One of the unfortunate things about the western discourse about Israel is that the conversation inevitably clashes with a conversation about antisemitism. There are certainly those among Israel’s critics who hate Israel for the wrong reasons. They hate Israel, basically, because they hate Jewish people. These people should be treated as the racists they are.
Unfortunately, because of this (and because of the centuries of persecution of Jews everywhere) reasonable arguments against the actions of Israel are taken as antisemitism. And this is just the mistake that The Forward, a Jewish Daily, makes. At the end of a very measured article on the BDS, (the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel), the paper reaches the conclusion that the movement is, at its core, antisemitic:
Using that frame, BDS is essentially biased against Jews. It relies on a double standard by saying that Israel alone is at fault for the continued confict, as if Palestinians share absolutely no responsibility for years of terrorism, denial and mismanagement of their own people’s aspirations. And by calling for a boycott of Israel as a whole, including its academics and thought leaders, proponents of BDS engage in the very act they condemn in others. If that’s not hypocrisy, what is?
What bothers me about this sort of argument is, first of all, that it equates a boycott that is attempting to fight oppression with oppression. The BDS is an attempt to boycott Israeli production because we, as Americans, have been Israel’s unequivocal friends, even as they keep the Gaza Strip a hell on earth, even as they commit genocide-by-birth-control on their Ethiopian population. It is a small movement intended to pressure Israel into change, because they refuse to change on their own.
Then there’s the other problem: the equivocation of Palestinian and Israel’s “fault” in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Now, I’m not here to say one group or another is more or less at fault, and I don’t think it matters. What matters is power, and Israel holds total power over Palestine, particularly Gaza. Israel has F-15’s, Armored Bulldozers, drones, and one of the best economies and militaries in the world. Palestine has smuggled, improvised weapons and an economy that is kept as one of the worst in the world because Israel literally prohibits its growth.
My point here is that its not Palestine’s fault that negotiations aren’t making progress. It is Israel’s fault. Israel has the power, the guns, the money, and Israel needs to work towards making Palestine a liveable place. Arguing that a people that is impoverished, and essentially imprisoned with no access to resources or jobs should be driving negotiations is a convenient way of making negotiations impossible.
I’m going to go super-pragmatic here: Israel is the undisputed victor of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and as the victor, they have a responsibility under international law to construct a peace that will last. That’s just it. Israel will get to dictate the terms of the peace, but they have a responsibility to end the war. Thus the BDS is making a totally rational, non-antisemetic protest against this illegal oppression.
The reason the BDS is fundamentally ambivalent is because we know how Israel reacts to be backed in a corner, because Israel always believes its being backed into a corner. I think the BDS is a noble effort, but I think it’s going to take more than a simple boycott to change Israel.