BDS II: The Zionist Counter-Attack
In yesterday’s blog, I referred to the disproportionately large numbers of emails that I received in the last week concerning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), my own past writing on BDS, the call by the Kadima MK, Dr. Nachman Shai, to fight BDS with an idea, and the usual defensive stance one usually reads in Jewish and public media sources. I could also have described many of the counter-positions taken against BDS as offensive in both senses of that word. For an offensive action or verbal response is one that is aggressive and combative, but may also be one that is repugnant, more upsetting than informative, insulting and derogatory more than enlightening, abusive rather than respectful of the truth.
One of my readers responded to yesterday’s blog as follows:
I read with interest your communications on BDS and IJV. It is refreshing to see someone write about this without spewing vitriol against those of us who are critical of Israel, but are anything but antisemitic.
There is one point that I think merits more discussion, and that is the contention that BDS (and IJVers) are out to destroy Israel as the home of the Jews, among other things, because when we denounce Israeli discrimination against Palestinians as being as bad as apartheid (I believe this is so in the Occupied territories), we are delegitimizing the state of Israel and thus paving the way for its end, and thus the end of a safe Jewish homeland.
This assumes that a democratic state, where Jews and Palestinians are equal, ergo not a Jewish state, cannot be a safe home for Jews. I don’t think that follows. I think that even if there were a Palestinian majority, Israel/Palestine could be (my italics) a safe home for both ethnicities; in fact, I think that is the only safe outcome for both Jews and Palestinians. I think that in order to arrive at this, Israel and the Occupied territories would probably go through a confederation before becoming a plurinational state. South Africa got rid of Apartheid and did not descend into chaos and the whites have not been kicked into the sea, despite the big problems of that nation.
The policies of the present Jabotinski Zionist government of Israel are in, my opinion, suicidal, because the Arab states that are inimical to Israel will eventually acquire the means to destroy Israel and be able to insist on an outcome that is not safe for Jews and this will be unsafe for Palestinians as well.
With best regards.
I think that the idea that, given the current Middle East, where Christian religious cleansing has been at full tilt for at least the last three decades, should be trusted to tolerate a Jewish minority, where Arab pogroms against Jews were not uncommon prior to the creation of Israel, where Arab countries aggressively attacked the nascent Jewish state when the United Nations endorsed the creation of three states in Mandatory Palestine – a Jewish state that became Israel, a Palestinian Arab state that was mostly annexed by Jordan, and Jerusalem as a city state under international auspices – is naïve in the extreme. But asking Jews to take that risk given that environment of extreme hostility is more than naïve. It is suicidal. Or, at the very least, there is a significant risk of suicide. And Jewish Israelis are neither suicidal nor willing to take that risk.
Further, since the United Nations in 1947 and 1948 decided that combining the two groups in one state was unworkable – and, as I documented, this included supporters of the Arabs in Palestine – why do not supporters of a one-state solution with a majority of Arabs accept that international determination? Why do they not embrace the two-state solution? Further, in advocating a majoritarian Palestinian solution, why do they not try to engage is a civil dialogue and instead expend much effort in branding Israel as an apartheid and racist state? Whatever its faults and whatever the criticisms of the right in Israel, Israel is not by any reasonable measure an apartheid or racist state as much as I personally am repelled by some policies. Further, my reader who sent this response I know is not anti-Semitic. But he is clearly an anti-Zionist. He clearly supports BDS, IJV and the dismantling of the Israeli state. He is at least honest about that.
Why can Norwegians, Scots and Quebeckers vote to have their own state but Jews cannot? Why can other Jews, who have now shrunken to a very small minority, accept the fact that the overwhelming proportion of Jews have become supporters of Jews having their own state, even if they themselves have not become Zionists? Why cannot Jews have a state that can defend itself, especially given past behaviour of their neighbours? It is not totally unsurprising and even understandable that in such a context such advocates are branded – quite aside from what they actually are – as not only anti-Zionists, but advocates who often try to disguise that anti-Zionism.
Further, the almost obsessive focus on Israel and almost total disregard of the much grosser abuse of rights by states that surround Israel, more specifically the abuse of rights by the Khomeini regime (how many Baha’is have been murdered by that regime?) can, again, understandably lead those who support Israel to regard the position of BDSers and IJVers as at least bordering on anti-Semitism, even if those advocates may not actually be guilty of such beliefs? If they deny Jews, and usually only Jews, the right to self-determination, is it not at least a possibility that this constitutes anti-Semitism even if they contend they are not motivated in the least by anti-Semitism?
History has spoken. Why do they not listen?
Except as revealed in the last sentence – the supporters of BDS and IJV want to reverse history, view that history as reversible and expect as well as support the destruction of Israel as a state for the Jewish people, a state in which non-Jews can live as citizens with equal rights.
But that criticism is not the object of this blog. Rather, I want to examine the attacks against BDS and the small segment of Jews represented by IJV that supports such policies.
Tyler Levitan, a vociferous supporter of both BDS and IJV, penned a piece called, “Israel Lobby’s War On Boycott Movement Distracts From Reality.” Setting aside for the moment whether this description is more applicable to the position of IJV, what is the contention? After all, the charge is made not only against Zionists and the Jewish establishment, but against Canada’s political establishment, including both Liberals and Conservatives and even New Democrats. It is why the BDS movement and its IJV supporters have targeted The Green Party given its weak defenses against such assaults from a determined minority and why they have linked their attack to environmentalism in trying to delegitimize the Jewish National Fund (JNF).
Levitan is correct in countering the charge that BDS is an “absolute” failure, if only because it has attracted great attention and the deployment of significant resources by the Jewish community. Further, BDS claims some concrete successes. After all, was not BDS cited (my italics) as a prime cause in a 50% drop in foreign direct investments in Israel in 2015? But citation is not proof either that BDS was a prime cause of this claimed drop or, more significantly, that, Israel suffered a decline in foreign investment at all. A simple survey of economic assessments in this respect, either by the IMF or internal Israeli bank information, suggests that Israel did not suffer a 50% drop but managed a significant gain (19%) over 2014, and only a modest 3% drop relative to the record gain in 2013. No self-respecting economist would suggest that these fluctuations had anything to do with BDS. BDSers are reliable at blowing their own horn, but not on the justifications for doing so. There were a record 90 private investment deals in Israel in 2015 totaling in value $3.4 billion. All this merely suggests that BDS is better at propaganda than at truth.
That, however, is an aside. For the main battleground, as both BDSers and IJVers acknowledge, is over control of the dominant narrative. And, whatever the serious weaknesses of this anti-Zionist lobby and their efforts to portray themselves as representatives of Canadian public opinion, they repeatedly try to characterize the issue of return of Palestinian refugees as a universal rights issue, but do not insist on such so-called “universal rights” for the myriad of other refugee groups, including the Jewish refugees forcefully displaced from the West Bank. Further, refugee return has not become a universal right, as much as many of us would choose to make it one. It unequivocally was not a universal right when the Palestinians fled and were forcefully displaced in 1948. Nor is UN Resolution 194 calling for a return or compensation based on such a presumption. (Again, I refer readers to Howard Adelman and Elazar Barkan (2011) No Return, No Refuge. New York: Columbia University Press.)
BDS claims that Israel was founded on racial ethnic cleansing, ignoring who attacked whom, other neighbours who have engaged in ethnic and religious cleansing and the fact that although the number of those forced out of their homes and villages was indeed large, a majority of those refugees simply fled war. More credibility might be given to the BDSers and IJVers if their approach was the least bit balanced and they were not driven by the goal of delegitimizing Israel and Zionism that led to Israel’s creation, if they advocated that all Jews who were or whose ancestors were driven out of Europe should retroactively be given European citizenship, if they insisted with equal strength that Bosniacs who fled predominantly Serbian areas in former Yugoslavia and Serbs forced to flee from Croatia should be given the right to return in security, then their position might be respected for its dispassion and impartiality rather than simply as a front for an anti-Zionist stance.
To say that, “Israel is already an Arab-majority state; 52% of Israelis are Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews, most coming from Arab states,” is disingenuous at the very least since those Israelis identify themselves as Jews from Arab lands not as Arabs. Further, I have also not read anywhere BDSers and IJVers taking up the issue of compensation for Jews from Arab lands. The majority of Jews in Israel are now sabras (72%) even if a majority of their ancestors are Mizrahi. As a population, they are the group most opposed to the possibility of living in a state where the Jews will not be a majority. Citing racist epithets of some Israelis – and there are too many of them – is not a reason to reject Zionism or the legitimacy of the Israeli state.
It is in that context that the attacks on BDS and on IJV must be understood, even if the efforts to blacken BDS and IJV by suggesting they are anti-Semitic and Holocaust deniers, may be counter-productive in the long run even if possibly yielding short term success. For then groups like B’nai Brith join BDS and IJV in a pattern of distortion and mudslinging. “Zionists are racists.” “BDS is an anti-Semitic movement.” “Zionists practice apartheid.” “BDS associates with Holocaust deniers.” Though there is a grain of truth in the epithets aimed at the “enemy,” the overall portrayal disfigures much more than it configures. In ignoring that it was the UN that recommended that a Jewish state be recognized in Palestine, BDS perpetuate a calumny against the state that does border on anti-Semitism, even if that is not the motive of those anti-Zionist advocates. If B’nai Brith accuses all supporters of the BDS position as supporting anti-Semitism and even Holocaust denial, one calumny may balance another, but at the expense of balance and truth.
Not all supporters of BDS or of IJV are anti-Zionists. They may only be critical of Israeli government policies in the West Bank. But the main thrust of BDS and IJV is anti-Zionist. Becoming a fellow traveler risks being drawn into the same maelstrom.
The focus of one of the recent stories I read was on the last of a three-part series by B’nai Brith (BB), which advertises itself as Canada’s League for Human Rights. The series set out to expose IJV as, at core, anti-Jewish, even though it is made up of so-called Jews. After all, if IJV aligns itself with the Khomeini regime of Iran, as Ken Stone, the founder of IJV did in expressing his appreciation of the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini in 2016 at a celebration of the his 27th anniversary in Toronto. Even if many of Ken Stone’s relatives may have died in the Holocaust, a fact cited to prove that Stone is free of any association with Holocaust denial, and as much as he might insist that Khomeini wass not a Holocaust denier, the overwhelming evidence is that both he and many of his religious and political heirs were and are.
Though it is totally understandable why B’nai Brith might ask how any self-respecting Jew could support Khomeini, since Stone has explicitly praised him. Further, IJV had posted on its website (subsequently taken down) praise of Alan Hart, an author associated with Veterans Today, who was called by IJV a “widely-respected journalist and mid-East expert” when he was an explicit Holocaust denier. IJV subsequently disassociated itself from Veterans Day and dubbed its site as “extremely disreputable” engaging in “wild conspiracy theory.”
It is one thing for Iran to adopt such a horrific stance as Holocaust denial and adopt as a military objective eliminating the State of Israel. But for an ostensibly Jewish group to do so was particularly appalling. How could IJV identify with Khomeini, an explicit Holocaust denier, and then condemn another group for its Holocaust denial? Another IJV spokesman, Tyler Levitan, played a leading role in opposing the effort to make BDF illegal in Ontario in concert with successful attempts to do so in 21 of the states in the U.S. (California may be next.)
The campaign in Ontario, unlike many in the U.S., was a failure. One has a sense that Jewish organizations try to offset part of the failure by attacking the press for offering an inordinate proportion of space to an organization that represents very few Jews, that the Jews it represents are associated with nutty causes and associate with radical anti-Zionism and support for the elimination of Israel, and have even been linked to Holocaust denial defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) formed by 31 democracies, including Canada, as the negation of historical reality, denying its extent and relieving the Nazi responsibility by suggesting that Jews and/or Jewish organizations shared responsibility.
B’nai Brith did all of this and then went into overdrive, “calling upon Elizabeth May to once and for all, clarify if she is one of those members who wish to change the anti-BDS policy of the Green Party. If she does not support what BB labels as the anti-Semitic motions up for debate in its annual convention in August, she must immediately withdraw herself as co-sponsor and join her parliamentary colleagues in vociferously opposing BDF. In the BB statement, she must:
a) Immediately withdraw the antisemitic anti-Israel motions scheduled for discussion at the Green Party convention in August;
b) Issue a formal apology to all Canadians for her disingenuous email reply;
c) State, once and for all, her position on the antisemitic Boycott & Sanctions movement;
d) Disavow all Green Party affiliations to Independent Jewish Voices.
Elizabeth May lacks the power to do a) above. B’nai Brith is the party that is disingenuous in asking for a formal apology, for May’s letter, as weak and full of questions as it was, needs no apology from her. It may be unsound. It may be inadequately stated. It may be confused and run contrary to the usual clarity of her positions. But it is not something requiring an apology. Elizabeth May could state her personal policy on BDS and disavow IJV. I would not hold my breath.
So efforts are made to attack organizations that support BDS by linking them with Holocaust denial and with the goal of eliminating Israel. Efforts are made to bring a full body press against political parties that flirt with endorsing BDS. But positive efforts are also made. In celebrity politics, Helen Mirren, the Oscar Award-winning British actress, was the latest (others include Dionne Warwick, Alan Parsons and Kevin Costner) to be used to blast BDS. Further, Mirren went on to praise Israeli artists and even denounced artists (Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Lauren Hill) that shunned Israel.
One must distinguish between those who believe boycotts, divestment and sanctions to be legally and morally justified from those who oppose the BDS movement itself as an illegitimate and/or erroneously aimed use of this protest technique. Thus, in the U.S., 62% find boycotts, divestment and sanctions to be legitimate, but only half of those support BDS. In Britain, the support for BDS increases from one-third to 40%. Whether support is 33% or 40%, it is clear why this is a major policy concern for Israel and why the red flag is being raised. It is also why Israel uses not only celebrities to take opposite stands, but has enlisted a number of allies in the diaspora as research and attack dogs.
Dr. Nachman Shai argued that we need an idea to go against BDS, not throwing mud at everyone who stands near a supporter of BDS or of IJV. I, however, may be wrong. It is I who may be naïve. Perhaps the only approach to BDS and IJV is to use a sledgehammer rather than a sharp pen.
With the help of Alex Zisman