Why I oppose BDS

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is an on-going campaign by some Palestinian and pro-Palestinian groups, calling for – well – boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to nudge it towards the end of occupation and discrimination of Palestinians both within and beyond the green line. It has garnered some support internationally, and even among Israeli Jews there are those who promote it within the radical left. I, however, oppose it. There are two routes by which I arrived at opposing it. One has to do with my own identity as an Israeli, and thus doesn’t strictly reject the notion of BDS, but only the support of BDS by Israelis. The other, however, rejects it in-toto, not so much because it is inherently wrong, but because it is advocated for wrong reasons and all to often displays the makings of a nationalist argument flimsily disguised by liberal rhetoric.

But we’ll start with the first route, which is much simpler. BDS argues, quite plainly, that Israel is an apartheid state, and therefore the best way to get it to change is repeat what was so successful with the more iconic apartheid state – South Africa. BDS, then, is simply the outsider’s best means for influencing what they thing is a problem situation. In a democracy, one influences politics by voting and other acts of citizenship. But foreigners don’t get to participate, so they have to resort to the power of the market – it would be highly undemocratic of them to exercise voice where they don’t legitimately have one, but exit – i.e., not buying stuff – is certainly within their rights. But one cannot exercise both at the same time. One cannot legitimately exercise their right to voice internally, while attempting to amplify their voice by generating external pressure via exit. In other words, if you’re going to support boycott of Israel, you have to exit it yourself first. You can’t support it from within. Similarly, I think it is intellectually dishonest for a professor to work in an Israeli university and, at the same time, call for its boycott by others. Certainly, it is most dishonest when those doing the calling hope that this will somehow save them from the boycott1, but even when they are willing to bear the burden of possible results, as long as they stay within the comfy confines of their tenured position, they cannot honestly call for boycott of that same institution.

This route, again, still leaves it legitimate for foreigners (and Palestinian Israelis) to support BDS. But I argue the movement, as it currently stands, is still intellectually tainted, and should not be supported unless it seriously revises its stated goals and its rhetoric.

The “Call for BDS” asks the international community to boycott Israel until Israel meets its demands of

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

The first hurdle appears in the first demand. “Ending occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”. I asked Ali Abunimah how can I read that other than “Jews go home”. He answered by sending me to two texts, one by Omar Barghouti, the other by himself. I’m not quite sure how the latter answers my question, so I’ll focus on the first. It offers a wonderful notion of “ethical de-colonization”, which I gladly subscribe to. It should be noted, however, that the call doesn’t ask for “ethical de-colonization” but to the end of “colonization”, without qualifications. The very fact the Barghouti needed a qualifier in his term shows that the unqualified term means something else. Abunimah himself said that this refers to the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan heights. Again, I can’t see how this can be clearly read from the document, which speaks of “Arab lands”. I know of no reasonable interpretation that sees just the occupied territories as “Arab lands”. Either the whole of Palestine is, or none of it is. Isn’t this the argument made by two-state proponents that object to compromises? That the compromise is that 80% of the territory is given to the Jews, so there’s no sense it demanding even more is “compromised”?

Of course, Barghouti’s article doesn’t end in that beautiful vision. It dives from there into a diatribe thinly veiled by legalistic language that in essence argues that the Jews gave no right to self-determination, and that the most Israeli Jews can hope for is that they be allowed to live their lives as equal citizens within an essentially Palestinian state, with full individual rights but not collective or national rights — as opposed to the Palestinians, who do have a right to self-determination. Basically, Barghouti is offering to the Jews2 – most magnanimously, as he notes himself – the same life that right-wing liberals in Israel are willing to afford Palestinians: individual rights without national rights, and living within a state that defines itself nationally as the state of another people.

This is depressing, because this is exactly what opponents of the binational vision say the binational state would be like (at best, with a goodly chance that this will quickly deteriorate into a non-democratic, possibly theocratic state – so, basically, where we are now, only upside down). This hardly gives me a good feeling about the whole endeavor. I say, if we give up national rights, we give them up for everybody. If we can’t, as I, unfortunately, suspect is the case, then both sides must have national rights in a binational state. No talk about how the Jews are settler-colonizers will change the fact that the Jews have no homeland to return to. They are not emissaries of foreign powers that have decided to stick around cause the like the weather. They are in Israel because they see it as their homeland, they have good reason to see it as their homeland, and they should have a right of self-determination just like any other people. Now, I’m not a huge fan of the so-called right of self-determination. I think this right was basically stillborn, never really amounted to much and never did a single good thing for anybody. The right for democratic rule seems much more relevant to me. But if you argue for the right of self-determination for one people, no amount of intellectual acrobatics will save you from granting the same right to every other people. That, after all, is exactly the downfall of this right.

But one man’s opinion hardly means I should object to the entire project, right? Of course. The opinions of the BDS movement as expressed in their FAQ section, however, do.

Is explaining why BDS should be supported even though some supporters of the Palestinian plight within Israel object to it, they explain:

Although the views of Israeli supporters regarding methods of struggle should be taken into consideration, Palestinians have the ultimate right to decide on the best method for attaining freedom from an illegal occupation and systematically oppressive regime. Supporters of the Palestinian struggle within the international community and within Israel itself have to stop attempting to dictate the terms of the struggle but support the Palestinian right to resist an illegal occupation.

This is what I mean when I talk of nationalist arguments poorly disguised in liberal rhetoric. Israelis “have to stop attempting to dictate the terms of struggle”. We are the victims, say the Palestinians. Therefore, we get to decide what is to be done. Notice, of course, that nobody is dictating anything to the BDS movement. Quite the contrary, in this brilliant example of passive-aggressive writing, it is exactly the Palestinians who are dictating to the rest of the world how they must act in order to support Palestinian freedom. If you don’t support us in exactly the way we say you should, well, then the terroristsZionists have already won. For another example of how this logic unfolds, see this criticism of a group that dares employ a different means to achieving this goal, and gets derided for it, as if because these organizations called for BDS, this is now The Law.

Finally, as has been noted on this blog before, the true liberal puts no right ahead of another. There is no prioritizing of rights, and rights must be given to everyone – even to those who wish to deny them to others – while at the same time the liberal acts to ensure that these wishes are not granted. It’s tough to be a liberal. But that’s why it’s easy to spot those who make false claims to the ideals that liberals uphold. Like the people who wrote this in response to the question “does academic boycott infringe on academic freedom?

It may; but who’s Academic Freedom is being referred to within this context? That of Israeli academics. Are we to regard only the academic freedom of Israelis as worthy? Plus, the privileging of academic freedom as a super-value above all other freedoms is in principle antithetical to the very foundation of human rights. The fact that Palestinians are denied basic rights as well as academic freedom under Israel’s military occupation is ignored. The fact that, with the exception of a tiny yet crucial minority, Israeli academics are largely supportive of their state’s oppression or are acquiescently silent about it is ignored. The fact that Israeli academic institutions have been and continue to be entirely complicit in the continuing aggressions against Palestinian society is ignored. The fact that Israeli academic institutions are themselves directly engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights and international law is ignored.

“Who cares?!” would be a good summary of the above paragraph. They’re just Israelis! Most of them are Zionists! Their rights can be trampled upon in the name of fighting for our rights. Just like the rights of women can be put on hold in the name of The Fight – after all, they’re Jewish Israeli women, the oppressors. You can justify a whole lot with this type of argument, but it doesn’t bode well for those of us that will end up living in that country that the BDS movement envisions, a country that will most certainly continue to use this wildcard of the rights of the victims over their oppressors long after the oppressors are no longer that.

Barghouti talks of a long process of ethical de-colonization. I fully support the need for such a long process. But I don’t see a willingness on the side of the BDS movement for this sort of process. I don’t see a commitment to true equality. I see vindictiveness – not that we haven’t earned it, of course, but still, not something I would like to promote when I’m at the business end of the vengeance.

A true liberal will tell the BDS movement that they support the cause of ending occupation and oppression of the Palestinians, but not at the expense of the Jews. And while I appreciate Ali Abunimah’s writing in favour of the one-state solution, I cannot condone his constant hate-mongering against Israelis in general. The process of ethical de-colonization cannot start after we have reached a settlement. It must start now, and it starts by taking the hands of those who reach out, not by pointing fingers.

Notes:
  1. There was a proposal at the time that the Canadian Union will impose an academic boycott in Canadian universities which will require some sort of oath of disloyalty to Israel for an Israeli to be hired. I said in an email to my representative at the union that even as I criticize my country left and right, I will never disown it in such a manner, and will fight the union if such discrimination is used against me for my nationality. Luckily, the proposal never really got anywhere. []
  2. Nay, to “Israeli Jews” – the rest of the Jews can go suck it. []

39 comments to Why I oppose BDS

  • [...] most dishonest when those doing the calling hope that this will somehow save them from the boycott1, but even when they are willing to bear the burden of possible results, as long as they stay within [...]

  • Klil

    “a country that will most certainly continue to use this wildcard of the rights of the victims over their oppressors long after the oppressors are no longer that.”

    We certainly do not need to search wide and long to see an example of that, now do we?

  • On a direct, pragmatic level, the only nonviolent tactic I’ve seen as effective in removing apartheid situations (be it in South Africa, in the south of the U.S., with the Montgomery bus boycott, or the grape boycott for farm-workers’ rights) has been exactly this: BDS.

    Expecting “the Jews” (as you put it) to give up their privileged position which gives them a much larger than your fair share of the resources: political power, electromagnetic spectrum, water, land use, access to medical services, etc. must feel very scary. Imagining a situation where you’d have to pay reparations and figure out how to share the political space with a culture that is very different from yours must be very scary, too.

    Since the alternative to sharing the space equitably is maintaining the occupation (in one form or another) until one or the other side gives up and dies. And that is worse for Jews, Muslims, Christians, and the entire world, in my opinion, than any kind of difficulties which will be worked out in a situation where all residents of the not-very-well-defined space called Palestine & Israel share power, rights, and obligations in a manner that is democratic (which is the worst possible way to govern a state, except for all the others.)

  • I totally agree to your first point – BDS is not for Israelis. I also share your depression with the words of Barghouti. but I disagree on several points:
    First, you say those are ‘nationalist argument’. I fail to see the problem with that. As we’re dealing with the right of self-determination, nationalistic arguments sound like the right thing to my ear. This is not an all-humanity fight for rights; this is a Palestinian fight for self-determination, and part of that self determination is being the leaders of the fight.

    Second, I don’t see myself as ‘a true liberal’, but I do not think that ‘a true liberal puts no right ahead of another’. Didn’t we learn in highschool about ‘collision of rights’? Isn’t putting someone in jail in order to prevent the loss of life ‘prioritizing of rights’?

    Dena: I don’t think that Dubi has to prove that he’s in favor of ending Jewish privileges in Israel. Question is, is delf-determination such a privilege?

  • hi Dubi,

    As an enthusiastic supporter of the BDS movement, I don’t see a problem here, from a practical/realist aspect: The BDS movement would not have emerged had Israel acted according to the principles of the Oslo accords.

    Does anyone think the BDS movement will be as vibrant as it is today if this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva_Accord
    is implemented?

    And I’m writing this from the point of view of someone who believes Israel’s flaws run deeper than any flaws this document seeks to remedy.

  • One more thing: University lecturers who support the boycott are not asking for special exemptions. The boycott is institutional and it will affect them too. You can ask Prof. Rachel Giora.

  • [...] posted on the pogg blog, August 9, 2010.) There was a proposal at the time that the Canadian Union will impose an academic [...]

  • Jasmine Murphy

    I have no expectation of seeing a truthful response to this comment.

    One wonders why the kingpin of BDS, Omar Barghouti, does not boycott TAU but continues to study there for his PhD, funded by the Israeli taxpayers.

    • Jasmine, don’t PHD student have to pay tuition fees? (that’s the case for HUJI). Omar was probably funding TAU. Are you sure he got any funding from them?

      If Israeli students should not boycott TAU, the same goes for Palestinian students living under Israeli occupation. They are not overseas students.

      And why don’t you pick on one of the Israeli Jewish professors who support the BDS?…

      • Jasmine Murphy

        Ofer
        I presume that Barghouti can reply with details of who funds him himself and does not need you to intervene with your guesses.

        To use your childish phrase I have ‘picked on’ Barghouti because he is enjoying the bounty of the very system he criticises which strikes me as being more than slightly hypocritical. He is also propping up a system he deplores by taking part in it and thereby giving it legitimacy.

        I suggest that he displays the courage of his convictions and enrolls at a Palestinian university which is probably in need of his patronage instead.

  • Philo-Semite

    “Imagining a situation where you’d have to pay reparations”

    I agree. The Arab world (including the Palestinians) owe the Jews massive reparations both for 14 centuries of dhimmitude and for Arab collaboration in the Holocaust.

    • Collaboration? Didn’t know there was an ARAB SS unit.

      You probably have Haj Amin el-Husseini in mind. Well, one of your political idols/bedfellows, Israel’s PM years later, seems to have acted in a worse manner:

      “The establishment of the historic Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, bound by a treaty with the German Reich, would be in the interest of a maintained and strengthened future German position of power in the Near East.”

      http://www.counterpunch.org/brenner1223.html

  • Jasmine, please pick on me. I support the BDS principles wholeheartedly, and I am enrolled at an Israeli university. I live under the same regime as Omar, an Israeli regime (a regime which grants me more rights than it grants him, of course). So why not go for the Ashkenazi Jew instead?

    • Jasmine Murphy

      Ofer. Thanks for the offer but you’re just not interesting enough.

      Of course Israel offers more rights to those who offer her more rights. You probably served in the army as all my family did, being prepared to give up years of our youth and even possibly our lives for the country. Barghouti is prepared to take and not to give. He wishes to destroy Israel – not to build it.

      • Exactly.
        We impose an apartheid regime on millions of people because they don’t want to go to the army. And they are not Zionist. DUH !

        In any case, We (Israeli supporters of BDS) are even more effective than Omar, and we intend to bring this house of apartheid down. Only a year has passed since the campaign’s lift-off and progress is already noticeable.

        Cheers!

        • Jasmine Murphy

          Ofer
          I do see that in your sloganeering you wish to cut off the branch you are sitting on – your intention is to destroy Israel and not to right political wrongs.

          • Alas, my dear, this is beyond sloganeering. BDS is very much about ACTIVISM.

            This campaign is aimed at the upholding of universal principles of human rights, countering of the Judeo-KKK policies of your ilk. We definitely intend to cut off the comfy branch YOU are sitting on.

            BTW, I support a two-state solution, but never with a Jim Crow Israel.

      • Barghouti couldn’t serve in the IDF if he begged to. What are you talking about?

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  • Jasmine Murphy

    I want a two state solution: Israel and Palestine

    If you have the guts to watch this video, here is the truth about the leaders of the campaign you so blindly and enthusiastically think you know: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnpilMYsR0I&feature=player_embedded.
    ‘Victory for Palestine and the end of Israel’.

    • Oh, the guts! Dare I watch?!

      There’s nothing new you can teach me about Omar’s extra-BDS-campaign views and the BDS campaign itself. Omar’s one state solution is definitely preferable to yours, which has been defined in easily digestible Dixie terms in my previous comment.

      Omar is an ally (disputes may arise between allies, not to mention personal dislikings). You, on the other hand, are an ENEMY
      (a political enemy, that is, for I have no violent intentions.)

      • Jasmine Murphy

        I’m the enemy for risking my life protecting the country you live in while you were growing up.

        “Omar’s one state solution is definitely preferable to yours”, you say, without knowing what mine includes, and yet above you said you are for a two-state solution.

        So do you want a one state or a two state? You seem not to know. When you’ve passed your emotional adolescence, however many decades it may take and when you know what you want and understand and appreciate what you have you can talk to me. Until then, enjoy playing games.

        • Like I said, you’re a KKK Jew. Your views on the expulsion in Sheikh Jarah, expressed elsewhere, exemplify this well.

          No point in debating you, only in making sure your life project goes down the drain, and SJ is the place to start.

      • Ofer, I would appreciate if you don’t call people “enemies” (adversaries is fine), and certainly not “KKK”. Thanks.

  • Jasmine Murphy

    If you object to my views on ‘sheik jarrah’ then you seem then to believe that people shouldn’t pay land rent because they belong to a certain group. That’s racist talk.

  • Jasmine Murphy

    Dubi Kangisser, There is a young Arab woman who is a paratrooper in the IDF. All our citizens should do national service in some form, not necessarily as soldiers. Barghouti could have given years and service as many conscience objectors do.

    • Why on Earth would he want to national service for a country that explicitly says it is not his country (or are you in favour of “a state of all its citizens”?). Why should do national service for what is not and cannot be and does not want to be his nation?

  • Jasmine Murphy

    Why on earth did Jews serve Middle Eastern countries so well through the centuries when it was clear that they were living in a country that was not theirs and that did not see itself as theirs? The Israeli Declaration of Independence says clearly that Arab citizens are welcome and to me they are my fellow citizens.

    • Are you seriously comparing oppressive non-democratic regimes to Israel? Cause if so, you might want to start supporting Israeli Apartheid Week…
      The Declaration of Independence says lots of things, but the facts on the ground are that Israel sees itself as the state of the Jews, not of its Arab citizens, whose rights are limited and who are routinely discriminated against by the state. When Israel stops reacting to ideas like “a state of all its citizens” like its a threat of annihilation, I’ll consider the idea that Arabs are not second rate citizens in it.

  • Jasmine Murphy

    Dubi there are many Arabs in Israel who wouldn’t move anywhere else. They are our fellow citizens as I said before and have a perfect right to be here.

    • That’s very kind of you. What other rights are you willing to provide them with, unconditionally?
      And what about those Arabs who would like to move somewhere else – just like I moved to Canada – will they retain their rights as Jewish Israelis do? How about their children?
      Will you be willing to accept an Arab prime minister? How about including an Arab party in a coalition? How about allowing Arab villages to expand? How about legitimizing “unrecognized” Arab villages, some of which actually precede the state?

  • Jasmine Murphy

    Dubi.

    Why are these rights restricted? Is it because given fitting circumstances our country would be overwhelmed by those who see us as enemies? Is it perhaps because of millennia of Jews being considered untermenschen, dhimmis, subservient serfs for the most part in the Arab world?

    I am not comparing our country to others around us, but I do know that in most of them, as Jews, we would have little or no rights and allowing an Arab majority in Israel would return us to that sort of bondage once more. Abbas recently made it clear that if there were an international force keeping the peace between Israel and Palestine he would want no Jews in it.

    A cold welcome we would have in the Middle East and a miserable future. I make no apologies for the behaviour of our neighbouring states. They are what they are and we would be fools to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by their numbers.

    So to some of your questions I’d answer no. To most of them I would answer yes. There is too much hide-bound bureaucracy in Israel.

    Enjoy Canada. At least I stay here to vote to ease conditions.

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