Thursday, October 17, 2013

A new, calmer look at BDS

Kathleen Peratis, a New York attorney who was on the J Street national board and has argued against BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions against Israel) in a number of debates, has just announced a change in her position. In this piece in Open Zion, "If You Want Two States, Support BDS," she still differentiates herself from the international BDS movement, which campaigns (in effect) for a single state that would end Jewish sovereignty in Israel by permitting an unrestricted Palestinian "right of return" to what is now Israel.

One of the things that bothers me about any pro-BDS view, including the intelligently calibrated stance taken now by Ms. Peratis, is that it portrays the conflict and ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian-populated territories as entirely Israel's fault. I see the conflict propelled by a complicated dialectic of tit-for-tat violence and hostility engaged in by both sides, with each more guilty than the other at various times; I briefly explore these complexities here and there. (Yet I regard as urgent the need for the parties to negotiate in good faith, especially now under the US-sponsored framework; and I see this obligation as weighing more heavily on Israel at this moment, given the increasingly pro-settlement policies under the current government.)

Roughly speaking, the Palestinian-Arab side stumbled badly in 1948, by attacking the Palestinian-Jewish community to forestall Israel's birth pursuant to the UN's partition resolution, and with the Second Intifada beginning in late 2000, and again with the Hamas takeover and attacks from Gaza in 2006-7 and beyond. Israel took advantage of its victories over most Arab forces in 1948 to expel about three-quarters of the Arabs of what became Israel, and likewise after winning the Six Day War in 1967 to increasingly settle Jews in the conquered territories, displacing and oppressing Palestinians in the process. One can cite a lot more detail (including the Palestinian militants' frequent modus operandi of indiscriminately attacking all Israelis, not just soldiers), but my point is that there's plenty of blame to go around, and a BDS campaign that targets only Israel ignores this truth.

Still, if I felt that BDS would be an effective "tool," as Peratis regards it, in forging a reasonable two-state resolution of the conflict, I might join her. As you may know, Partners for Progressive Israel endorsed a "Zionist BDS," only targeting West Bank settlement products, even before Peter Beinart coined this term. As a "sad Zionist" (a Peratis term, meaning frustrated or disappointed liberal supporter of Israel), I sympathize with her intent and with the Beinart-Partners narrowly targeted strategy. But I see boycotts as more symbolic than anything else. The Beinart-Partners anti-settlements approach has the virtue of not targeting Israel as such, and thus avoiding the racialist obscenity of boycotting Israeli universities, cultural institutions and performing artists. I suspect that Peratis feels the same way, but this would contradict her new position.

1 comment:

DenverChuck said...

I think criticizing BDS as weak and ineffective ignores the long history of effectiveness of boycotts as used by unions and the anti-apartheid movement against South Africa. I also think that claiming that BDS should not be used because it portrays one side as 100% responsible is putting up a strawman. What is clear about Israel is that it has enormous power relative to the Palestinians and that Israel occupies land that does not belong to Israel. Those two facts alone justify BDS!