Courage, Truth, and Justice

There is hope. A growing number of Israeli intellectuals, scholars, and activists don’t feel beholden to the 19th century colonial, exclusivist, and racist ideology of Zionism and stand with the Palestinian demand for BDS as a non-violent strategy to achieve justice.

Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions explains that “the purpose of this effort is to deny Israel the ability to brand itself as a normal nation while flouting the law and suppressing an occupied people. Brand Israel is their strategy; ours is to insist on no business as usual with the regime, as was done successfully in the struggle against apartheid South Africa.”

Professor Neve Gordon, who teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, understands that it is not simple for an “Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own nephew, Jonathan Ben Artzi, currently a PhD student at Brown University, recognizes that Israel “must give equal rights to all. Regardless of what the final resolution will be — the so-called ‘one state solution,’ the ‘two state solution,’ or any other form of governance.” He suggests that the only way to encourage — no, force — Israel to comply with international law is for the United States to withdraw military funding, corporate investments, and diplomatic support.

Michel Warschawski, veteran Israeli activist, journalist, and co-founder of the Alternative Information Center in Israel, has recently written, in solidarity with the BDS movement, that “our goal is the fulfillment of certain values like: basic individual and collective rights, end of domination and oppression, decolonization, equality, and as-much-justice-as-possible.” He continues:

For us, Zionism is not a national liberation movement but a colonial movement, and the State of Israel is and has always been a settlers’ colonial state. Peace, or, better, justice, cannot be achieved without a total decolonization (one can say de-Zionisation) of the Israeli State; it is a precondition for the fulfillment of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians – whether refugees, living under military occupation or second-class citizens of Israel. Whether the final result of that de-colonization will be a “one-state” solution, two democratic states (i.e. not a “Jewish State”), a federation or any other institutional structure is secondary, and will ultimately be decided by the struggle itself and the level of participation of Israelis, if at all.

This is where the BDS campaign is so relevant: it offers an international framework to act in order to help the Palestinian people achieving its legitimate rights, both on the institutional level (states and international institutions) and the civil society’s one. On the one hand it is addressed to the international community, asking it to sanction a State that is systematically violating international law, UN resolutions, the Geneva Conventions and signed agreements; on the other hand, it is addressed to the international civil society to act, as individuals as well as social movements (trade-unions, parties, local councils, popular associations etc) to boycott goods, official representatives, institutions etc. that represent the colonial State of Israel.

Both tasks (boycott and sanctions) will eventually be a pressure of the Israeli people, pushing it to understand that occupation and colonization have a price, that violating the international rules may, sooner or later, made the State of Israel a paria-country, not welcomed in the civilized community of nations.

The BDS campaign was initiated by a broad coalition of Palestinian political and social movements. No Israeli who claims to support the national rights of the Palestinian people can, decently, turns it back to that campaign: after having claimed for years that “armed struggle is not the way”, it will be outrageous that this strategy too will be disqualified by those Israeli activists. On the contrary, we have all together to join ‘Boycott from within’ in order to provide an Israeli backup to that Palestinian initiative. It is the minimum we can do, it is the minimum we should do.

Ofer Neiman, contributing editor of Occupation Magazine and The Only Democracy? website, believes that a boycott that targets only settlers, and not Israeli society as whole, is not only myopic, but would be ineffective since, including those colonizing East Jerusalem, the settlers “make up only 7% of Israel’s citizens. Most of the settlements are small communities, and many of their inhabitants make their living either through work in Israel (west of the green line) or as state employees in their communities.”

As a result, he explains his support for the “morally justified” BDS campaign this way: “The Palestinian BDS call is first and foremost a call for the promotion of universal principles of human rights. From this universal perspective, it should not be difficult to see that there is something inherently flawed about Israel’s entire constitutional fabric when it comes to the treatment of its Palestinian citizens, not to mention the specific policies pursued by successive Israeli governments on this issue.”

Heeding Wise Words

The sole reason there exists an ongoing, bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the ideology of Zionism. It is irrelevant to try and figure out what came first, the rejection of indigenous self-determination or resistance against ethnocentric, settler-colonialism, as they both follow the concept of Zionism. In order to truly seek peace with justice, the real root of the problem must be honestly identified as the Zionist ideology itself, and not, as Yossi Ben Artzi suggests, the settlement enterprise after 1967. Ironically, Zionism, though originally conceived to protect a persecuted minority against rampant persecution, inherently embodies the very worst aspects of human nature: ethnic superiority, racism, exclusivity, intolerance, xenophobia, jingoism, entitlement, and arrogance, to name just a few.

The ugly militarism, fierce nationalism, and fascist ideals required to achieve Zionist goals in Palestine have long been acknowledged by many Jewish intellectuals and humanists like Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt. Albert Einstein, for instance, denounced the Irgun-aligned Betar youth movement in 1935, describing it as being “as much a danger to our youth as Hitlerism is to German youth” and believed that “the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power….I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain — especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks.”

Judah Magnes called the Zionist collective in pre-1948 Palestine an “artificial community” and he predicted that sanctions imposed by the United States would halt “the Jewish war machine.”

Rabbi Stephen Wise, arguing that “the whole tradition of the Jewish people is against militarism,” expressed disgust at what he saw as a slogan to fit the 1930s: “Germany for Hitler, Italy for Mussolini, Palestine for Jabotinsky.”

In 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the “fierce urgency of now” in demanding that all people benefit from “the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” He declared:

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

Three decades earlier, in a meeting to discuss holding a anti-Nazi boycott rally in Madison Square Garden in New York City, Rabbi Stephen Wise said much the same thing:

The time for prudence and caution is past. We must speak up like men. How can we ask our Christian friends to lift their voices in protest against the wrongs suffered by Jews if we keep silent? … What is happening in Germany today may happen tomorrow in any other land on earth unless it is challenged and rebuked. It is not the German Jews who are being attacked. It is the Jews.

And now, decades upon decades later, both King’s and Wise’s sentiments are still relevant. The promises of democracy still must be realized, racial justice must still replace segregation, equal rights for all must still be demanded, and freedom must ring from every mountainside and through every wadi.

What’s happening in Israel and Palestine today may happen tomorrow in any other land on earth unless it is challenged and rebuked. It is not the Palestinians who are being attacked. It is our collective humanity.

It is time to speak up.