Can you be against BDS and for BDS?

Going forward, everyone needs to reflect on the reality of the world Israel lives in.

A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File] (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File]
(photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
Can an organization or individual claim they are opposed to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel, but still support boycotting Israeli goods, academics and people over the Green Line? There seems to be a strange phenomenon among American Jewish progressives, saying they oppose the BDS movement, except that it’s OK or a good thing to boycott Israel over the Green Line. They seem not to realize that the worldwide BDS movement is not a humanitarian movement trying to foster a two-state solution. The goal of its founders and supporters is the destruction of Israel, a non-indigenous people who they claim forced out the rightful indigenous Arabs.
Zionism is to them a racist movement based on colonialism and apartheid, which should be given no sanctuary at all in the Middle East. American progressives play into the hands of Israel’s enemies, to divide and conquer Israel by backing BDS for part of Israel.
Boycotting Israeli goods on either side of the Green Line is overwhelmingly opposed by mainstream Israelis of the Left and Right, who see clearly that any boycott is part of a strategy of delegitimization of Zionism itself.
Israelis across the political spectrum know this is true because their governments have painfully offered almost all of the West Bank with Jerusalem as a capital for a Palestinian nation three times within the past 15 years to no avail, with the Palestinian response being rejection and escalation of violence, the Israeli willingness to consider compromise being seen only as a sign of weakness.
The mainstream political Israeli Left and Center have made it clear that any boycott of Israel over the Green Line is part of the BDS movement. Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said in regard to the newly announced EU boycott of Israeli products over the Green Line, “This decision is based on hatred, falsehood and ignorance, devoid of any moral value.” Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid tweeted: “Jews are being stabbed in the streets and the EU has given in to BDS. This decision discriminates against Israel and encourages terrorism.”
Hilik Bar, secretary general of the Labor Party and Deputy speaker of the Knesset told me, “We are against BDS over the Green Line, and BDS in Israel, and any kind of BDS.” Speaking last week before the European Parliament, he said, “When you label products, you are labeling yourselves as less relevant to solving the conflict, as an unfair broker... Be against boycotts and for promoting cooperation.”
Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union said, “True, [the European boycott] starts with settlement [goods], but their problem is with Israel, which is seen as a colonialist country. Therefore, it won’t stop at the settlements, but [will spread] to all of Israel.”
Many on the American Jewish Left are more aligned on this issue with the Israeli far Left and Israel’s Arab parties than with Labor and the Zionist Union. American progressive organizations believe there is a real distinction between boycotts of Israel and boycotts over the Green Line. They find no contradiction between rhetorically standing strong against the BDS movement that delegitimizes the Zionist state, yet defending boycotting of Israeli goods from over the Green Line as legitimate.
They believe Israel needs to be pressured for its own good to remove all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, which are to them the cause of most of the problems of the Middle East. They do not distinguish between communities in Judea and Samaria that are necessary for Israeli security, Jewish majority areas of Jerusalem over the armistice line or areas that were part of the Clinton or Olmert land swap plans from other “occupied” territory. Until the Obama administration, areas such as French Hill, Gilo, or Gush Etzion were not considered controversial, and were always assumed to be part of a future Israeli state.
American Jewish progressives don’t seem to respect the judgment – born of decades of experience – and will of the Israeli electorate who have to live with the consequences of the boycotts, endure the nightmare of Palestinian terrorism, and who put their own children in harm’s way. They also ignore the true meaning of UNSC Resolution 242, whose language and authors clearly called for an adjustment of the 1949 lines, giving legitimacy to Israeli land claims over the Green Line. They subscribe to a politicized, biased view of international law which says that Israel is a semi-illegal stepchild state with fewer rights than every other nation on the planet.
This has also been the Obama administration narrative since taking office in 2009. Ambassador and former Obama Iran and Middle East expert Dennis Ross wrote in his new book, Doomed to Succeed, that the administration’s preoccupation “and collective view that the Israeli occupation and settlement activity – not Palestinian behavior – were responsible for the conflict argued for pressure [on] Israel.” It is a short leap from there to rationalizing boycotts of Israel, which the EU has already done.
The news from Europe is not all bad. David Harris of AJC opined that we should recognize and appreciate the 12 EU countries that did not sign the BDS boycott of Israel: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary.
Which gets us back to the conundrum: Can you and your organization be against BDS if you subscribe to boycotting Israel over the Green Line? Can you feel comfortable contributing to the isolation of Israel in the world and singling out Israel for condemnation of the occupation of disputed territory, knowing that treating Israel differently from any other country is defined as anti-Semitism according to the US State Department’s definition? Can you just ignore the unprovoked, egregious occupations by Russia, Turkey, China, Pakistan and Morocco, while joining forces with those who want BDS to destroy all of Israel? Controversy has arisen in regard to organizations that have given a platform to those who want to boycott Israel or create a single binational state. J Street says it is against BDS, but has had a keynote speaker who endorsed BDS against Israeli goods over the Green Line and has had speak at its national meeting a group that is against the Jewish state itself. All is done in the name of freedom of speech, respecting all opinions, but its more than that: Giving someone’s odious views a platform on your stage gives them a seeming legitimacy, that goes beyond freedom of speech.
The New Israel Fund also claims to oppose BDS, but supports organizations that are full-time demonizers of Israel. Can they honestly say they are against BDS and still support anti-Israel organizations like Adalah, Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), Yesh Din and Machsom Watch, who directly or indirectly support BDS and whose agendas are more aligned with Palestinian propaganda than with Israeli interests? In this highly contentious debate, ad hominem attacks have taken place in the States. That should not happen; it is wrong, and counterproductive. However, defenders of boycotters of goods from Judea and Samaria should be called to task for the damage they do, whether from the pulpit or in the pages of Haaretz.
Going forward, everyone needs to reflect on the reality of the world Israel lives in; who its neighbors really are, and how difficult surviving in the Levant is when the world disproportionately criticizes you and refuses to acknowledge that you have been under an Arab siege to destroy your legitimacy for over 67 years.
The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™) and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.
He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.