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.
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