Another Jewish Peace News editor, Lincoln Z. Shlensky, agrees. He writes that, to be effective and compelling, a clear distinction “between the settlements and Israel proper” must be made by the BDS movement, which he claims “implicitly anticipates the end of Israel as a predominantly Jewish, democratic state and therefore serves to radicalize Jewish Israelis against it and to make its aims unacceptable to almost all Western governments.” That way, he suggests, “such a strategy can succeed if the occupation, and not the existence of Israel itself, is the clear target.”
In his new article, “The New Zionist Imperative Is to Tell Israel the Truth,” published in Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun Magazine, J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami refers to the BDS campaign as an approach “that rel[ies] on anger” and one that will not encourage the “very difficult and painful compromise that is necessary to achieve peace.” Are we to infer that the hard choice Ben-Ami, who mentions his commitment to a “Jewish, and democratic” Israel four times in his short piece, believes that Israel — its government and public — must make is to actually respect international law and human rights? To most reasonable observers, this might seem to be a “compromise” that Israel shouldn’t have the choice not to make.
Incidentally, Rela Mazali, another editor of Jewish Peace News, is quick to point out that “there isn’t and never has been ‘a Jewish Israel.’ What there is, what I live in, is a Jewish-controlled Israel. Which is not a democracy.”
Ben-Ami’s claim that the BDS movement is born of anger has historic parallels. During deliberations among American Jewish leaders in 1933 as to whether or not to support a boycott of Nazi Germany, Joseph Proskauer and Judge Irving Lehman of the American Jewish Committee publicly opposed the move. Lehman pleaded, “I implore you in the name of humanity, don’t let anger pass a resolution which will kill Jews in Germany.” Sound familiar?
Also, it should be noted that, if a century of colonialism, over six decades of ethnic cleansing, 43 years of occupation, and systemic discrimination, intolerance, and racism aren’t enough to elicit “anger,” either one has no morality to speak of, or the word itself has lost all its meaning. It is not the “anger” that is the problem, here, it’s the historic — and unabated — injustice.
Huffington Post blogger M.J. Rosenberg does “not support boycotting the State of Israel,” because he believes it would hurt “those brave Israelis (B’tselem, Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, Machsom Watch, Gisha, Israelis Against Home Demolitions, etc.) who fight the occupation with everything they have.”
These Israelis (I particularly think of Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis For Human Rights) actually put their bodies on the line to fight settlers and soldiers when the need arises. I think of Uri Avnery, the old Haganah fighter, who has struggled against the occupation from the beginning.
Apparently, Rosenberg considers supporting Israelis who “fight” and “put their bodies on the line,” more important than respecting the non-violent tactics of the actual Palestinians who have lost their homeland to a militarized, colonizing enterprise, who fight oppression, dehumanization, and degradation on a daily basis, and whose bodies are actually in the line of fire from Apache helicopters, F-16 jets, Predator drones, white phosphorous and tank shells.
Similarly, Israeli historian and writer Bernard Avishai, a longtime critic of Zionism and its effects, also opposes a substantial boycott campaign directed at Israel. In his June 2010 article in The Nation, entitled “Against Boycott and Divestment,” Avishai argues that academic and economic boycotts and international divestment are “seriously counterproductive…Because those actions generally undermined the very people who advanced cosmopolitan values in the country. To get social change, you need social champions, in management as in universities.”
“Even under apartheid,” Avishai writes, “you had enlightened people who needed the world’s backing, and B[oycott] and D[ivestment] cut the ground out from under them.”
For some reason, Avishai’s concept of life inside the Green Line runs parallel to Taub’s when he states that “despite institutionalized discrimination and the disquieting excesses of its security apparatus — the Israeli state still accords its citizens, including about 1.5 million Arabs, a functioning democracy, the right to vote, a free press and an independent judiciary.”
Democratic Israel is under threat from growing numbers of rightists for whom settling “Eretz Yisrael” is of a piece with containing, if not disenfranchising, Israeli Arabs and Jewish dissenters skeptical of their version of the Jewish state. But, then, how to strengthen dissent? By isolating dissenters?
Avishai omits that Israel’s democracy functions only by disempowering its minority citizenry, as already discussed, and that great pains are taken to punish internal dissent and stifle media coverage of its illegal and inexcusable behavior.
Echoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s concern regarding a potential Israeli brain-drain, Avishai writes, “Polls show that about 40 percent of Israeli Jews have abidingly secular and globalist (if not liberal) attitudes. Who gains from economic decline and the inevitable consequence of most educated Israelis fleeing to, well, the Bay Area?”
Interestingly, Avishai does allow that, “Targeted sanctions against the occupation are another matter, however. Foreign governments might well ban consumer products like fruit, flowers and Dead Sea mineral creams and shampoos produced by Israelis in occupied territory, much as Palestinian retail stores do.”
A ‘Jewish State’ of Mind
So, when allegedly progressive commentators write “Yes to Israel. No to settlements,” and favor the boycott of West Bank colonies, but oppose the same campaign when its targets fall inside Israel’s borders (which aren’t even internationally recognized), what do they see as the ideological difference between the two, and where is the evidence that there really is one? What kind of state do these commentators actually wish to preserve and protect: one that privileges one demographic group over another or one that represents all its citizens equally?
For instance, in a recent Ha’aretz article, Yossi Beilin, a former leader of the ultra-dovish Meretz party and an architect of Oslo, spoke for the Zionist left in Israel, calling a one-state solution “nonsense,” adding, “I’m not interested in living in a state that isn’t Jewish.” Similarly, in the very same issue, Hanan Porat, one of the iconic founders of the ultra right-wing messianic settler movement Gush Emunim, dismissed the idea of a single, democratic state. “There is no point in threatening us with the idea of a state of all its citizens,” he scoffed.
Neither governmental policies of discrimination and racism nor the declarations of left or right-leaning activists need speak for the Israeli public. Yet numerous opinion polls from the past few years give the distinct impression that the majority of Israelis have questionable attitudes towards concepts like equality and democracy.
In March 2010, a poll conducted by the Maagar Mochot research institute revealed that while 80% of Israeli high school students prefer a democratic form of government (while 16% actually desire a dictatorship), over 49% do not support equal rights being granted to both Jewish and Arab citizens of the State of Israel. 56% of the high school students polled believed Arabs should not be allowed to vote, while 32% said they would not even want to have an Arab friend. One out of every six students would not want to study in the same class with an Ethiopian or an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, and 21% of them think that “Death to Arabs” is a legitimate expression. Additionally, 48% insisted they would refuse official orders to evacuate illegal West Bank settlements if they were serving in the Israeli military (for which 91% of respondents were eager to enlist).