A few weeks ago I hosted a forum at my congregation. The topic was whether American Jews can have a civil conversation about Israel given the enormous divide that has developed between left and right.
One of the organizations that I tried to recruit into the conversation immediately put forth its red line. Its representatives would not sit on a panel alongside advocates of boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel (aka BDS). Due to a variety of reasons, we held the forum without them. But to underscore our own concern that left and right must learn to speak to each other, we included representatives of the Jewish Voice for Peace, supporters of BDS.
Though I have become increasingly concerned about Israeli policies – a concern that has dragged me considerably to the left of where I used to stand – I do not support BDS. I have my reasons and perhaps I’ll write about them in a future post. Yet even as I continue to disagree with the tactic, I am not willing to demonize those Jews who support it. I have friends who do.
Organizations that refuse to even sit on a dais with Jewish Voice for Peace claim that its support for BDS is inherently antisemitic and its supporters are “self-hating Jews.” I find this logic to be quite odd. There are rabbis who support BDS. Not many, but some. Are they antisemites? Are they self-hating Jews?
Like me, the majority of progressive Jews continue to oppose BDS. But it is gaining support on campus. This weekend Shedon Adelson is hosting a secret summit meeting to figure out how to make it all just go away.
Writing in Haaretz, Peter Beinart explains the phenomenon:
…BDS is growing in large measure because the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has died. For six years, Netanyahu has publicly rejected the idea of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, with land swaps. Most Palestinians have lost any faith that negotiations with Israel can bring them a state anytime soon. And Mahmoud Abbas’ failure to end the occupation, or stand for election, has wrecked his legitimacy among Palestinian activists.
The BDS movement has entered this breach. It offers Palestinian activists a way to bypass their divided, corrupt, ineffectual politicians by taking the struggle against Israel into their own hands. …As a nonviolent movement that speaks in the language of human rights and international law rather than Islamic theology, the movement also attracts progressive allies who would never join a movement defined by suicide bombings and the Hamas charter.
Not everyone understands this. It’s much easier to look at these issues in black and white. Antisemitism is actually growing on campus just as BDS is getting more popular. And we all know that correlation must indicate causation. Or at least that’s the theory on the right.
Harvard Yiddishist Ruth Wisse lays this all out in a long-winded piece for Mosaic.com. She wants us to know that it is the progressives, with their BDS-supporting ways, who are responsible for the rise in campus Jew-hatred.
The range of her opprobrium is really quite dizzying as she moves seamlessly from opponents of the Vietnam War to university humanities departments to the “campus culture of victimhood,” building her case for how progressives fan the flames of antisemitism.
Campus Jews are its enablers. Wisse cites “damaging patterns of Jewish political behavior” that are encouraging the Jew-haters. She even takes on the hard-working directors of Hillel Jewish student centers (where I began my career). Despite the fact that progressives have become concerned that Hillels are stifling debate, Wisse knows that they are part of the problem. Many Hillel directors, she claims, “have already tipped … far to the Palestinian side of the ‘narrative.’” (She puts “narrative” in scare quotes as a reminder to all right-thinking people that the Palestinians cannot possibly have any legitimate story to tell.)
And because there is no easier punching bag than J Street, she attacks it, too, asking, “Why should an organization like J Street form to undercut united Jewish action on behalf of Israel?” Isn’t she a Jewish historian of sorts? When have Jews ever been united about anything? Anyway, the only possible answer is that they are traitors to their people. There can be no other reason for Jewish opposition to Israeli policies.
Ukrainian Americans have not mobilized to urge the capitulation of Ukraine to Russia. American Greeks do not rally to force Greece into bankruptcy. Hispanics do not join the call to prevent all immigration from Mexico. Tibetans and Taiwanese in America try to expand—not to contract—political options for their beleaguered people. If some Cuban refugees want to bring down Communism in Cuba, or Russian émigrés warn against Putin’s concentration of power, it is because Cuba and Russia aren’t liberal democracies.
American Jews who propagandize and organize against Israel are the only members of a threatened minority who turn against the democratic homeland of their people on the pretext of promoting some higher cause.
Never mind that 49% of the students who reported antisemitic incidents identified themselves as supporters of J Street. Don’t you see? They bring this on themselves! (At least she doesn’t invoke the kapos.)
If people like Wisse or Adelson or whoever else is attending his top-secret conference think that the best way to shut down BDS is to demonize its supporters as craven Jew-haters or self-hating Jews, they are quite mistaken. Ari Shavit, who actually supports the Adelson meeting, offered them this advice in today’s Haaretz:
The battle is a battle for the left and the fight is a fight within the left, which means that anyone who despises the left can’t win it. Ninety percent of the young people I met at the universities are Democrats who support U.S. President Barack Obama. Trying to sell them the Gush Emunim agenda won’t work. Only a liberal Zionist message can foment change. Only liberal Zionists can generate enthusiasm and provide inspiration. Only Israelis who believe in the two-state solution can confront those Israel-haters who believe in exactly what the right believes in – one state.
The problem, of course, is that the one-stater Zionists have hijacked the entire discourse about Israel’s future, both here and over there. Shavit and Beinart have fought the good fight, tirelessly promoting progressive Zionism, arguing that for the good of both Israel and the Palestinians the occupation must somehow come to an end. But they are losing the argument. As we near the half-century mark, a two-state solution has never seemed further away. Just look at the results of the last Israeli election.
On this side of the Atlantic we can see the future in the despicable treatment of J Street. When it was rejected for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations we received a very clear picture of what too many American Jewish leaders think about a two-state solution and its advocates.
As both liberal Zionism and hopes for a negotiated settlement are pushed further to the sidelines by people like Wisse and Adelson, there will be fewer and fewer defenders of Israel who do not come from the ranks of the right. And if Israel continues its indefinite occupation of the territories, even its staunchest progressive supporters will be forced to deal with the growing reality of an apartheid state.