Saturday, March 6, 2010

Demonization or Dialogue? BDS, BS, and the Middle East


The contrast between the two events and the motivations behind them could not be clearer.

Most of us who so vociferously oppose the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement do so not because we are opposed to Palestinian rights and a peaceful two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. On the contrary. It is BDS that is the obstacle to genuine progress. As we have pointed out here before, rather than seeking peace and justice for both peoples, it puts all the blame on one side. What is more, in so doing, it makes clear that its aim is not the critique of a policy but the demonization and de facto destruction of a United Nations member state. For the BDS movement—which admits as much—there is no practical distinction between Israeli policies in the territories and Israel as such. As one of its leaders recently said, “It is a boycott of Israel . . . It would be absurd to just boycott one manifestation of the state and not the state itself.”

The gullible or the disingenuous may accept BDS 's self-definition as "a nonviolent campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel until it complies with international law." No one else should. Even leaving aside the fact that the interpretation of "international law" here is, by any objective standard, utterly fanciful (which is to say: whatever accords with the author's wishes; political conflicts are one thing, legal facts, quite another), the aim of both the armed and putative non-violent struggles proves, upon closer examination to be the same: Take, for example, the "Cairo Declaration" issued in conjunction with the farcical Gaza Freedom March. The unexceptionable goals of "ending the 'occupation'" (correction: whoops, forgot to capitalize it—sorry!) and "Palestinian self-determination"—which I share—when placed in the seemingly innocuous but carefully coded context of "Equal Rights for All within historic Palestine" (there they go again with that bizarre capitalization; why didn't "historic" merit the majuscule ?) and the "full Right of Return for Palestinian refugees" turn out to be a call for the end of Israel as an independent and Jewish state—which is to say: the end of Israel. QED.

"Israeli Apartheid Week" was born in Toronto five years ago, and the Canada National Post rendered one of the most astute verdicts this past week:

A festival of bigotry

Israeli Apartheid Week is a disgrace that our leaders are correct to denounce

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which began on Monday on dozens of university campuses, is an odious and bigoted annual ritual. While organizers bill it as an exercise in "Palestine solidarity," it typically features rabid expressions of hatred against Israel and its Jewish inhabitants. As a general principle, it goes without saying that criticism of Israel is not automatically tantamount to anti-Semitism. But the atmosphere at some IAW events blurs the line -- with extremist speakers whipping crowds into the sort of frenzy one more usually sees in newsreel footage from the streets of Cairo or Gaza City. As a result, many Jewish students often report feeling intimidated on their own campuses.
In its very conception, IAW is offensive for two related reasons. First, it directs participants to vilify a single country, an inherently bigoted exercise. Unlike, say, "anti-racism week" or "diversity awareness week," IAW does not champion a concept -- rather, it targets a particular group of people defined by religion and citizenship. Second, it does so with a false and poisonous analogy between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa. Taken together, the combined message is more or less the same one communicated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamas -- that Israel is a uniquely evil and fundamentally illegitimate nation. While IAW speakers generally are careful not to call for Israel's destruction explicitly, they don't need to: That message follows naturally from the claim that the nation is fundamentally illegitimate. (read the rest)
The point about the college atmosphere should not be underestimated. Antisemitism, increasingly difficult to distinguish from anti-Israel activism, is on the rise in the academic community. Many Jewish students cringe when this time of year comes around (ironically, not unlike their ancestors at Eastertide, when they knew it was safest to keep their heads down or stay indoors).

Although the Post inclines toward the center-right, representatives of all parties in the Ontario legislature rendered the same verdict by voting unanimously to condemn Apartheid Week. Of particular note: Canada's socialist New Democratic Party, which has been a severe critic of Israel's occupation policies, denounced the movement and event:
"What we need to build peace ... are not inflammatory words like 'apartheid,' particularly used inappropriately in the case of Israel," NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo told the Toronto Star. "What we like to speak about is the occupation [of Palestinian territory], the [security] wall, other issues that face us."
Here at home, "J Street," the controversial left-wing Jewish peace movement that is attempting to present a new voice in US debates on the Middle East, reiterated its unequivocal condemnation:
The BDS movement, whose dogmatic, counterproductive approach underlies “Israel Apartheid Week,” aims to delegitimize Israel’s very existence - making no distinction between West Bank settlements and Israel proper, and refusing to support a two-state solution that results in a viable Palestinian state and a secure, democratic Israel that is a homeland for the Jewish people, living side by side in peace and security. The BDS movement’s lack of support for a two-state solution puts it well outside the mainstream of the entire political leadership of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the United States.
We also reject comparisons of Israel to South African apartheid. The analogy clearly implies that Israel is illegitimate, that it deserves a wholesale boycott, and suggests a single state for Israelis and Palestinians would be some sort of solution to the conflict, when in reality, it is a recipe for further violence, strife, and insecurity.
The BDS movement wrongly places the entirety of blame for the conflict on Israel. Responsibility for the conflict does not rest exclusively with either the Israelis or the Palestinians, and moreover, this conflict will never be truly resolved if one side wins only at the other’s loss.
The approach of the BDS movement only serves to deepen Israel’s sense of isolation and thus harden Israelis against the compromises necessary to achieve peace, undermining the regular and inspiring cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. This is singularly unhelpful particularly as the United States works to re-launch negotiations and as the window of opportunity for achieving a viable two-state solution grows ever smaller.
Few events better exemplify the counterproductive polarization on campus than “Israel Apartheid Week.” J Street and J Street U are committed to an open, honest and civilized debate that allows students to work constructively towards adopting positions and actions that can help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, we strongly oppose Israel Apartheid Week because we believe that it employs inflammatory, inaccurate language, misrepresents the complex truth of the conflict, undercuts debate, alienates significant numbers of students, and advances the agenda of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Add to that the fact that Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions includes academic boycotts, which are inimical to the very spirit of education. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the leading defender of academic freedom and faculty rights has strongly condemned such actions against Israel in both specific and general terms:
free discussion among all faculty members worldwide should be encouraged, not inhibited. . . . In the long run, more, not less, dialogue with Israeli faculty members is an important way to promote peace in the region.
With such strong condemnation from the scholarly community and the pro-peace left, that doesn't leave much but the marginal among the marginal to support BDS. That, however, is precisely where it is and deserves to be.

* * *

Some resources:

• "Israel Apartheid Week" (Wikipedia) [an ever-evolving text, of course]
• Ishmael Khaldi, "Lost in the Blur of Slogans" (SFGate)
• "'Israeli Apartheid' Week" (CAMERA)
• Jon Haber, "Divest This!" blog
• "J Street & J Street U Reiterate Opposition to BDS, 'Israel Apartheid Week'” (Word on the Street)
• "A Festival of Bigotry" (Canada National Post)
• Richard Cohen, "Israel has its faults, but apatheid isn't one of them" (Washington Post)
• Ben Cohen, "Combating the Apartheid Slander: Resources" (Z-Word)
• Ben Cohen, "Lies, Damn Lies, and the Apartheid Analogy" (Z-Word)
• Rhoda Kadalie and Julia Bertelsmann, "Franchising 'Apartheid': Why South Africans Push the Analogy" (Z-Word)
• Beryl Wajsman, "The Israel 'Apartheid' Lies" (Canada Free Press)
• Petra Marquardt-Bigman, "The Warped Mirror: The 'Israeli Apartheid' Gospel" (JPost)
• Stan Crooke, "Boycott 'Apartheid Israel'?" (Workers' Liberty)
• Robbie Sabel, "The Campaign to Delegitimize Israel With the False Charge of Apartheid" (JCPA)
• David Hirsh, "Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections" (Yale)
• John Strawson, "Zionism and Apartheid: The Analogy in International Law" (Engage)

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