Letter from an anti-BDS Arab to a Jewish BDS supporter [and this Jew’s BDS response]

A member of my family sent me this open letter to BDS supporting Jews, hoping I might see the error of my ways. It hasn’t worked.

It was published last month and written by Fred Maroun who writes a column for the Times of Israel. Looking at his other posts for TOI he clearly likes to target any Jew who has a problem with Israel. Maroun describes himself as a Canadian of Arab origin who grew up in Beirut, supports Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and wants a liberal and democratic Middle East.

Here’s a quote from Maroun’s previous thoughts on BDS, a tactic he seems to enjoy misrepresenting:

Not only is the BDS movement anti-Semitic, but since its objective is the destruction of Israel, the killing of Jews, and the return of the remaining Jews to the stateless and precarious status that they had before May 1948, the BDS movement represents an anti-Semitism at par with Hamas, and the worst form of anti-Semitism since Nazi Germany.

Below is Maroun’s  open letter to people like me [with my responses in bold].

Letter from an Arab to a Jew who supports BDS

I have a question to ask you, but first I would like to establish my understanding of who you are.

You are Jewish, probably young and probably American, but you may be European or even Israeli, and you may not be so young any more. [Well, I’m British and 50 but I think you’re mostly correct on the demographics which is why you’re right to be so concerned. The fractures over Israel within the Jewish community are widening all the time, especially in the United States. Jewish unity over Israel has gone, never to return. It’s hardly surprising when young people’s experience of Jewish teaching and of life growing up in liberal democracies looks so at odds with the way Israel is set up, how it operates and the increasingly racist opinions of its legislators and much of its Jewish population.]

Zionism

You have embraced the Arab battle against Zionism… [No, I have not “embraced the Arab battle against Zionism”. For a start, there’s a long standing Jewish battle against Zionism to embrace, and for many BDS Jews it’s about embracing the same Jewish values that have directly informed thinking on universal human rights over the last few centuries.]

 Return

 …and you support the BDS movement, which as I demonstrated previously, aims for a single bi-national state in place of Israel and the Palestinian territories, and aims for the “return” of millions of Palestinian refugees who would make Israel overnight an Arab state. [A single state protecting the rights of all its citizens is not the aim of all Jews supporting BDS. However, it is mine. As for the issue of the “return” of Palestinian refugees, why is this such an outrageous demand? You support the Jewish “return” in our millions as perfectly reasonable – despite our 2,000 year history of dispersal which makes the idea of “return” intellectually questionable at the very least. But you completely reject a Palestinian “return” of people actually born in the country, or the direct descendants of those who fled by force, whose direct connection to the land is at least equally compelling? Why the double standards? What happened to your liberal democratic values?

Your position interests me because I am the same as you and yet I am your opposite [Certainly the opposite]. I am the same as you in that I am in the countercurrent of my own community, but I am the opposite of you in my ethnicity and in my allegiances in the Israel-Arab conflict. I am an Arab who supports Jewish nationalism. [Well that makes you very unusual and in fact a great deal more unusual than me.]

Solidarity

Your position is much less selfish than mine, I must admit.[It’s okay, I know this is not really praise.] While I support Israel because I see huge benefits for my Arab compatriots in emulating Israel and in adopting its human rights and democratic values and its enterprising spirit…, [Perhaps you aren’t aware, but there are other countries with enterprising spirits and with democratic rights and values applied universally, rather than selectively, which could be better role models for you and other Arabs]… you support Arabs while knowing that you and your community will get less than nothing in return. [My support for “Arabs” takes the form of solidarity for a particular group, the Palestinian people, who are subject to oppression because of the actions of my people, the Jews. And my position is not a business proposition. It’s not about getting something in return. I’m interested in peace with justice and everyone will gain if we get that right. Currently we have got it very wrong.]

Since you are educated (I assume that you are educated since you took a bold stand that most people in your faith community disapprove of) then you know that Jews like you were ethnically cleansed from all Arab countries [How does Jewish expulsion from Arab countries excuse or cancel out the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Jewish Israelis in 1948? Are you saying we are now ‘even’ so let’s just forget about it? And by the way, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians didn’t stop in 1948. It’s on-going. Look at the evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, look at the land grabbing Settlements still being expanded in the West Bank.]

Holocaust

You also know that when Jews like you faced the Holocaust, no country in the world provided them a safe haven. [Firstly, my preference for achieving peace does not lead to a second Holocaust. Your fear-mongering about the Jewish State being destroyed along with all its Jewish residents just makes peace even harder to achieve. And as for the real Holocaust, you are not entirely correct either. Although the numbers were small, others nations did take in Jewish refugees while travel was still possible at the end of the 1930s. Nowhere near enough I agree. And by the time it was clear that mass murder was taking place the Jews were already trapped. Blame Hitler for their murder not the rest of the world. The task today is not for Jews to feel they have a ‘safe haven’ in one tiny slip of land. The task, and the way to honour the memory of all who died at the hands of the Nazis, is to make Jews, and all minority groups, feel safe, respected and treated equally wherever they live.]

Sovereignty

Despite this knowledge, you selflessly want to give up Jewish sovereignty over the only part of the Middle East where Jews are still allowed to live, and the only safe haven for Jews who face discrimination and violence anywhere in the world. [I would want a newly constituted state of Israel/Palestine to give protection and safe haven to Jews and Palestinians and for that to be built into the constitution. Currently, Israel must be the least safe place for Jews while its  continuing discrimination and oppression of Palestinians creates violent resistance.]

Selflessness

I have to admit that this level of selflessness is well beyond my capabilities. [Thanks for the phoney praise but actually my behaviour is not about “selflessness” it about creating a safe and secure future for both peoples. Something Zionism has failed to achieve.]

You have assured your friends that your stand is genuine… [True.] and not meant to appease the anti-Semites. [Also true.] You have insisted that your opposition to Israel is not conformism to the anti-Zionist orthodoxy of the radical left. [True again, but the anti-Zionist orthodoxy of the radical left has a lot going for it. For a start it has a better answer to the challenge of oppression and injustice than a narrow, ethnically defined nationalism.]

Yet, I have difficulty rejoicing [I think that’s pretty clear now] because while you are willing to sacrifice your own people, I am not willing to sacrifice mine.[I suspect most Palestinians will think you have done exactly that to them by making the case you do.] The demise of Israel as a Jewish state would affect much more than your people. It would also extinguish the only hope remaining for progressive Arabs like me. [Let me get this  clear, you’re saying that bringing democracy and freedom to Arab countries is entirely dependent on the existence of the Jewish State of Israel? Interesting. I would have thought there were a great many other factors to consider.]

Liberal values

For us Arabs, whether we are Palestinians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis, or any other variety of Arabs, we know that there is only one place in the Middle East that respects our liberal values, and that is the Jewish state of Israel. We obsessively hold on to that hope. [I’m guessing you haven’t spoken to any Palestinians in Israel or in East Jerusalem, or in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. I think they will have a different view of Israel’s “liberal values”. Try talking to them. Visit their homes and listen to them as I have. It will be a real eye opener.]

Your stand against Israel, if it is successful, would help some Arabs, I admit. [Many, many millions I would say.] It would help terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbullah. [That depends entirely on the nature of the peace agreement. Peace and power sharing in Northern Ireland did not strengthen the IRA, it disarmed it. And again, you keep assuming that a just peace leaves all of the current hostilities in place. Why would it? ]

Despots

It would help Arab despots who rely on anti-Zionist rhetoric to remain in power. [I think oil is what allows a lot of Arab despots to stay in power along with the collusion of Western powers who are happy to sell them arms. I don’t think your “Arab despots” are reliant on Israel as a diversion for local discontent.]

It would help, and in fact it already helps, the Palestinian leadership avoid making peace with Israel, which keeps the Palestinians stateless and fully dependent on Israel and on Western charity [No, I disagree. BDS is not about allowing the Palestinians to avoid making peace. And if you ask Secretary of State John Kerry he would tell exactly where the blockers of peace talks are to be found. Clue: it’s not Ramallah. BDS is about educating public opinion in order to influence elected politicians. What’s needed is a radical shift in the current diplomatic dynamics to create a more level playing field for negotiations. And as for Palestinians being stateless and relying on charity, why are you blaming an occupied people for their suffering rather than the occupier who has caused it?]

Your stand undeniably helps ultra-conservative and reactionary Arab forces. [So through BDS I’m helping terrorists and upholding despotic Arab regimes, and dashing the hopes of Palestinians and Arabs throughout the Middle East. I’m amazed at how influential BDS has become. Are you sure you haven’t left anyone out?]

Human rights

You have heard many stories of Israeli abuse of Palestinian human rights… [Yes, but  I wouldn’t call them stories though. It’s pretty well documented]…and that is what encouraged you to take the stand that you did. [Correct.]

You also believe that Jews are imperialist invaders in the Middle East, and that they re-created the Jewish nation at the expense of the Arab residents.[I’d say ‘settler colonialism’ is a better description than “imperialist invaders”. The early Zionists were themselves okay with that terminology. The Zionist pioneers were European settlers building up colonies. They were not an imperial army but that doesn’t mean they weren’t dispossessing local inhabitants of their land. How else would a Jewish state be created?]

When you learn that the vast majority of the accusations of human rights abuses against Israel consistently turn out to be false, you remain satisfied in the knowledge that some of them turn out to be true. [Not quite sure what you’re on about here. The Occupation of the West Bank has led to massive well-documented human rights abuses, the blockade of Gaza has led to massive human rights abuses, these are facts not claims. And don’t get me started on the hundreds of Gazan children killed, or left orphaned or homeless, or disabled, or traumatised all through the policies of the Israeli government in 2008/9, 2012 and 2014. None of this has turned out to be false.]

3,000 years

When you are reminded that your own people, the Jews, have lived on the land of Israel for over 3,000 years and that they had a long history all over the Middle East (until they were ethnically cleansed), you dismiss it because it contradicts your narrative. [Actually, I’ve never dismissed the narrative that Jews have had an unbroken presence on the land for 3,000 years and I doubt many young American Jewish BDS supporters would either. But for most of that time  we were a minority and another people lived and worked the land and became the indigenous majority. Why is it so unreasonable to acknowledge that narrative too? And why do you think Jewish claims to exclusive control of the land outweigh all other claims and other moral considerations? How is that a “liberal value”?]

Improving behaviour

When you are asked why you want to penalize the Jews of Israel while not penalizing Arabs for the much worse crimes that they commit against Jews and Arabs, you say that you are only concerned about improving the behavior of your own people and that it is up to Arabs to worry about improving the behavior of Arabs. [Firstly, the crimes of Israeli Jews against Palestinians far outweigh the crimes of Palestinians. Leaving aside the daily on-going brutality of maintaining an occupation and a blockade, just compare the numbers of civilians, including children, killed on each side over the last ten years alone. It’s fairly clear which people should be most concerned about their safety.]

Your response confirms the importance of my stand, which is to try to improve the behavior of Arabs. [My BDS response is a non-violent protest specifically targeted at Israeli polices that create oppression and injustice. I would like Israel/Palestine to be a different kind of place. Not a place free of Jews but one free of the hatred and violence which the current arrangements perpetuate.]

The only hope

Unfortunately, while you seem to complement what I do, by demonizing Israel, the only real hope for the Arab world, you are also making my struggle much more difficult. [Your claim that Israel is the only hope for the Arab world is curious at the very least. I have never thought that Israel is to blame for all the ills of the Middle East, neither to I think it provides all of the answers as you seem to think.]

Moral standards

So here you are. A Jew who insists on an impossibly high moral standard for Israel even if it brings an end to the security or even existence of your own people,… [See my comments above on fear-mongering] … and even if it undermines the Arab struggle to achieve modest liberal values that Jews have achieved long ago. [I’m not asking for impossible standards unless you think Judaism itself sets impossible standards. Perhaps it does. But then the same would be true of Islam and Christianity. For now I’ll settle for universal voting franchise and a single legal jurisdiction for all within Israel/Palestine. Aren’t those the same “modest liberal values” you claim to support?]

You take a left-wing, progressive, activist stand and yet your stand aids the anti-Semites and the most right-wing reactionary Arabs. [Perhaps it does but that doesn’t make the BDS strategy wrong. Antisemitism will survive with or without BDS and the same goes for right-wing reactionary Arabs.]

A different cause?

Which brings me to my question. Is there perhaps some other cause that you can support instead of the Arab/Palestinian cause? Preferably a cause that does not involve Arabs? [For me it’s not just the “Arab/Palestinian” cause. It’s a Jewish cause too. I can’t think of a more important issue facing Jews, not just in Israel but across the globe, than the future of our relationship with the Palestinian people. This issue has long term implications for Jewish community relations across the world and for the soul of Judaism itself. There’s really more at stake here than you appear to understand. I’m sorry to disappoint you (again) but this is my issue and I’m sticking around.]

BDS logo 

For more Jewish thoughts on supporting BDS try this from my home blog page Micah’s Paradigm Shift.

Boycotting from within – a letter to the President of the Board of Deputies

 

 

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