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.