Grumpy Old Man: Time for strange bedfellows

In the fight against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement,we have to put aside some of our differences.

Anti-Israel demonstrators march behind a banner of the BDS organization in Marseille, June 13. (photo credit: GEORGES ROBERT / AFP)
Anti-Israel demonstrators march behind a banner of the BDS organization in Marseille, June 13.
(photo credit: GEORGES ROBERT / AFP)
A couple of weeks ago, I had a little back-and-forth with a reader in my role as letters editor of The Jerusalem Post. The reader had written in about a book review in the weekend magazine. The letter went as follows: “Congratulations to Lawrence Rifkin – disguising himself as [name of the book reviewer] – for the hatchet job done on [the book that was reviewed].
Despite the pretense of objectivity, [the reviewer’s] loathing of anyone on the Right daring to denigrate those on the Left is quite clear.”
I wrote back: “You seem certain that was me. Perhaps you’ll tell me why.”
The letter writer replied: “I have never heard of [the book reviewer], and I know the names of many left-wing advocates. Her views, if she does exist, mirror yours....”
It goes to show that when we see or hear someone with views different from our own, we tend to lump them in with the universal “other,” no matter how moderate or extreme, learned or stupid those views are. (It helps, of course, when the name of a particular “other” is readily at hand – say, that of a columnist in the same publication or, even better, the editor of the section to which the complaint is being addressed. And by the way, I did not write the review.) I start with this correspondence because it segues nicely into comments recently voiced by Eran Shayshon, director of policy and strategy at the highly regarded Reut Institute. He was interviewed by journalist Shahar Ginosar as part of a fine, in-depth piece in Yediot Aharonot on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the lessthan- stellar fight being waged against it, particularly due to differences between the country’s diplomats and the hidebound politicians who give them their orders.
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“The key is to actually make a clear distinction between the extremists and the rest,” Shayshon said. “The goal is to divide them. And that means to be open to listen to criticism from moderate voices against the government in order to return the extremists back to their natural size.”
It is an approach echoed by Uri Zaki, former US director of... wait for it...
B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – yes, the local rights group often vilified for what is perceived as an extreme pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel stance.
“I went to universities in the United States, specifically during Apartheid Week, in order to explain that I was an Israeli patriot, and to oppose the boycotts,” Zaki said.
“Like the Jewish left-wing groups in America that joined the fight against the boycott, our position has great influence,” he went on. “It is true that we will not fight a boycott of settlement products, but our efficacy in the fight over sovereign Israel’s good name is very obvious, much more than that of rightwing groups.”
He called it a “major missed opportunity.”
As Reut’s Shayshon concluded, “The message to the Right is to adopt the paradox: The more left-wing a group is that speaks out against BDS, the stronger its influence.”
I CAN already hear the groans. Zaki boycotts settlement products, and the BDS movement boycotts settlement products, so Zaki is BDS. BDS also calls for the boycott of all things Israel, and additionally calls for the right of return for all Palestinians. This means Zaki is seeking Israel’s elimination, no matter how much he professes to be a “patriot.”
It’s like algebra. If a equals b, and b equals c....
I hear a lot of talk like this. Someone says: I’m on the Right. If you’re not on the Right, you’re on the Left. If you’re on the Left, you can’t possibly be pro-Israel – because I am pro-Israel.
What many fail to realize, though, is that a sizable sector of the political spectrum that is critical or even deeply critical of government policies regarding West Bank settlements and control over the Palestinians is no less critical of the BDS movement.
Believe it or not, many of those who fault the IDF for the way it waged war in Gaza last summer during Operation Protective Edge are deeply critical of the BDS movement, too. Of course, in the eyes of the Right, the UN’s skewed and biased report on the Gaza fighting now puts such people squarely on the side of those who would take great delight in Israel’s destruction, not merely its elimination.
Which is to say – their views on BDS notwithstanding – these people are beyond the pale.
Which is entirely the wrong attitude when it comes to fighting BDS.
This is not to let Progressive Zionists off the hook, either.
Many on the Left who believe in the two-state solution say they’re against the BDS movement because one of its core tenets clearly means an end to Israel.
But then they promptly go back to boycotting settlement goods or even those made inside Israel proper, or protesting against this or that Israeli policy – and usually, right alongside the BDSers.
A common excuse is that saying something against BDS will change nothing. Another is that there is no way people on the Left can align themselves with those on the Right because that would only perpetuate the occupation or this or that injustice, or merely because it would, God forbid, make them look like Bibilovers (which, I must admit, gives me pause sometimes, too).
THE BDS movement has certainly attracted enough of a following for our government to finally sit up and stop waving it off with simplistic refrains like “anti-Zionism” or “anti-Semitism.” However, while having a reasonable grasp of right and wrong, many (if not most) of the rank and file who today identify with the idea of BDS have not, for whatever reason, read the fine print.
To myopic people like this, there is only so much you can say about start-up nations or God-given land. If such followers of BDS are shown what the movement is really about, chances are they will think again. And for this they will need a magnifying glass and a couple of simple explanations, not indoctrination or bombastic lectures. So the messenger will be the key.
This is where the Zionist Left comes in. Of course, these Zionists will have to see the problem and understand that they can be part of the solution – perhaps even the entire solution. They will have to be willing to risk their credentials, but they can take solace in the fact that their true fellow progressives – if they really are progressives – will understand.
On the Right, people are going to have to accept that there are varying shades of gray, that not everyone who disagrees with them is the enemy. They are going to have to leave the algebra out of the equation and try to keep their bile down as they validate some of those they long have denigrated, and even step aside to let them do the heavy lifting.
It’s a time for strange bedfellows. On some issues, disparate sides have to be willing to overlook their distrust and end their recriminations. We must work together to defeat the enemy. And the enemy should not be us.