BDS Redux: Part I IJV
Since the end of the Association for Israel Studies (AIS) meetings last Wednesday in Jerusalem, among the newsfeeds I have received and read over the last four days, ten dealt with BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel. I have written about BDS before. Last year at the AIS meetings at Concordia, I read a paper on BDS. In that essay, I took on the persona of a radical supporter of the Palestinian cause to critique BDS, but from a very opposite perspective than is customary with respect to virtually all anti-BDS papers at AIS, even though some criteria, such as effectiveness, were common to both angles of analysis. That paper stood in place of the usual defensive feeds one reads in Jewish and public media sources. I begin this series revisiting the BDS issue, but starting with a review of a selection of very recent news stories on BDS, with a specific focus on stories on IJV, Independent Jewish Voices, an organization of Jews explicitly dedicated to advocating on behalf of BDS.
One story on BDS itself was headlined, “15 years since the Durban Conference: ‘We need an idea to go against BDS’.” Like most BDS stories (but not all, as shall be seen), the headline alone evoked a sense of failure as well as panic at the advancing tide of this enormous wave called BDS. The report covered the presentation of Dr. Nachman Shai, a Kadima member of the Israeli Knesset and its Deputy Speaker, a former spokesperson for the IDF, journalist and communications expert who insisted that the strategies developed at Durban, embodied in its step-child, the BDS movement, continued to pose a threat to the State of Israel. The Jewish organizations and Israel itself had developed tactics and strategies to counter BDS, but they needed a counter anti-BDS idea. BDS was based on an idea. When one looks at the counter-BDS movement, Shai found that it was bereft of an idea behind it.
He, of course, meant a competing positive idea. For the anti-BDS movement did seem to have a negative idea, to paint the BDS movement as, at heart, not a supporter of a two-state solution, but in favour of the elimination of Israel as a state in the Middle East. One example that could have been offered was the effort to paint “Independent Jewish Voices” (IJV) as anti-Jewish as well as an anti-Israel movement that used the celebration of Al Quds Day as a hate-fest against the Jewish people.
IJV was founded in Canada in 2008 and endorsed BDS in 2009. One method used to oppose BDS was to paint it, and other groups that supported BDS, as opposed to the Jewish state. Further, such groups were depicted as either explicit Holocaust deniers or ones that flirted with Holocaust denial and associated with deniers. (More on this in the next blog.)
However, IJV describes itself very differently, as representing Canadian Jews (for IJV Canada) who have a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights. Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) is purportedly a national human rights organization whose mandate, it claims, “is to promote a just resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine through the application of international law and respect for the human rights of all parties.” IJV claims that there are currently ten chapters of IJV in cities across Canada in addition to a growing number of student clubs on major university campuses. IJV supports the right of Canadians to criticize and challenge the current laws and policies of the State of Israel, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. IJV’s policies and operations are claimed to rest on the following principles:
1. Human rights are universal and indivisible and should be upheld without exception. This is as applicable in Israel and Occupied Palestine as it is elsewhere.
2. Palestinians and Israelis alike have the right to peaceful and secure lives.
3. Peace and stability require the willingness of all parties to the conflict to comply with international law.
4. There is no justification for any form of racism, including anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism or Islamophobia in any circumstance.
5. The battle against anti-Semitism is vital and is undermined whenever opposition to Israeli government policies is automatically branded as anti-Semitic.
Leaving aside the problem of what constitutes Occupied Palestine, on first glance I would think that IJV might represent me. However, when I read the policies it endorses, I am appalled.
1. Israel withdrawing to the Green Line of 1967, a position set aside by Oslo and which even Palestinian peace negotiators advancing a two-state solution have not pursued;
2. Support of the universal right of refugees to return – refugee return is NOT a universal right (see Adelman, Howard and Elazar Barkan (2011) No Return, No Refuge. New York: Columbia University Press) – or receive compensation; the original clause about refugee return and compensation (Resolution 194) was commendatory rather than a statement of universal obligation and was subject to negotiations and an agreement with Israel;
3. Dismantling the Separation Wall which, whatever one thinks of the wall and fence, did enormously reduce Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel, and there is no statement against Palestinian terrorism or on the security issue more generally;
4. Dismantling ALL Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the Golan Heights, even in those cases where the settlements were re-creations of Israeli settlements prior to the War of Independence where the Jordanian government practiced complete ethnic cleansing and wiped out every Jewish settlement in the area it occupied; again this position runs counter to interim agreements on peace already negotiated between the Palestinians and Israelis;
5. Correcting laws and practices within Israel that discriminate against the rights of non-Jews, but says nothing about discrimination against the rights of Jews in Palestinian territory;
6. Is ostensibly neutral on the one-state or two-state solution when the overwhelming number of those promoting peace in the Israeli-Palestine conflict support a two state solution and oppose both the one state option which would eliminate Israel and the one state option which would deny Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza a state of their own; further, this is an explicit misrepresentation of BDS’s own published views attacking Israelis who advocate an annexationist policy – BDS is unequivocally opposed to a one state solution where Israel is the one state.
IJV has criticized the Liberal government claiming that, “Since the Liberals came back to power, the Trudeau government has voted against defending Palestinian human rights at the United Nations; voted with the Conservatives in support of a motion condemning Canadian individuals and organizations promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; and smeared Canadian international law expert Michael Lynk by calling for the UN to “review” his appointment to Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
Take the last issue first. Is Michael Lynk an independent examiner? He is independent in the sense that he is not dependent for his income on an organization connected to the issue. Further, the proposed position is unpaid. However, independence also connotes a detached examination of a dispute. It suggests an effort to be impartial. In that sense, judges and commissioners of inquiry are supposed to be independent and should not pre-judge issues. Though more moderate than Professor Penny Green from the UK who was initially pushed for the position, Michael Lynk is not independent in that sense since he has not only pronounced himself frequently and vociferously in denouncing Israel as a serial violator of Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza, but has, to the best of my knowledge, never denounced the abuse of human rights of either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. He evidently even blamed the West for provoking the 9/11 attack citing global inequalities and Western disrespect for international law. He has associated himself with Palestinian “popular resistance” and supports branding Israel as an Apartheid State. As one might expect, he has accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza.
Michael presented a paper, “Partition, federalism and the future of Israel-Palestine” at a Conference in March of 2009 at my home university, York, called, “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace.” It was a conference from which I withdrew my paper after I concluded that the meeting included too many non-scholars presenting advocacy papers rather than independent intellectual analyses on one state versus two state approaches, though I respected many of the papers by fellow academics who supported a one state solution as much as I differed with them. (http://www.yorku.ca/ipconf/documents/program21may.pdf)
Michael Lynk is clearly and unequivocally a partisan on the issue and not impartial. Certainly, neither is BDS nor IJV which supports BDS and condemns “the racist policies of the Israeli state.” IJV associates with the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network and speaks for anti-Zionist Jews, yet even when I was an anti-Zionist, I would not have wanted IJV to represent my views. It is not independent. It is not fair. It insults as much if not more than it is insulted. And does so as if it stands on the high ground of universal human rights.
In 2015, IJV provided a social link to an article written by Alan Hart, former Middle East Chief Correspondent for Independent Television in the UK, author of a three-part series, Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, and his weighty two volume Waiting for the Apocalypse. Hart believes that Israel-Palestinian conflict will be settled, and only be settled, with the end of Zionism. Unless this happens, the world will come face to face with Armageddon. IJV identifies with Hart and strongly condemns anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial of any kind, but disassociates itself from Hart’s conspiracy theories, but not Hart’s theory that the Zionist lobby controls American Middle East policy. Hart insists that the destruction of the World Trade Center took place as a result of planes fitted with transponders planted and controlled by Mossad. Those transponders were used to guide the planes to hitting the World Trade Center.
IJV cited a website for Hart’s article of Veterans Today, an organization that IJV now acknowledges as promoting wild conspiracy theories as well as Holocaust debunking. IJV has admitted that the citation was thoughtless and careless and apologized for it. IJV removed the link since it purportedly advocates “rigorous, factual discussion and debate on Israel and Palestine.” I do not believe it does, but neither do I believe it knowingly associates with Holocaust-deniers and anti-Semites. Further, IJV does not agree with Hart’s advocacy for de-Zionizing Israel and turning it into a Jewish state in which “the most powerful force would be the moral principles of Judaism,” for IJV seems to be critical of the notion of a Jewish state in itself.
IJV has been very active is getting two, and there are only two, foreign policy resolutions on the agenda of the annual Green Party meeting in Canada in August. Both resolutions deal with Israel. One calls for the support of BDF. The other calls for the decertification of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) as a Canadian charity. BDS has succeeded in getting Elizabeth May, the leader of the party, to co-sponsor the latter resolution with Corey Levine of IJV to rescind JNF’s charitable status. Given that the Green Party has nothing to say about ISIS or Islamic extremism from Indonesia to Nigeria, has nothing to say about the cruelties of the Assad regime, nothing to say about the enormous increase in refugee numbers, nothing to say about the prospect of Brexit, nothing to say about the crisis in Venezuela, nothing to say about human rights in Saudi Arabia, nothing to say about the deforestation and reforestation policies of Brazil and their effects on indigenous peoples of the Amazon, nothing to say about North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear arms capability, nothing to say about the human rights abuses of Iran, might it not be reasonable to suggest that this exclusive focus on Israel alone indicates a bias against Israel?
What has been Elizabeth May’s defence? She in the past claimed that she has raised human rights concerns about many nations – which does not explain why these are party policy issues and not just expressions of a leader’s concern and why these are the only two foreign policy resolutions at the convention. Her answer: the Green Party, unlike other parties, has no process for screening resolutions placed on the convention floor. Current party policy opposes the use of BDS to influence the policies of the Netanyahu government – itself an indication of possible bias since it may imply that only the Israeli government needs to be influenced to advance a peaceful resolution of the conflict. May defends the right of party members to propose changes in policy. Further, according to B’nai Brith, when May discussed human rights in the context of Jews, “when Parliament convened in February of 2015 specifically to discuss the global rise in antisemitism, May’s sole contribution to the debate was to argue that criticism of Israel should not be considered antisemitic.”
The fact is everyone agrees that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic per se. Certain types of criticism are. The B’nai Brith response suggested that May’s criticism risked falling into the latter category since she cited IJV as her source for the claim. Even more critically, IJV is the same organization that sponsored the two resolutions.
With respect to the JNF resolution, she does not take back that she is a sponsor of the resolution, but has said that she has invited Josh Cooper, CEO of JNF Canada, to speak to the resolution if it comes to the convention floor. However, the resolution may never reach the floor if it is defeated in online voting. We will have to see what happens. But in the next blog I want to turn to the efforts of Jewish organizations in Canada, in particular, B’nai Brith, to attack IJV and BDS. As we shall see, Nachman Shai may be very correct in his charge that BDS is only being combated with defensive attacks, and possibly distorted ones, rather than Shai’s call for a competing idea.
With the help of Alex Zisman