The Forward publishes several magnificent articles in its current issue. The first is an important interview with Richard Goldstone, who directed the UN Human Rights Council report on the Gaza war, which recommended that war crimes charges against both Israel and Hamas be referred to the International Criminal Court. The story is a perfect antidote to the poison being spread about both Goldstone and the report by the Israeli foreign ministry and right-wing pro-Israel blogosphere. In it, the South African jurist talks about his deep personal and family commitment to Israel.
The article fairly notes that while Goldstone took on a mandate to investigate the crimes of both sides in the Gaza war, it remains to be seen how a UN Council, known in the past for pro-Palestinian partisanship will deal with his report. One hopes that the Council will refer the entire report to the Security Council for deliberation. Anything less may harm the credibility of the document.
Gal Beckerman also wrote a masterful account of the growing impact of the BDS movement on the debate around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is an article that was crying out to be written given the increasing level of success of this human rights effort. It’s critically important it was publised in a Jewish media source like The Forward.
The reporter nicely summarizes the recent string of BDS victories and also notes the concerns even some progressives have about the amorphousness of the political agenda of the international effort:
The BDS movement is highly decentralized, with each group in the coalition allowed to choose its own targets as it sees fit. It has no articulated political vision. such as a one- or two-state solution to the conflict. The principles that guide the movement — as set out in a call for boycott, divestment and sanctions issued in June 2005 by a wide group of Palestinian civil society organizations — demand instead that Israel adhere to international and human rights law. The amorphous structure and broad goals appear to be responsible for many of the group’s appeal.
In a debate here with Alex Stein, who claimed BDS was anti-Zionist, I noted the studied unwillingness of the group’s mission statement to take a firm position on the issue. I think this is one of the strengths of Jewish Voice for Peace as well. The refusal to lay out a political solution to the overall conflict doesn’t mean, as enemies would claim, that these groups are obfuscating their more radical principles. Rather, it means they are trying to bring as many activists together around basic core principles.
Here, Omar Barghouti, one of the Palestinian leaders of BDS, expands upon the strategy:
…The BDS movement “does not adopt a particular political solution to the colonial conflict.” The main strategy, he wrote, “is based on the principle that human rights and international law must be upheld and respected no matter what the political solution may be. This was key to securing a near consensus in Palestinian civil society and a wide network of support around the world, including the Western mainstream.”
The exclusive focus on rights rather than on a political prescription for the conflict brings together both those who want to target Israel’s existence as a whole and those—mostly American activists—who stick to the more narrow issue of the occupation and settlement activity.
As far as Barghouti is concerned, BDS is a “comprehensive boycott of Israel, including all its products, academic and cultural institutions, etc.” But he understands “the tactical needs of our partners to carry out a selective boycott of settlement products, say, or military suppliers of the Israeli occupation army as the easiest way to rally support around as a black-and-white violation of international law and basic human rights.”
I was slightly concerned about the middle paragraph since it seems to imply there are those in the movement who wish, to use that tired pro-Israel locution, to “destroy Israel.” But I’m very leery, on such sensitive subjects, to trust a reporter who paraphrases the views of a subject. I’d prefer to see this in Barghouti’s own words before I’d trust that Beckerman got it right.
Barghouti, by the way, is a grad student at Tel Aviv University. He recently wrote his Masters thesis on BDS and there was a huge uproar on campus. To his credit, the University president refused to cave in to pressure and ensured that Barghouti was not ejected from his program. Unfortunately, Neve Gordon did not receive the same support from his University’s president when he published his piece endorsing BDS.