A BDS Wake Up Call?

A recent report from the Forward:

With anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts gaining visibility, the Jewish community’s main public-policy coordinating body is for the first time confronting the BDS movement as a specific and stated priority.

At its recent annual plenum, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs passed a resolution stating that BDS should now “be regarded with the utmost seriousness and urgency.”

“This is a very serious matter,” JCPA’s executive director, Rabbi Steve Gutow, told the Forward. “We need to wake up, whether we are on the right, left or center.”

The JCPA, an umbrella body representing Jewish community relations councils across the country and more than a dozen leading national Jewish groups, adopted the anti-BDS resolution at its plenum in Dallas on February 23. Gutow said that JCPA member groups are planning to create a permanent body that would respond to the activities of the BDS movement.

My two cents: creating a permanent body to combat the “negative branding” caused by BDS is a waste of Jewish communal resources.  I just don’t believe that the old counterattack tactics will work any more (if they ever did).  I’d suggest that if the Jewish community really wants to “wake up” to the challenge presented by BDS, then we need to honestly confront the fundamental reasons for its growth in the first place.

The BDS movement was founded in 2005 by a coalition of Palestinian groups who sought to fight for Israel’s human rights violations through nonviolent direct action. It arose out of their frustration over Israel’s continued refusal to comply with international law on any number of critical issues – and the oppressive manner in which it has occupied and ruled over Palestinians. I can’t help but think that by treating BDS simply as a PR threat to be fought, we’re utterly misunderstanding the essential of the point (and strength) of this movement.

By all accounts, this campaign is rapidly gaining support. It’s not a stretch to assume that the longer this oppressive status quo is allowed to continue, the longer Palestinians will resist – and the longer they will seek international support for their resistance.  One year ago, I predicted as much on this blog: BDS will grow as long as very real injustices remain unaddressed.

When will we wake up to this painful reality?

5 thoughts on “A BDS Wake Up Call?

  1. YBD

    I beg to differ with you, but I see the supposed “human rights violations in the territories” as merely the excuse for BDS, not the real cause. The real reason is that BDS is part of the whole multi-front Arab/Muslim onslaught against Israel which is attempting to delegitimize Israel entirely. Because the problem, as the Arabs/Muslims see it is NOT the supposed human rights violations, but the very EXISTENCE of Israel, which they view as illegitimate (and by “they” I mean the official representatives of the Arab/Muslim world such as the leaders of their different states, their political movements, their religious spokesmen, etc). Thus, the creation of a Palestinian state (i.e. the so-called “2-state solution”) would not end the BDS, rather it would intensify it. The Arab/Muslim side would see that since Israel is giving up its holiest places , (The Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Ma’arat HaMachpela-Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron), and other strategic assets in addition to the Jewish communities located there, they (the Arab/Muslims) would conclude that the Jews will give up the rest if they keep the pressure up, BDS being an important ingredient in this (an Iranian Atomic bomb could be a significant addition).
    You yourself have pointed out that “progressives” view other aspects of Israeli policy as problematic, such as the Israeli Law of Return favoring Jewish immigrants, the laws giving control of personal status to the religious bodies to which each Israeli citizen is identified by law with, the Jewish National Fund’s control of a significant part of the land of the country, and most of all, the Nakba-dispossession of the Arabs in the 1948 war.
    Even now, some “progressives” Jews keep up the call that says Israel, as a Jewish state, IS NOT WORTHY OF SUPPORT BY ‘DEMOCRATIC’ COUNTRIES SUCH AS THE UNITED STATES. Thus, even after an Israeli withdrawal from Judea/Samaria we would see continued pressure for BDS on these grounds.

    Having said all this, I don’t believe BDS is a real, strategic problem that can’t be countered, provided that pro-Israel people and groups around the world stay on the alert. This is because outside of the Arab and Muslim world MOST PEOPLE DON’T CARE ABOUT THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT. Most people don’t go around worrying about the “stateless” Palestinians. They remember the suicide bomber war, they see and hear Arab/Muslim rejectionism of Israel in the media all the time, and, particularly in Europe, they see it is their minority Muslim populations, with whom they have their own problematic relationship, as the ones carrying the banner of the anti-Israel offensive. These Europeans and Americans view the Arab-Israel conflict as one of the many intractable conflicts in the world that has no solution and they are not particularly worked up about, just as many “progressives” who do worry about it ignore other, more serious human rights problems around the world. No one has unlimited time and energy to take on all the world’s problems.
    This doesn’t mean that these individuals necessarily “like” Israel..they may look at it as a sense of “a pox on both your houses”, but this they may be willing to continue doing business even if they don’t really like us. It is true that relatively small groups of Muslims and radical anarchist-Communist-anti-Globalist groups in these countries can take hold of groups like trade unions, most of whose members and apathetic and don’t attend meetings which allows these motivated militants to push through resolutions for BDS against Israel. If there is no counter-pressure then these resolutions may pass and it looks (wrongly) like “everyone hates Israel” in this particularl country. Thus, Israel does indeed need to mobilize counter-BDS forces in groups like this, but, as I said, since most people don’t care about the Palestinians and their problems, this counter-BDS effort can be successful.

  2. Eva

    Dear Rabbi Brant,

    It’s so uplifting and makes me so hopeful to hear a Rabbi or anyone in the Jewish community daring to and to say out loud this wake up call to really look at the reason for BDS instead of just using the old counterattacks.
    Thank you for saying: “we need to honestly confront the fundamental reasons for its growth in the first place”.
    That’s it.! Hard as that might be it’s that’s what’s needed if we ever going to have Peace.

    Thank you so very much!!
    A Jewish woman who believes in Peace and Justice.

  3. rabbi lynn gottlieb

    Operation Cast Lead was a massacre filled with thousands of heart breaking stories. Each of the 1400 persons killed represents an entire world. Yes, it is also a war crime to fire kassam rockets into Israel with the intention to kill civilians. Over 2,000 rockets and 1,600 mortar shells were fired into Israel in 2008 alone.

    Some among the Palestinian population use armed force to resist Israeli’s military occupation and blockade of Gaza and the West Bank. According to international law, armed resistance against illegal occupation can be considered a just cause, as long as the rules of war are observed. However, as a person committed to nonviolence, I view the use of militarism by states or non-state actors to ensure security or resist occupation as a self-defeating strategy that promotes more violence and suffering and does not, in the end, result in well-being or peace for beleaguered populations.

    However, for those who believe in the use of military force as a viable option, Israel’s response to kassam attacks went far beyond legal and ethical boundaries. The much maligned Goldstone report proved beyond reasonable doubt that Israel intentionally targeted civilians and civilian institutions with deadly weapons. This is nothing new.

    Operation Cast Lead made clear that the sixty year Israeli military siege of the people of Palestine has increased in brutality and ferocity. Sixty years of evidence that includes eye-witness reports, analysis of video, satellite and photographic images, medical reports, forensic analysis of weapons and ammunition remnants, and the written observations and testimony of thousands of witnesses from Palestine, Israel and the international community reveal a continual pattern of continuous assault that has very little to do with Israel’s claim of ‘security’. Rather, the end game is creating ‘facts on the ground’ that establish a Jewish state from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea which limits Palestinians to 20% of the national population.

    Israel employs forced displacement, blockade, air strike, land mines, rubber bullets, white phosphorous, dime bombs, torture, beating and sexual humiliation, arbitrary arrest and administrative detention of minors and adults, water and land theft, Jewish only roads, hundreds of military checkpoints, security fences, nightly incursions, human shields, collaborators, deportation, permit systems, denial of access to economic opportunity, health care, culture and education, targeting of sewage and electricity plants and water installations, uprooting of thousands of trees and the destruction of thousands of homes to force the remaining Palestinian population into small enclosed areas that can only be described as open air prisons. Ariel Sharon described these enclaves designated as the future Palestinian State as ‘bantustans’.

    In short, all these tactics amount to what is considered the crime of apartheid for the sake of creating a state that awards national and civil privileges based on Jewish identity while confining the excess non-Jewish population to their own ‘homeland’. This is the ugly truth that is so hard for Jewish people and millions of so-called Christian Zionists to face. Anyone who spends a day in Palestinian territories sees this truth immediately. The so-called two state solution which is based on this vision of reality is hardly viable or legal. People will not and cannot endure oppression forever. Our own history should teach us this lesson. The question is, how does an oppressed people change the situation on the ground and open history to new possibilities.

    Those who both decry Palestinian armed resistance and the option of boycott, divestment and sanctions can’t have it both ways. Once you accept the fact that Israel’s behavior toward Palestinians falls into the category of the crime of apartheid, BDS is the logical and ethical nonviolent response. If any other state were engaged in similar behavior, BDS would be an acceptable form of resistance, as it was in the case of South Africa. Forty years of dialogue and negotiation with Israelis and Jews clearly has not worked to advance the cause of self-determination for Palestinians. The situation on the ground is far worse than ever before. The two state solution and all the peace plans and road maps have been undermined by the systematic effort to enclose Palestinians in bantustans and deny them civil and national rights. In this context, further efforts at dialogue only benefit those with privilege, unless they are accompanied by strategies of resistance to the systematic inequality Palestinians face on a daily basis.

    While J Street and associated partners are a much appreciated alternative voice within the Jewish community to the AIPAC machine, they have thus far failed to address the concerns nor partner with Palestinians in their own struggle for human and equal rights. As Jews, we have to recognize that we are not going to be the ones who determine the direction of the Palestinian nonviolent struggle for freedom. What we can and should do, is find ways of acting in solidarity with that struggle by joining the Palestinian initiated international effort to use boycott, divestment and sanctions to force Israel to comply with international law and end the siege of Gaza and the illegal occupation of Palestine. We can also support those within Israel who are resisting the oppressive actions of their own state. We cannot truly work on this issue without understanding the meaning of resistance in our lives.

    For Jews, I believe resistance requires serious study and practice of the Torah of Nonviolence. Nonviolence is the only way forward. Accepting the violence perpetrated against Palestinians will destroy our beautiful tradition. By struggling in solidarity with those who oppose militarism and support boycott, divestment and sanctions we are also renewing the most sacred elements of our tradition that require us to protest in the street, pursue justice and peace and avoid violence. It is not an easy road.

    Boycott is a strategy capable of being used for good and for bad. In this case, I believe that BDS is the only viable nonviolent method that can impact ‘facts on the ground’. All of us who love freedom, justice and peace, all of us who love the people of Israel and the people of Palestine have a profound responsibility to act in alignment with the people who are the actual victims in this situation. They are calling for BDS. That is why I went to Cairo and created the Interfaith Gaza Satyagraha as an affinity group within the Gaza Freedom March, to join my voice with theirs.

    As the only rabbi present in Cairo for the entire GFM experience, I was honored to stand with hundreds of other activists from over forty nations, many of whom spoke to me of their commitment to oppose anti-semetism wherever it emerged. I spent ten days planning actions, protesting in the streets, talking about next steps, networking and envisioning. At one point, American Jews organized a protest in front of the Israeli Embassy which is fifteen stories above the street and visible only by the familiar blue and white flag. I was asked to lead a Sabbath service. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Egyptians and internationals of all persuasions stood round a simple kiddish cup, Egyptian flat bread and candles. I invited participants to envision a world where everyone could find a seat at the table and eat, unafraid. We sang and prayed in Hebrew in public and I saw tears flow. Standing among the crowd was a man with a Palestinian father and a Sephardic Israeli mother. He wept in joy because, for one instant, the worlds of conflict stretching across the borders of his soul could dissolve in a single vision of unification and peace. So may it be for all of us, Palestinian and Jew, living together on the same land in recognition of our common love for place and each other. Palestinians have the right to return to their own land, or receive just compensation.

    Only a ‘solution’ which ensures ‘the right to exist’ and universal human rights of all people living on the historic land of Israel/Palestine will suffice. The children of the future will see the world very differently than those of us living now. They will face new challenges and inherit a new sense of globalism which hopefully strengthens the religious, cultural and national heritage of both Palestinians and Israelis in a renewed culture of peace. It is up to us to prepare the way.

  4. Ross

    Some European union pension funds have excluded corporations from their portfolios that profit off of the occupation.

    The JCPA’s statement maligns advocates of these efforts by impugning their motivations.

    It is ironic that at the same plenum, the JCPA passed a resolution on civility.


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