Who will BDS come up with next? Nasrallah?

“Going to a rally with your BDS friends?” I ask, referring to the local anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

BDS (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
IT’S LATE afternoon on a Friday in downtown Portland, and I bump into Naomi, a prominent activist with the anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace. She’s heading toward Pioneer Courthouse Square and carrying a sign that reads, “Fifty years of occupation; 69 years of Palestinian dispossession: Boycott Israel!”
“Going to a rally with your BDS friends?” I ask, referring to the local anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
“Not that it’s any of your concern, but yes,” Naomi replies. “Ever since I returned from the Jewish Voices for Peace annual meeting in Chicago, I’ve been supercharged up.”
“Your conference made quite a few headlines,” I say. “No doubt the highlight was having a convicted Palestinian terrorist as your keynote speaker.”
“You mean freedom fighter,” Naomi insists.
“We’re proud to have featured Rasmea Odeh. Her presentation on grassroots leadership in the struggle for justice against Zionist military repression was absolutely inspiring.”
“Well, now that she’s been deported for lying on her US immigration forms, I guess you’ll have to look elsewhere for next year’s keynote,” I suggest. “Perhaps Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, would be available, though you may need to raise your conference registration fee. I understand he’s rather expensive. Or maybe a higher-up from Hamas, if they’re not, you know, still busy building attack tunnels from Gaza into Israel.”
“Go ahead, make fun, but we have momentum on our side ‒ in the churches, city councils and especially the college campuses,” Naomi says. “This spring, JVP chapters were the lead organizers of Israel Apartheid Week at several universities.”
“I don’t suppose you heard about the recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University that showed two-thirds of Israeli Arabs view life in Israel positively,” I say. “It seems you’ll have to work harder to disabuse them of any notions of happiness and remind them that they’re supposed to feel miserable as full-fledged citizens of the Jewish state.”
“Zionist propaganda from Zionist institutions,” Naomi says.
“Funny how all that ‘Zionist propaganda’ didn’t stop Omar Barghouti, your boycotter- in-chief, from wanting to pursue his master’s degree at Tel Aviv University,” I say. “I understand he’s making a nice living off his anti- Israel speeches on the college campuses, but is that really garnering support for your cause?” “Oh, we’re quite successful,” Naomi replies.
“Just this April, both the Tufts University and Pitzer College student senates passed BDS resolutions by overwhelming majorities.”
“Yes, it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you schedule a vote on a one-sided anti-Israel resolution without any advance notice and on the first day of Passover,” I say.
“After all, is there any better time to stick it to Israel than when the pro-Israel students are unable to attend due to holiday observances?” “Our students celebrated Passover, but they don’t take time off from carrying out our social justice mission,” Naomi replies. “Our Seders galvanize hundreds of young Jews to work for justice for the Palestinian people.”
“Yes, I’ve heard about JVP’s ‘Palestine Liberation’ Seders, especially your ‘Next Year in al-Quds’ Passover Haggadah,” I say.
“Our new Haggadah is a remarkable achievement,” Naomi boasts.
“Yes, I suppose that creating a Haggadah that looks as if it were written by Hamas is no easy feat,” I say. “I was particularly interested to read the special Seder supplement accusing Israel of training American police officers to kill black people. But now I’m wondering how you’ll ever top that for next year’s Passover supplement. I mean, I’m quite certain the theme of Israelis baking matzot with the blood of Palestinian children has already been taken by white supremacist groups.”
“If anyone should be compared to the extremist right, it’s the pro-Israel establishment,” Naomi snaps. “We’re well aware of your efforts to get states to pass legislation condemning our boycott and divestment campaigns. It’s another thinly veiled attempt to suppress our freedom of speech and marginalize those who employ nonviolent, moral means of struggle against Israeli oppression.”
“Let me get this straight,” I say. “You’re accusing the Jewish establishment of suppressing your freedom of speech? Of taking away your ‘right’ to shout down pro-Israel speakers on college campuses, boycott Israeli universities and ban Israeli scholars from speaking at international academic conferences? Excuse me, but am I the only one who sees the irony here?” “We will not be silenced in the face of Israel’s human rights abuses,” Naomi declares.
“Boycotts and divestment are time-honored forms of protest.”
“Or in the case of singling out the ‘Jew among the nations,’ a time-honored form of antisemitism,” I respond as Naomi enters the square and I head home for Shabbat.
Robert Horenstein is Community Relations director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Oregon