Will Boycotting Israel Go Mainstream?
By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News
07 February 14
ou see for Israel there's an increasing de-legitimization campaign that has been building up," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week at the annual Munich Security Conference. "People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things."
Kerry was referring in part to what the AP called "a small but growing number" of European businesses and pension funds that have begun to drop investments or limit trade with Israeli firms involved in settlements on the West Bank. He was speaking as a long-time friend of Israel, telling a truth its leaders did not want spoken out loud - that they had better make peace with the Palestinians before Europe and the rest of the world turn against the Jewish state.
"Today's status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained," Kerry warned like an Old Testament prophet and the grandson of Eastern European Jews who converted to Catholicism. "It's not sustainable. It's illusionary."
Rarely has the loose-lipped Kerry made so much sense, but leave it to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and his right-wing government to turn a well-meant sales pitch for peace into a recruiting poster for a nonviolent war they might well lose. At last count, three Israeli cabinet ministers called Kerry an anti-Semite, a stink-bomb best saved for real offenders, while Netanyahu - not wanting to insult his American aid-givers more than he thought he could get away with - condemned any boycott as "immoral and unjust," and unable to achieve its goals.
Kerry had quietly raised the specter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement last summer when the European Union moved to restrict funding for any research conducted on the West Bank. If peace talks failed, Kerry warned, the effort to delegitimize Israel would go "on steroids." According to the Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, an outspoken Zionist with well-placed sources, Netanyahu took the warning seriously, as do some of Israel's leading manufacturers.
Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian co-founder of the BDS movement, echoed the warning in The New York Times this past Sunday, emphasizing the number of American Jews who vocally oppose Israeli apartheid policies. Barghouti's op-ed linked specifically to Jewish Voice for Peace, which is working with the American Friends Service Committee and other groups on a number of campaigns against Israeli apartheid. Probably the best-known is an effort to get the giant financial services firm TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that profit from Israeli occupation of Palestinian land on the West Bank.
How can well-intentioned Jews and Quakers work on campaigns that the Israeli government, the self-promoting Alan Dershowitz, and the California State Assembly (HR 35) have declared anti-Semitic? How can these do-gooders boycott Israel when they do not boycott other countries that abuse human rights? Isn't that double-standard the very essence of anti-Semitism?
The argument, to me, is morally absurd and politically obtuse, made even worse by the concerted attack on free speech from Dershowitz & Co. A more mainstream case for supporting at least part of the BDS movement comes from the Israeli daily Haaretz in a recent op-ed by Henry Siegman, the long-time executive director of the American Jewish Congress.
"There's no bigotry in the boycott," reads the headline. "Israel has been singled out for special treatment, not punishment - the rewards of American largesse, despite its predatory occupation of the Palestinians and their land."
Siegman questions the wisdom of boycotting Israeli universities, some of whose faculties vigorously oppose their government's policies toward the Palestinians. But he finds accusations of anti-Semitism "groundless."
"I challenge critics of the BDS movement to identify another democracy from among those that do not hold another people under near-permanent occupation (no other democracy does) that receives the massive economic, military and diplomatic support lavished on Israel," Siegman writes. "I challenge them to identify another country, no matter how spotless its human rights record, about which America's leaders - its president, vice president and secretary of state - repeatedly declare 'there is no daylight between our countries,' even as they warn - virtually in the same breath - that Israel's policies are leading the Jewish state to apartheid."
One other point needs open discussion, hopefully without undue rancor. While many American Jews are moving away from the lock-step Zionism that they may have learned in their youth, Palestinians and their supporters (of which I am one) should also do some painful thinking. Those who favor a Palestinian homeland would gain enormous support by distancing themselves publicly from those who deny not only the Holocaust, but also three millennia of Jews in the Holy Land. For myself, I decided long ago that Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, is historically flawed and less compelling than Palestinian claims to Palestine. We all need to decide for ourselves, and we all benefit from respecting historical evidence and the national stories of "the Other."
Even more difficult, BDS activists worldwide would open the door to far greater success - and far less strident opposition - if they showed the courage to openly confront the Palestinian national movement's support for Nazi Germany. It's no secret that that the movement's undisputed leader at the time, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husaini, staunchly supported Hitler and called for ridding the Middle East of its Jews. Facing up to this may no longer be a question of choice. A recent book "Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East" goes much too far in crediting al-Husaini with convincing the Führer to embrace "the Final Solution," which Hitler had in mind at least as early as 1922. But al-Husaini did back the gassing of the Jews, for which many Palestinians and other Arabs have celebrated his memory. Isn't it long past time to break with that horrific past?
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.
Edited by macaense, 08 February 2014 - 11:21 PM.