Wednesday, February 05, 2014

BDS and One Confused Jew

I think I need to clarify, if only for myself - a self-described liberal diaspora Jew who believes that Jewish nationalism is a convincing proposition - what I believe when it comes to BDS ("boycott, divestment, and sanctions") of Israel in the age of King Bibi. So here goes:

1. I am opposed to academic boycotts, and oppose specifically a boycott of Israeli institutes of higher education (with one exception, see #2). There are numerous reasons that lead me to a complete rejection of academic and cultural boycotts, including the anti-Semitic outcome of this particular boycott.
2. Until there is a resolution of borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, I will continue to observe a boycott of refrain from interacting with Ariel University. I think the existence of Ariel University in the West Bank monstros-city of Ariel is wrong, and I oppose the government of Israel wasting millions of dollars to support its existence at the expense of other Israeli institutions of higher learning, as reported today in Calcalist. All my public opposition to an academic boycott of Israeli institutes of higher education does not apply to Ariel University. If in a final disposition of the border, Ariel falls inside Israel, I will revisit this boycott self-imposed herem.
3. Many years ago I reached the conclusion that the entire Jewish settlement project of the past 40+ years is a disaster for both Palestinians and Israelis, and decided to not use my consumer purse to support it. When in Israel or not, I do my very best to not purchase settlement-based products. There is no Sodastream device in my kitchen, and I would only consider Sodastream if in a final disposition of borders, the factory of Sodastream ends up inside Israel. I do not "visit" West Bank Jewish settlements, and I regard - until a final disposition is carried out - the old Green Line as the demarcation between Israel and Palestine. When I do cross the Green Line, I try to do so at the invitation of Palestinians (and not Israeli Jews), or as a tourist/scholar. I don't exactly know how to carry out this policy while in Jerusalem, but I try to spend as little time in metro Jerusalem as possible. Roughly, I am hewing to what Peter Beinart called "Zionist BDS."
4. I believe that the present government of Israel is completely out of control in matters domestic and foreign, and in matters of style and conduct. It does not have my support. Until it changes, or changes its approach, I will not lend an effort on its behalf. I will not oppose an economic boycott of the current government of Israel with the same zeal I oppose an academic boycott. In the not too distant future, I think Israel will be a better and healthier place without US foreign aid. 
5. So much for what I won't do - here is what I will do: I will donate my time, my philanthropic money, and my limited influence as a public figure, to causes and organizations of my choosing which further the aim of ending the settlement project and the occupation, and advance the concept of bi-national coexistence. I will do what very little I can as a non-Israeli Jew to promote the constitution of an Israeli government which is serious about resolving the conflict fairly. That will keep me plenty busy and productive.
6. I do not feel aligned with either AIPAC (certainly) or JStreet (for different reasons, just as certainly), and will join up with them on a rare case-by-case basis.
7. One last point - none of these musings mean for even a single second that I hold Israel principally responsible for the lack of a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. BDS advocates put the onus on Israel. I don't buy that proposition. BDS advocates seem to fall into 2 camps: the Israel-be-goners (and I include in this category the disingenuous self-styled "agnostics") and the end-of-occupation activists. Either way, they blame Israel alone and its settlements exclusively for the stalemate. That is also a proposition no reasonable student of the conflict could accept.
I am prepared to refine this list or modify these points as I think about these questions more. Let me know what you think, and how you resolve these competing impulses.


  1. As another confused Jew, I differ on only a couple of points from you. First, because I agree with you about Israel being on a crash course with destruction at the moment, I would argue that such a view might be held strongly enough to prompt a boycott of Israel altogether. Different people might differ, according to the vehemence of their feeling. So, for example, I boycott firms that employ child labor or have otherwise immoral policies or standards (which cuts out most clothes buying, by the way). Apartheid South Africa rose to that standard. Israel might or might not (as might Syria, Sudan, wherever). One might support such a boycott without embracing the BDS views you rightly disparage.
    Second, if one does endorse such a boycott, there is no reason to exclude any institutions supported by the government, especially when they are themselves complicit in the policies one is opposing. That is not to target individual scholars or performers (I appreciate this is a fine distinction) but a recognition that universities may be (and in Israel's case often are)immeshed in the same problematic attitudes and behaviors. The unbalanced and unfair treatment of Palestinian schools and sometimes scholars also adds to the argument.
    Finally, I would add one more justification for action in this case (rather than, say, endorsing a boycott of China for its equally troubling academic and political policies). Israel and its Jewish supporters have consistently called on me, as a Jew, to support Israel as "my" nation, my protection, my self-interest. If so, then I have more of both a duty and a right to act and speak out on issues relating to Israel than I do with other nations. That doesn't speak in favor of a boycott, but rather a defense of doing something active regarding Israel in what is often termed an "unbalanced" way. That's not to say other (non-Jewish) people might be hypocritical or unbalanced in focusing only on Israel. I don't know. But in my case, as a Jew, I don't think it's a fair criticism.
    The American civil rights movement largely backed off of its more class-based agendas for fear of seeming to ally too closely with the communists, who were also active on behalf of civil rights. I think that was a mistake. Just because the communists advocated something didn't make that thing wrong. So too with the boycott. One can reasonably support a boycott without endorsing the views of BDS, and to refrain from action solely for fear of seeming to be a BDS supporter is not, I would argue, morally justifiable.

    1. I do not know how institutes of higher education (other than recently authorized Ariel University [I call it "Settler U"]) are complicit in the policies you are opposing. For example, all 5 university presidents opposed the governmental recognition of Ariel University.
      If you claim Israeli universities make the occupation easier by forgiving absences of Israeli reservist students: nothing done for reservist students by way of special treatment is different that the policies in place in many American colleges and universities for reservists.
      If you argue that some Israeli professors serve as reserve officers in the Israeli army, and that Israeli institutional research contributes to the aims of the Israeli occupation - you are asking of Israel something you have never asked from the United States, which has reservists in its academic ranks, and whose institutes contribute daily to military research.
      If you rightly point out that the campus of Tel Aviv University is built on the ruins of the Palestinian village al-Shaykh Muwwanis - it was on a site that the UN partition plan had allocated to the Jewish state. Are you advocating Israel abandon Tel Aviv? If you claim that Mt. Scopus campus in east Jerusalem is built on Palestinian land - it was purchased before World War I from its British owner. In 1947 it was allotted to the Jews in the Jerusalem international zone.
      Israeli academics as a group are far more likely to engage in formal and informal contacts with their Palestinian counterparts. The president of al-Quds University - recently boycotted by Brandeis for a short time - is on record against this boycott. HAMAS today endorsed it though. Nice company...