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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Forward: Okay to boycott the 'right' Israelis

The Forward has a lengthy report on the boycott divest and sanction (BDS) movement on American college campuses, and concludes that the concern over BDS that exists in the Jewish community is exaggerated.
An extensive national survey by the Forward indicates that, despite a sharp increase in the past year, significant BDS activity on North American campuses is limited to a handful of instances since 2005, the year of the official launch of the BDS campaign. The Forward counted 17 instances at 14 campuses over the past six years of a boycott or divestment effort that was significant and well-organized enough to draw an active official response from a student government or campus administrative body.

In no instance has BDS action led to a university in the U.S. or Canada divesting from any company or permanently ceasing the sale of any product.

Both BDS activists and Jewish Israel advocates argue that the small number of significant campus BDS campaigns fails to capture the importance of the movement. But the Forward’s count calls into question the dire rhetoric and far-reaching claims employed by both the proponents and critics of BDS.
The Forward notes that its report was criticized by activists on both sides of the issue. In an editorial, the Forward hints that the BDS proponents are making 'progress.'
And the truth is, what pro-Israel activists rightfully fear is what BDS supporters want: A shift in tone, a growing acceptability that Israel’s right to exist should be questioned, or even denied.
From where I sit, that's exactly what has changed on American college campuses in the past 30 years: The tone of the debate.

The Forward then goes on to say this:
That threat is real, and it must be addressed, but it also must be kept in perspective. Fighting BDS cannot be turned into a cottage industry for the fearful and anxious. And these efforts must recognize that all calls to boycott are not the same. A group can support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish, democratic state and still believe that buying products made in the occupied territories helps perpetuate an untenable, immoral situation. Boycotts are peaceful, legitimate tools of economic leverage, and don’t automatically lead to delegitimization.

The black citizens in Montgomery, Ala., who refused to ride segregated buses didn’t believe that their city shouldn’t exist. They were simply using economic clout to challenge and try to change an unjust system.

The real affront is when BDS is targeted against all of Israel, or against its legitimate means of defense. Then it is no longer challenging an unjust system, it is challenging the very right of Jews to govern themselves in their internationally-recognized homeland. That movement must be countered at every turn.
There it is again: The inability of some Americans to see Israel in any terms other than those of the American civil rights movement. Where have we seen that before? Oh yes, here.

In a comment on the Forward's page, Alex Joffe has it right.
1. The report minimizes the extent to which campus BDS is embedded in larger community, church, and corporate BDS efforts, as well as situated a larger campus atmosphere that indulges anti-Israel groups and their hateful rhetoric.

2. Ironically, if perhaps unwittingly, the report give ample space to BDS advocates to make their case regarding the delegimization of Israel as a strategic goal. But it fails to emphasize that the 'one state' solution is the ultimate goal of most BDS groups.

3. The report, and especially the egregious and patronizing editorial, also minimize the enormous efforts necessary to achieve the level of pushback against BDS that has been realized. National and local groups, and especially students on the ground, are routinely called upon to craft responses and create campaigns on short notice, with minimal resources, and in an atmosphere of flamboyant and self-righteous vilification concocted by BDSers. These efforts typically occur on Friday evenings and Jewish holidays when votes on BDS are coincidentally scheduled.

4. The editorial makes it clear that the Forward believes that boycotting the 'right' Israelis is acceptable. Unfortunately, most of the BDS movement regards all Israelis as legitimate targets for boycotts and worse. American Jews do not prove their devotion to a peaceful, negotiated solution by supporting those who vilify other Jews. By doing so, however, they do prove their primary devotion is to transnational progressivism rather than other Jews, or to peace.

5. The insulting slap at the antiques who harken back to the 'heady days' of military triumph' and their inability to communicate with the nuanced youth of today who grew up in the age of terrorism and intifada is bad enough, but is complicated by the laudatory reference to the equally bygone civil rights movement. That, too, was the product of another generation (the military triumph generation, in fact), who had a more realistic understanding that hard and soft power go together. Maybe referring to the civil rights movement is a mere reflex, or keyboard macro on the Forward editor's computer. It is not persuasive.

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