Rattling the Cage: The Zionist Left's red lines

By throwing in with the Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign against Israel, Gordon is standing up for a rotten and destructive cause.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
There's a lot I agree with, a lot I identify with, in Neve Gordon's recent Los Angeles Times op-ed "Boycott Israel." Like the Ben-Gurion University professor, I realize that Israel has become so right-wing that it's not going to end the occupation on its own. While I haven't lost all hope, as he has, that the Obama administration will force Israel's hand, I can't help seeing that Barack Obama and his team are wilting by the day. Like Gordon, I look at my two sons and dread the future that's waiting for them in this country unless there's a radical change, which is seeming more and more unlikely. But while I pretty much go along with his reading of where things stand, I want nothing to do with the solution he's chosen - throwing in with the Palestinian/international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. By doing so, he's joining a movement that is not out to "save Israel from itself," as he writes, but one that simply hates Israel's guts, that sees it as 100 percent guilty and the Palestinians as 100% innocent. He's standing up for a cause that's rotten and destructive. SUPPORTING THE BDS campaign is a very, very far cry from what the Zionist Left, myself included, have been doing: urging the Obama administration to pressure Israel into trading land for peace. The difference is that the Obama administration, like all of its predecessors and like the Zionist Left, is anti-occupation but pro-Israel. There may never have been a country that was as good a friend to another country as the US has been to this one. When we call on Washington to pressure Israel into ending the occupation, we do so knowing that Washington is not going to take any step that would damage this country's security. We do it knowing that Obama and his team, even if they wouldn't put it in these terms, really do want to save Israel from itself. But the BDS campaign? The 2008 "Bilbao initiative" that Gordon endorses, has as its stated goal the pressuring of Israel in a "gradual, sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity," whatever the hell that means. Reading the Bilbao initiative, I don't see anything "gradual" or "sensitive" about the punishments its authors would visit on Israel, though I think I understand what they mean by "sustainable." I think they mean "permanent." The folks at Bilbao didn't just denounce the Israeli occupation. No, their initiative "exposes Israel as a state which is built on the massive ethnic cleansing of 1948." Since then, the indictment goes on, Israel has been "promoting exclusively Jewish immigration while barring the Palestinians' right to return." The offense goes way, way beyond the West Bank settlements and the siege of Gaza - it's Israel's "regime," it's Israel's whole "system." On both sides of the Green Line. "Israel's regime is a system that uniquely combines apartheid, settler-colonialism and belligerent occupation." The folks at Bilbao, by the way, included not only "Spanish solidarity groups" and "Palestinian civil society networks." "Also," the authors point out, "the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) was strongly present and endorsed this document." Thank you so much. Somehow I have a feeling that if these people heard that they were out to "save Israel from itself," they'd be awfully insulted. No, unlike the Obama team's approach, the BDS campaign isn't about tough love for Israel. It's about abuse. Neve Gordon, like others in the movement, cites the campaign against apartheid South Africa as a model, a precedent for using strong, unpleasant medicine to heal a very sick, obstinate patient. Without going into all the differences - as well as the similarities - between apartheid and the occupation, I want to show briefly why the BDS campaign against apartheid South Africa was just, and why the one against Israel is just wrong. The anti-apartheid movement's goal was absolutely fair to all South Africans: one person, one vote. When that goal was achieved, the country was cured. But what is the goal of the BDS movement, aside from the "right of return" to Israel for 4.5 million Palestinian refugees? It's definitely not the two-state solution, not if one of those states is Zionist. So is the goal a binational state on the basis of one person, one vote? Under which government - a coalition of Likud, Kadima, Hamas and Fatah? Somehow I can't see it. IT WAS one thing to expect South African whites to live in a country led by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. It's another thing to expect Israeli Jews to live in a country led, or even jointly led, by Hamas and Fatah. The logic of the BDS movement leads to this end. From his op-ed, I don't think this is what Neve Gordon wants, but this is what he's ended up supporting. Like him, I think "Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures." There are possibilities. For instance, I like the one just proposed by Salam Fayad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority - to unilaterally begin building a state in the West Bank right now, with an eye to declaring independence in two years. I can support that. I can support anything that furthers the goal of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and Arab east Jerusalem, alongside a Jewish, democratic Israel. I won't support anything else because there is no other just goal. I don't have much hope left that it will be achieved, but if I ever become completely hopeless, utterly despairing, then the right thing for me to do, politically, would be to leave this country. That would be the honorable decision. Joining a movement that advertises its thoroughgoing malice for Israel, and that means to wreck it, not save it, is dishonorable.