reach the roof from which we will fall to the ground.

While there is much wisdom in this passage–as is characteristic of liberal Zionists, there is a blinkered perspective that refuses to acknowledge a looming reality.  No sane or reasonable Israeli can believe that a binational or one-state solution will result in a blood bath.  This is the hysterical view of those who try vainly to stave off the inevitable.  It is the time-old refrain of Israelis who envision a Holocaust around every corner.

While one-state will certainly result in enormous tension and conflict within Israel, neither the world nor the interested parties would allow their state to devolve into a Rwanda or Bosnia.  Both Israelis and Palestinians, when faced with the inevitable, will understand that they must live together or die.  Both are a practical people and will “choose life,” as the Bible exhorts.

What is astonishing about Edelist’s article is that he recognizes that Israel itself is incapable of doing the right thing.  He’s begging the world to “stop us before we kill again.”  He’s saying to the world, don’t worry about the impact BDS will have on our country.  We know you’re not trying to destroy us.  We understand that your intent is to destroy the political power of the messianic-nationalists currently ruling us.  Go right ahead.

There is, in this perspective, a sad fatalism.  The fatalism of the liberal left which realizes it has come to the end of the road.  It has no longer wields any meaningful power within Israel.  For any sane outcome, the world must come to our rescue.  The admission, though pathetic, is a tonic.  It allows us to realize that if the world doesn’t intervene, Israel will die.  Edelist is inviting us to stop Israeli before it’s too late.

Nor is the writer alone.  Larry Derfner too is a liberal Zionist who was dropped by the Jerusalem Post and now writes for the Forward and Jewish Journal.  Full disclosure: Larry and I co-authored a blog for a short time till we realized our political perspectives clashed too much for us to continue our collaboration.  Larry has endorsed BDS, while still adhering to a two-state solution. Even as fastidious a liberal Zionist as Peter Beinart endorses a watered down version of BDS (‘BDS-lite’) which confines itself to boycotting products made in the Territories.  Many of us believe figures like Beinart are endorsing half-measures, hoping they can avoid measures even more drastic.  But that’s the beauty of BDS.  As Whitman said: “it contains multitudes.”

BDS has made a strategic decision to focus only on three basic principles: Right of Return, ending Occupation, and “a nation for all it’s citizens.”  There is no call for a one-state solution.  No road map that dictates specifics about what sort of state Israel should become.  It wisely leaves all that to the future. This allows those with such widely disparate view as Omar Barghouti and Larry Derfner to co-exist.  The two will no doubt diverge after BDS succeeds in winning its three principles.  But in the meantime, they can belong to the same movement in a pragmatic effort to reach their destination.

So when you hear opponents ranging from Norman Finkelstein to Alan Dershowitz brandish the ‘anti-Semitism,’ ‘anti-Israel’ shibboleths against BDS, know that they are either deliberately or unintentionally falsely characterizing the movement.

In closing, let me say that I am not one who eagerly or enthusiastically embraced BDS.  Almost instinctively, I cringe at restricting cultural expression or academic interchange.  In my heart, boycotts are best reserved for only the worst political imbroglios.  But reluctantly, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is one such case.  Like Edelist, I realize that Israel cannot correct its course alone.  It will take enormous outside pressure to do so and BDS is one important tool to do this.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • nessim dayan June 19, 2014, 2:18 AM

    Until US PresidentS and US Congress Members understand that this is the RIGHT MOMENT for ‘TOUGH LOVE’ policy to use with ISRAEL , NOTHING BUT ABSOLUTELY NOTHING will stop this nightmarish scenario. Israel’s POLITICIANS AND ARMY LEADERS have A SINGLE POLICY , which is to keep Israelis towing the line by a constant barrage of lies and scaremongering in order to keep THEIR CHAIRS, they ARE NOT INTERESTED IN DEMOCRACY, this policy is taught in the army in a much higher degree than flying planes or shooting cannons. What is the difference between a banana republic of Venezuela type and Israel – ABSOLUTELY NOT A THING and yet what is the US policy with both. ISRAEL IS A BANANA REPUBLIC LED BY THE ARMY AND IT’S CIVILIAN TERRORIST ORGANIZATION – THE SETTLER MOVEMENT –

  • Marc June 19, 2014, 5:33 AM

    It is indeed time and well past time for BDS.

    But your belief that a binational state would result in anything BUT a bloodbath – it is completely founded on the science-fictional premise that Palestinians and Jews are normal people. We are not. Or most of us are not.

    There is a tremendous religiously-nationalistic (or nationalistically-religious, take your unwelcome pick) block in both communities, a block that would balk at living in equality with members of the opposite/opponent race, unless it were subservient.

    There is no chance for a peaceful Israestine (or Palisrael, again, take your pick). There is no chance – alas – for a peaceful two/three-nation (Israel and either Palestine or Palestine-Gaza and Palestine-Bank) solution. In fact, even if there is an Israel-Palestine(s) non-belligerence, there is a significant chance for an Israel-internal civil war.

    I think the only semi-reasonable solution would be:

    1. BDS pressure to force Israeli withdrawal from the west bank, the golan heights and east gerusalem
    2. Pressure and monetary compensation to Palestinians and refugees who would be forced to forgo a right of return
    3. International military presence on the borders to prevent both sides from going for each other (possibly protracted)
    4. Space for Israel to have its civil war
    5. Space for Palestine to have its civil war
    6. Step-back to see if the two post-civil-war societies and states can become non-belligerents (probably not)
    7. Say “fuck it, drown them” and re-instate the British mandate
    8. Possibly – dismantle Israel, providing those who wish to emigrate entrance to whichever world states that would be willing to accept ’em
    9. Possibly – dismantle Palestine, ditto
    10. Declare Syria-Palaestina a historical international preserve, enforced by the United Nations, not to be inhibited by people unless on a (short-term) tourist visa

    • Shoded Yam June 19, 2014, 1:38 PM

      Pull out of the West Bank? No problem, I’m with you. An equitable sharing of Jerusalem? Not an issue. Evacuate every goddammed settlement? Absolutely. Pull out of the Golan? Forget about it. That’s not going to happen (especially under the current circumstances)and I don’t see why it should.

      • Richard Silverstein June 19, 2014, 2:43 PM

        Pull out of the Golan? Forget about it. That’s not going to happen (especially under the current circumstances)and I don’t see why it should.

        Ever heard of a little thing called international law? Under that quaint body of law, Israel conquered the Golan, which belongs to Syria. Israel holds it against every precept of international law and must return it. It’s really very simple. So for you to say you see no reason why Israel should return it, makes about as much sense as saying you believe in the concept of marriage, but not having a wedding.

        • Shoded Yam June 19, 2014, 7:21 PM

          Ever heard of a little thing called Realpolitik? Look, you’ll never get an argument from me re. the occupation, the deprivations, and all the rest of it. I was there Richard. I was a Nachlawi during the time of the 1st Intifada. I was witness and participant, you might say. That being said, let’s say for the sake of discussion, the Israelis were ready to sit down and negotiate. Who with? That murdering pos Assad? Or the Mahdis Army, perhaps when they’re done sacking Iraq? For the sake of transparency, I will place my cards on the table and unequivocally state that since I haven’t noticed too many govts getting their panties in a bind over such things as “international law” (Wikileaks?)when it suits them, I don’t think the Israelis need to be anymore catholic than the Pope in this regard when we’re discussing what in actuality is one of the most profitable areas in Israel, and the only people to have a discussion with about it are a bunch of qat chewing maniacs waiting for the next opportunity to dose each other with sarin gas.

          • Richard Silverstein June 19, 2014, 7:52 PM

            @Shoded Yam: That too could be a perfect argument by Arabs against making any agreement with Israel. To many of them Israel is little more than a pirate state, which violates international law with impunity, and never honors any agreement it ever signs. Israelis are mass murderers to many Arabs. So why should THEY sign an agreement with such villains (as they see it)?

            The argument simply doesn’t work. It’s a recipe for no one ever signing any agreement with anyone else. Assad runs Syria whether you or I like it or not. Since when has anyone ever refused to sign an agreement with a leader because he’s a mass murderer? Assad’s the one, for now, with whom they must negotiate & there’s simply no excuse not to do so.

  • Deïr Yassin June 19, 2014, 9:58 AM

    @ Richard
    I’ve seen Larry Derfner endorsing BDS in some of his articles on 972mag recently (he even called Haneen Zoabi a Palestinian, I think it’s the first time I see him not using “Arab Israeli” :-) ) but from back Israel Reconsidered and from others articles of his, I’m pretty much sure he’s opposed to the Right of Return, I remember him writing to me after a harsh discussion on the subject that he had changed his mind: instead of 100.000 he would agree on 400.000 returning, how generous of him….
    I think he’s endorsing the more limited settlement BDS and not the BDS call from Palestinian civil society. Am I wrong about that ?

  • Mary Hughes Thompson June 19, 2014, 7:39 PM

    Certainly most people recognize there will never be a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Israel’s policies have made that an impossibility. One state appears now to be inevitable, sooner or later. Apparently to Palestinians there is a distinction to be made between “Binational State” and “One Democratic State.” More and more Palestinians, including Omar Barghouti, Mazin Qumsiyeh, Mustafa Barghouti and Haider Eid are advocating for One Democratic State.

    Omar Barghouti says: “Not a binational state — I am completely against binationalism. A secular, democratic state, yes, but not binational. There is a big difference.”

    More of his views as outlined in a piece about him last month.
    link to jewishphilosophyplace.wordpress.com

    • Richard Silverstein June 19, 2014, 10:38 PM

      @Mary Thompsom: Omar Barghouti may’ve founded BDS, but he did so giving it independence from whatever his own personal views may be. If BDS WAS founded on the basis of a single unitary state it could not have the massive support it now has. BDS requires flexibility (aside from the three principles) not maximum specificity.

      The idea of either Israel or Palestine being a “secular democratic state” goes back to 1968. It’s simply out of touch with where both peoples/nations are currently. The best you can hope for is a democratic state in which religion is separated from politics, though this is hardly likely either.

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