Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Silencing Dissent - A How To Guide by Gal Beckerman

Two weeks ago, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, released a video on YouTube entitled "Israel Palestinian Conflict: The Truth About the West Bank". In the video, Ayalon recounts some of the legal, historical and political facts surrounding Israel's acquisition of Judea and Samaria (along with the Sinai, Gaza and the Golan) from hostile Arab armies which had massed to snuff out the Jewish State in 1967. The video made the usual rounds at EoZ, IsraelMatzav and other pro-Israel blogs. I thought little of it at the time, sure that this small contribution to Israel's public diplomacy, which merely revisited a broadly uncontroversial perspective of historical events, would have little impact outside pro-Israel circles.

Certainly, I thought, Ayalon's emphasis that the legal status of the West Bank is "disputed" and not "occupied", while factually true, would do little to challenge the emotionally charged meme of "Occupation"™©®. So fundamentally ensconced has the Arab narrative been into the vocabulary of the conflict, that even former Israeli Prime Ministers Sharon and Olmert, and former President Bush, albeit for the purposes of political expediency in advancing their own programs of resolving the conflict, which necessitated Israeli territorial concessions, themselves adopted "occupation" as a descriptive term for Israeli policy in the territories. In this context, what chance did Ayalon's blip of dissent have of being widely heard, much less accepted?

However, pro-Palestinian advocates, sensing a challenge to their carefully constructed edifice of Israeli venality, could not leave well enough alone. Former chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat threw a tantrum of indignant accusations, charging Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister with pursuing a "pro-conflict agenda", but not actually rebutting the legal or historical facts in question. Likewise, Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), responded in a live discussion on al Jazeera English (time: 9:50):
We have an adjudicating body in the world called the Security Council of the United Nations, and they have held that these territories are occupied and Israel is the occupying power on dozens and dozens of occasions, unanimously, including the United States. So, as a legal and political fact, Danny Ayalon is wrong.
Really, Mr. Ibish? How many of the Security Council resolutions pertaining to Israel and "occupation" invoked Chapter VII, giving them legally binding status? The answer is zero. How many non-Chapter VII resolutions affirming Israeli "occupation" had US backing? After a cursory examination, the answer appears to be zero, as well, demolishing your statement in its entirety. And what does the American veto of the UN Security Council draft, last February, which sought to condemn Israeli settlements as "illegal" therefore mean for their present legal status? Doesn't it follow from your logic, Mr. Ibish, that if the UN Security Council, which you recognize as the "adjudicating body" for international law, did not conclude that the settlements are illegal, then their legitimacy is assured as "a legal and political fact"?

In so aggressively challenging Ayalon's characterization of the territories as "disputed", and not "occupied", pro-Palestinian advocates have catapulted what has long been a consensus issue into the spotlight of public debate and scrutiny. The resultant mainstream media and blogosphere exposure has led some 180,000 people (and growing) to now be exposed to the Deputy Foreign Minister's views, which happen to also represent the position of Israel's government. The contrast between Ayalon's clear and factual delivery, and the inability of those policing the "Occupation" consensus to offer a factual rebuttal has been startling, and has led to more serious questions.

Driven as it is by political elites and powerful Arab and pro-Arab constituencies, the last thing those who maintain and defend the consensus of "Occupation" desire is an open-minded exploration of its foundations. And so, in an effort to squelch growing dissent, Gal Beckerman, a writer at the Forward, has chosen to challenge not the facts but their messenger. Apparently, the actual legal, historical and political status of the territories in question is irrelevant. We can surmise, from the subject of his ire, that what matters most to Mr. Beckerman is not what was said, but who dared to say it.
Ayalon’s video is identical, image for image and in large part word for word, with one [...] made in May for the YESHA Council, the organization that represents and lobbies for the settlers. [...] Should we not be concerned when the foreign ministry of Israel is using the same propaganda as the settlers? Or should we just assume that their interests are one?
What difference does it make who made or provided the inspiration for the video? Why is it so obscene that an Israeli minister, or ministry, would collaborate with a constituency directly representing at least 10% of Israel's population, referencing ideas which are supported by a plurality of Israel's citizens, not to mention history and law? The concepts introduced by Ayalon in the video are based on coherent and defensible legal, historical and political perspectives. We are all free to disagree, should we choose to do so. However, to refuse actual debate in favor of this anti-settler demagoguery that Gal Beckerman is engaged in is intellectual policing at it's barbaric height.

Beckerman's piece represents a blatant and chilling attempt to end debate and silence dissent. The easy contempt with which he attempts to tarnish the credibility of Ayalon's factual presentation is startling. The Deputy Prime Minister gets his talking points from "the settlers", the Untermenschen, we are led to believe, a sinister people with no right to engage in debate, without opinions or perspectives worth merit, with no legitimacy whatsoever. Forget the facts, Beckerman enjoins us. Instead, let's consider how an elected minister in Israel's government could dare to represent the views of these degenerate lepers, "the settlers".

To quote a friend, "ish don't think so". Intellectual Freedom: 1. Gal Beckerman: 0. True story.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pro-Israel Means Anti-BDS, Continued...

Jewschool continues to explore BDS and Israel's new Boycott Law. Bravo to Charles Lenchner for highlighting one of the most important aspects of the BDS campaign - it's failure to achieve the desired results. He points to a resolution by Israel's leftist groups, led by Gush Shalom, to boycott Israeli settlement products back in 1997, purely independent of like-minded Palestinian efforts in the past decade. Since then, of course, settlements have considerably grown. Meanwhile, Israelis have interpreted the efforts to pursue an economic boycott of their state, or sectors within that state, as illegitimate attempts to manipulate the country's policies outside the electoral system - a challenge to Israel's sovereignty. Predictably, they have responded not with compliance, as BDS advocates assured would occur, but with defiance.

Calls for BDS within Israel are widely perceived as an egregious abuse of the freedoms granted to Israel's citizens, in an attempt to undermine the country. It should have come as no surprise then, that the government's early, stumbling efforts to deal with the issue would necessarily touch on the balance of democratic rights, social responsibility and the national interest. And so, the new Boycott Law, pending court challenges, offends however slightly liberal sensibilities. However, instead of throwing a fit, as I wrote last week, Israel's left should recognize the Boycott Law as the undoing of their rationale for pursuing BDS:
The people who once advocated BDS as an attempt to make Israel a more open, pluralistic and liberal country, by their estimation, have now managed to fail, miserably and in the most counter-productive fashion imaginable. Perversely, if not predictably, their actions contributed to an inverse outcome than the one they sought.
If you take a specific course of action, but achieve the opposite of your intent, doesn't that mean that your initial assumptions about the value of that action were wrong? Charles, writing in Jewschool, approaches the issue from a different perspective than I, but comes to similar conclusions:
If the BDS strategy fails, it will have strengthened the most backward elements in Israeli society, giving more and more prominence to the least democratic politicians. It will have played a role in the unraveling of the protections that did exist, for Israeli citizens, Jewish and Arab.
This point is not lost on Israel's enemies. Long convinced of the country's unique evil, the editors of Electronic Intifada or the heads of ISM are thrilled at the prospect of provoking an Israeli reaction they can then characterize as indicative of the country's innate, anti-democratic character. It's the equivalent of walking up to an innocent person on the street, spitting in their face, and then decrying their violent nature for striking you back.

For decades, these vermin have pounded tables everywhere, screaming that Israel is an illegitimate, racist, fascist regime. They have endorsed terrorism, justified murder, dabbled in explicit anti-semitism, rewrote history and manipulated the real suffering of Palestinians to further a radical agenda that would deny the Jewish people self-determination. To them, the failure of BDS brought about by a muscular Israeli response is no less a brilliant achievement than the movement's success. If BDS can force Israel’s surrender along the ‘67 lines without a reciprocal Palestinian commitment to peace, then they've come one step towards their final objective of destroying the Jewish state. And if Israeli society resists and strikes back under duress, however imperfectly? Just as well, this demonstrates the true, anti-democratic fascism of Israel’s people, undermining one of the Jewish state's central pillars of legitimacy.

The Six Day War, Oslo, Camp David, the Second Intifada, Disengagement, Annapolis, the Lebanese and Gazan Wars - BDS ignores the historical experiences which have shaped Israeli policies and influenced the country's electorate. It pursues Israeli concessions in tunnel-vision, without regard for Palestinian behavior, trying to force the hand of one party to a bilateral conflict in which both parties are dynamic participants, and which can only be resolved along the two state formula by negotiations and mutually agreed concessions. BDS willfully blinds itself to the explicit unwillingness of Palestinian leaders make those concessions: to recognize Jewish national rights, to stop deluding their displaced people about “return”, to accept and enforce an end to all claims. The movement corrodes and polices the conversation about the conflict, equating efforts at normalization, cooperation and coexistance with collusion, illegality and treason. BDS first discourages Palestinian moderation at the negotiating table, without which the conflict will never be resolved, and then punishes the Israelis for it, without context, without understanding, without compassion.

I concede that some individuals, steeped in the issues, can advocate a nuanced, "soft" BDS, targeting this settlement or that company. However, to the mass of people who join the campaign, nuance is not a high calling. The overall message is one of irreverent sanction and pressure, directed not against one company or one Jewish community on some Judean hilltop, but against Israel as a whole. BDS conditions its supporters for confrontation, in time eroding nuance and formulating ideological rigidity in the interest of achieving its objectives.

As we've seen with groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace, the failure of a "soft" BDS approach, purely against the settlements, often drives individuals into total BDS, which was at first unthinkable. Such is the logic of confrontation, that failure demands escalation. The grounds for an initial rejection of total BDS are quickly forgotten in the heat of battle. The emotional friction of "soft" BDS conditions its operatives to double-down on dogma, shirking reason or empathy antithetical to their goal. Boycotting just the settlements, what I've termed "soft" BDS, proves to be a gateway drug for broader and deeper anti-Israel sentiment, rapidly inching towards the eliminationist fantasies of Israel's unequivocal enemies. "Soft" BDS proponents feed the beast, unwittingly, perhaps, but no less than had they planned it from the start.

As I pointed out in the past, focusing on this or that point about the new Boycott Law misses the forest for the trees. BDS is interpreted by large sections of Israeli society as nothing less than one front in a war of aggression to exterminate the state and its people, all of them. How else to explain that left-wing kibbutzniks near Gaza are now an important plank for the growth of Yisrael Beteinu, or that Kadima's legislators first proposed the Boycott Law to begin with?

Isolating one form of pressure and violence from another is becoming untenable - Palestinian rockets today, Turkish flotillas tomorrow, British boycotts of Israeli academics the day after, Egyptian pipeline explosions and threats to end the peace treaty the day after that, Palestinian rejection of national Jewish rights, Iranian nuclear development, UN Resolutions, war crimes commissions, UNESCO's defilement of Jewish history, growing Hezbollah armaments, and on and on it goes. The carefully scalpeled nuance of "soft" BDS proponents is but one drop in the deluge.

The pressure building on Israel's citizens is not specific, it is general, targeting all sectors, all classes and communities. It should not be surprising to careful observers of the Jewish state that elements within Israel's society, a growing plurality, are responding in kind, not with a white flag, or even a raised finger, but with a defiant fist. For those who care about the state and its people, that thrown fist is no gauntlet, eliciting the will to subdue, but a cry for help, requiring the empathy and understanding of a friend.

This article is based on nearly a decade of pro-Israel activism, writing and observation of the BDS movement. It touches on themes which may be unfamiliar or unhelpful to casual readers simply trying to learn more about combating BDS in their community. For those who fall into this category, I strongly urge you to visit Divest This!, widely considered the best blog for BDS related news, resources and analysis from a pro-Israel perspective. Be sure to check out their free e-book, "Divest This: How to Stop the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Attack on Israel". It contains everything you need to know about dealing with BDS in your community, including historical background, case studies and tactics.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pro-Israel Means Anti-BDS

Over the past few years, various Jewish and non-Jewish individuals advocated, many in good faith, in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as an effective tool for pressuring Israel's government and society to change policy on Palestinians and settlements. Some of these individuals were truly well-meaning. They saw in BDS - not the vile BDS of Ali Abunimah but the "soft" BDS of KFJ, of Jewschool fame - a low-friction option to influencing Israeli policy while remaining a pro-Israel Zionist in good standing.

Wasn't it perfectly foreseeable that instead of bending to such pressure, Israel's electorate would first see it as an infringement on the country's rights and sovereignty and instead respond with a government coalition to confront it? Let's keep that in mind the next time someone has a bright idea for pressuring Israel to change policy "for its own good".

With the passage of Israel's Boycott Ban, we are entering a new reality, where a plurality of Israel's citizens - living between the hammer of ongoing Palestinian violence and diplomatic aggression, the sickle of "human rights" groups and the anvil of international delegitimization efforts - have reached the conclusion that a form of war is being waged against them, a war to which they must begin to respond. Here are their new tools to do so:
The bill will allow citizens to sue individuals and groups that call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts. It also prevents the government from doing business with companies that initiate or comply with such boycotts.
This law will probably be amended by court challenge, and will likely be better for it, but its essence, as an expression of popular will, should not be lost on us. Israel's society no longer considers BDS an acceptable venue for organized protest of government policy (the individual's right, of course, is reserved). You don't want to buy a bottle of wine because it was made by Jewish hands in the Shomron? It's every bigot's right. But launch a public campaign against the company and you've crossed the line from protest to predation. Furthermore, the blurry distinction between vile and "soft" BDS - in truth, the two enable one another - is sufficiently inconsequential as to be irrelevant. Those who consider themselves pro-Israel and pro-BDS are hereby put on notice - from now on, you've lost the right to be both.

The people who once advocated BDS as an attempt to make Israel a more open, pluralistic and liberal country, by their estimation, have now managed to fail, miserably and in the most counter-productive fashion imaginable. Perversely, if not predictably, their actions contributed to an inverse outcome than the one they sought. There is a mystical Jewish saying that "what comes from the heart, enters the heart". Whatever it was that pro-Israel BDS-supporters thought came from their hearts was received as an act of aggression, of rhetorical violence complementing and competing with actual violence for the same outcome. For the well-intentioned, perhaps some soul-searching is in order.

The international campaign of BDS, in all its forms, is no longer an outlet for legitimate dissent against Israeli policy, but a weapon in the hands of those at war for Israel's destruction. For those who truly care about Israel, this new law, no matter its fate, should serve as your wake up call: pro-Israel means anti-BDS. You want to change Israeli policy? Stop conspiring and confronting, and start convincing.

I've published a follow-up piece on the subject of BDS and Israel's Boycott Law. It delves more deeply into the issue, provides more context and insight and is recommended reading.

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