Supporting BDS and Palestinian rights as a Jew

An open and frank debate about BDS against Israel in Australia is long overdue. Crikey blog This Blog Harms invited five people to write 1000 words on the issue. This is my contribution:

The logic of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) didn’t appear to me immediately. When my first book, My Israel Question, was released in 2006, the issue was barely raised, despite Palestinian civil society launching its call in 2005 “against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.”

The vast majority of Israeli Jews claimed to be in constant fear of Palestinian terrorism despite living relatively free lives in a society that increasingly made Palestinians invisible. Palestinians under occupation were disillusioned with their leaders and after more than a decade of fruitless negotiations with Israel, the Oslo period, longed to be free.

But now, with Israel a state that even more brazenly boasts a fundamentalist Jewish minority as representing true Zionism, BDS is an essential tool to harm Israel’s economic and moral fibre. In the words of American Jewish dissident Philip Weiss, founder of the website Mondoweiss, “Israel isn’t good for the Jews anymore.” Most importantly, Palestinians under occupation are making this call, not a Diaspora attempting to impose a distorted vision onto them.

BDS is a key weapon to de-normalise the relationship between both the globalised economy and Israel and the constructed emotional ties that allegedly bond Israel and the West. Witness Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently tell an event sponsored by National Australia Bank that, “We are two countries separated by distance, but united by values. Liberal democracies that seek freedom and peace.”

An ever-expanding 44-year-old occupation is a strange way to crave freedom and peace.

It is the only the New South Wales Greens who are brave enough, despite a year of intense Murdoch media bullying and Jewish community pressure, to maintain in principle support for BDS and examine ways to “actively support the [Federal] Australian Greens position, including that the Australian government halt military cooperation and military trade with Israel.” This is a proudly BDS position, wherever the Greens call it this or not.

Israel/Palestine is not a balanced conflict, with two equal sides fighting over land, rights and dignity. It is, writes leading Israeli publisher of Haaretz, Amos Schocken, “a strategy of territorial seizure and apartheid. It ignores judicial aspects of territorial ownership and shuns human rights and the guarantees of equality enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.”

Although he doesn’t mention BDS, it is impossible to undermine daily, creeping oppression with yet more “negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinians while Washington remains Israel’s lawyer.

BDS is the non-violent weapon wielded to show Israel and its global backers that business as usual is unacceptable.

BDS makes many Jews distinctly uncomfortable, with wild claims that this is exactly the same tactics used by Nazis in Germany in the 1930s against Jewish businesses. It is nothing of the sort. Jews are not being targeted but businesses that directly support the Zionist state or receive funding from it. Israeli chocolate shop Max Brenner is a legitimate target because it proudly supports the IDF, an army complicit in daily human rights abuses.

Zionist cheapening of anti-Semitism has become endemic from seeing Nazis in inner Sydney protesting outside Max Brenner to American critics of neo-conservative plans to bomb Iran.

Despite these smears, BDS is growing globally because Israeli actions against Palestinians inside Israel proper and the occupied territories is becoming more repressive and outwardly racist. The litany of exclusionary legislation before the Israeli Knesset, some of which are being pushed by so-called “moderates”, rises weekly. BDS sends a message to these Israelis and Diaspora supporters who either remain silent or simply mouth platitudes about a two-state solution. It is designed to make blind backers uncomfortable and defensive.

It’s being grimly amusing to watch liberal Zionists in Australia and beyond express displeasure with BDS, arguing it is too inflammatory and extreme and ostracises potential allies inside Israel (namely Jews, as Palestinian allies are less important in their worldview). In fact, the opposite is true and BDS forces two-state advocates and fence-sitters to explain how their sclerotic process will do anything to advance peace in the Middle East.

BDS is the enemy of the status-quo and liberal Zionists in Australia, including Monash University’s Mark Baker and Philip Mendes, are paralysed in wishfully thinking the Israeli government will suddenly believe the Palestinians are worthy of being given a state. They recoil at BDS because they despise one part of an outcome that aims to bring true democracy for all citizens inside Israel and Palestine – the one-state solution – something a two-state result can never achieve. If not BDS to tell Israel that its Western-backed racism and occupation is illegal under international law, then what tactic? They have no answers, and desperately cling to an emotional claim as post-Holocaust children. This is no way to ensure rights in the 21st century, if it ever was.

BDS isn’t the answer to all the Palestinian needs. It is one part of a bigger struggle currently underway inside Palestine itself and the Palestinian Diaspora; a worldwide campaign that doesn’t rely on leaders to beg Israel for scraps or a state or rights. Popular, non-violent resistance, BDS and readdress for Palestinian refugees are key initiatives that must be supported to liberate both Palestinians and Israelis.

BDS is causing economic and sociological harm to the Zionist state, and this is something to celebrate. Were enlightened citizens of the world during South African apartheid asked to feel sorry for whites that ruled the blacks with an iron fist? Of course not, and BDS doesn’t aim to comfort the jarred nerves of Israelis or Diaspora Zionists.

It is about addressing a decades-old matrix of control that has only survived because of Diaspora Jewry funding and morally arming the Zionist state.

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based independent journalist and author who has written for The Guardian, Haaretz, The Nation, Sydney Morning Herald and many others. His two best-selling books are My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution. He is currently working on many projects, including a book about vulture capitalism, a book on the Left in contemporary politics and another title on Israel/Palestine.

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