Center Field: Fight BDS with national unity not a biased, divisive strategy

More than a national unity government, Israel needs a government promoting national unity.

By GIL STERN STERN TROY
June 16, 2015 21:41
Des militants du BDS en action

Des militants du BDS en action. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Two attempted hijackings occurred at last week’s Herzliya Conference. Rightist politicians invoked the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to justify Israel’s continued West Bank presence. This makes as much sense as enjoying the warmth of a fire you mistakenly ignited as it threatens to engulf your house. Simultaneously, leftists invoked the anti-Israel boycott to justify leaving “the settlements,” which is as sensible as dieting by eating poison. Partisans from both extremes failed to use the boycott threat to unite Israelis and the entire pro-Israel community in a big-tent, left-to-right coalition, defending Israel’s existence against enemies who believe that every boycott resolution from every no-name company or university brings them one step closer to their true goal of exterminating Israel. Thus, while the conference brought together Israel’s leading politicians and thinkers, Israel’s leaders once again foolishly wrenched Jewish unity apart to score partisan points.

Shockingly, a leading left-wing academic, whose name I won’t even mention out of respect, naively parroted the BDS movement’s Trojan Horse strategy.

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He justified the boycott as a legitimate move targeting “the settlements.” He bristled when I suggested that a phrase like “the settlements” oversimplifies.

The Jewish Quarter, Gilo, Gush Etzion, the Golan and an illegal outpost are equally illegitimate to our enemies but not to most Israelis, or to thoughtful compromisers like those who designed the Clinton Plan. Even worse, this activist academic’s hatred for the Right and “the settlements” blinded him to the delegitimizers’ repudiation of the entire Zionist project.

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Lurking behind the BDS movement’s human rights mask and supposed “settlement” focus is a desire to destroy Israel. The July 2005 Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS quickly shifts from fighting “the occupation” to demonizing Israel to rejecting Israel’s existence. Anyone – and I mean everyone – who supports a boycott against Israel, even this allegedly “limited” boycott of products from the territories, legitimizes the BDS call describing Israel as being “built mainly on land ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian owners,” having an “entrenched system of racial discrimination” and ignoring “UN resolutions [which] have condemned Israel’s colonial and discriminatory policies as illegal... since 1948” – note, not “just” 1967.

BDS leaders, who repeatedly compare democratic Israel to racist apartheid South Africa, are even more belligerent. The leading BDS activist Omar Barghouti – whose calls for boycott overlook his own studies at Tel Aviv University – has accused Israel of using “common Nazi practices” against the Palestinians.

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He believes a “Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinians.” Barghouti justifies Palestinians’ right to “resistance by any means, including armed resistance,” by denying not just Jewish rights “to self-determination” but by insisting that the Jews “are not a people.”

Other allies are equally anti-Zionist.

“Israel is the oppressor, not the settlements,” says Hind Awwad, a national coordinator of the BDS Committee.

“BDS represents three words that will help bring about the defeat of Zionist Israel and victory for Palestine,” says a deluded but demonizing Ronnie Kasrils.

As’ad Abu Khalil, a California political scientist and anti-Zionist blogger, admits: “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel.... That should be stated as an unambiguous goal.”

At least he’s honest.

These anti-Zionists built BDS on a foundation going back four decades to the UN’s infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution passed in November 1975, which we should mark with mass pro-Zionist teach-ins this fall. That false linkage of Zionism with racism, imperialism and colonialism sits on a larger foundation of centuries of anti-Semitism.

The pile-on against Israel, the disproportionate obsession with Israeli missteps, the exaggeration of Palestinian suffering – all echo old-fashioned Jew hatred. This analysis does not justify every Israeli action; it simply explains the current overreaction.

Actually, the further Left you are, the more concessions you want Israel to make, the more vehemently you should fight BDS and Israel’s delegitimization.

Every assault on Israel, every boycott call, makes compromising harder, escalating the conflict from a solvable border dispute to an existential war.

In this debate, partisans from both extremes sound ridiculous. The Right’s woe-is-me chorus sounds like scared Galut Jews quaking that the whole world opposes us. Left-wingers sound like pathetic Galut Jews, trying to placate the world, assuming we will become popular if we behave nicely. Both the Right’s useless bullies and the Left’s useful idiots should stop using the BDS movement when debating the West Bank. True Zionists will chart our destiny without relying on outside forces to decide for us. True Zionists will offer an affirmative vision of what we want rather than a defensive reaction to our enemies.

Alas, this Israeli partisan myopia is an epidemic.

Last week’s embarrassing revelations about Oren Hazan as casino-pimp-and-partier-turned-Knesset- member evoked partisan sneers from the Left and partisan silence from the Right. Two class acts emerged, however. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog refused to exploit the Likud’s embarrassment to score partisan points. Meanwhile, Likud Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein sidelined Hazan as deputy speaker. Having resisted the KGB and the Soviet empire itself in the 1980s, Edelstein then shrugged off Hazan’s petty threats. Alas, colleagues foolishly mocked Herzog’s patriotism as “gentlemanly” weakness, while Edelstein’s Likud boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, once again vanished when Israelis needed moral leadership.

More than a national unity government, Israel needs a government promoting national unity.

Perhaps Israel’s leaders could learn from Las Vegas, of all places. There, the Republican Sheldon Adelson and the Democrat Haim Saban, agreeing to disagree about other issues, united to endorse a bipartisan, broad-based, anti-BDS strategy focused on campuses.

“It’s a challenge to get Jewish groups to work together,” Adelson said, in a rare understatement.

“When it comes to Israel we’re absolutely on the same page,” said Saban.

Shouldn’t we all be?

The writer is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s to be published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press in October 2015. A professor of history at McGill University, he will be a Visiting Scholar at the Brookings Institution in the fall. His previous book was the award-winning Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism. Follow on Twitter  @GilTroy

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