Why the emergence of US politicians supporting BDS is troubling

Recently, several congresswomen, including Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omer have come out in support of BDS.

December 26, 2018 21:58
3 minute read.
Caption: BDS supporters hold a protest against Israel in South Africa's Gauteng province recently

Caption: BDS supporters hold a protest against Israel in South Africa's Gauteng province recently. (photo credit: BDS SOUTH AFRICA)


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The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has three calls: “1) Ending the 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. 3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

Recently, several congresswomen, including Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omer have come out in support of BDS. I find this support for BDS very troubling. First off, the great majority of the international community, including the US (at least pending Trump’s peace plan) supports a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders (1949 Green Line). Thus, if a two-state solution is the goal, the first call of BDS can be interpreted as advancing that goal.

The second call for equality of Arab citizens in Israel doesn’t directly advance a two-state solution necessarily, although not many would argue against equality of citizens within any country. However, under law, Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs are equal. Whether they experience equality is a different story, but applying BDS tactics to a country for having inequalities and discrimination would result in the immediate collapse of the global economy as every country would be boycotted, divested from, and sanctioned.

The third call is what is most troubling. My feelings are similar to those expressed by Noam Chomsky when he stated, “Should the refugees and descendants have the right to return? Yes. Should the Wampanoag Indians have a right to return? Yes. Is it going to happen? No. If you dangle before the eyes of the Wampanoag Indians the statement that I’m going to support your right to return to Boston and kick out the population, so therefore you stay in rotten conditions and don’t do anything, it is a deeply, deeply immoral act. There are refugees who are not going to return to Israel – that’s a fact. There is absolutely no international support for it.”

On its face, supporting the full right of return for the Palestinian refugees to their original homes seems like a perfectly just cause. However, the return of the refugees, now numbering in the millions (because UNRWA has uniquely assigned refugee status to descendants of refugees), would mean an end to the Jewish majority, and thus Jewish self-determination in Israel, assuming democratic principles are implemented.

One of the main goals of having a Jewish state, or a state with Jewish sovereignty, was to have a place for Jewish refugees to go in times of persecution. During the Holocaust, many Jews perished because they had no country that would accept them and no country to protect them. By also supporting a one-state solution, Tlaib seems to have forgotten that the point of the two-state solution is to have two states for two peoples, each with its own right to self-determination.

As with all arguments, particularly those within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is important to not only recognize other perspectives, but be open to them and try to empathize with them. Many Palestinians, likely including Tlaib, see Israel as a colonialist illegitimate entity from its birth, and see Israel as not only an occupying power in the West Bank, but as an occupying power in all of Israel. While I don’t agree with this view at all, I respect it and can empathize with it. This idea of empathy and respect has been lost, and it must be found.

In addition to empathy and respect, people must also be reasonable. Talib and Omer, and the founders of the BDS movement should empathize with the “opposing” narrative and be reasonable. In addition to reconsidering their second call, they should eliminate their third call or change it in such a way that is more compatible with international opinion, international law (Resolution 194 is a general assembly recommendation not a security council resolution), and perhaps most importantly, the reality on the ground. For example, a change to “Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to a sovereign Palestinian State in what is currently the West Bank and Gaza along the lines of UN resolution 242.” Until changes like these are made, I do not think anyone should even consider supporting the BDS movement, especially not elected officials in the US.

The writer is a former Fulbright scholar in Israel, a recent graduate of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and co-host of the podcast “Israel-Palestine: Beyond the Headlines with Alec and Ezra.”

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