IX Combatting BDS: Domestic Politics

IX Combatting BDS: Domestic Politics

by

Howard Adelman

Domestic Politics in the U.S.

Every country has its weak points where political parties are susceptible to infiltration and the promotion of the BDS agenda. In the United States, it has been the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, in Britain, the left in the Labour Party and the Green Party, in Canada, weakest of all, the party most on the margins, its Green Party has been directly targeted by BDS. But the actual tactics are similar in various countries – promote candidates within the party sympathetic to the BDS cause, promote members on policy platforms and policies that advance the BDS position, and do so by playing down the BDS anti-Zionism and playing up the “illegal” settlements on the West Bank and Palestinian human rights. The counter-attack pushes in precisely the opposite direction.

Bernie Sanders had been given the right to name five of the fifteen members of the Democratic Party Platform Committee, though he still held out from endorsing Clinton. In May, Bernie chose Cornel West to be one of his five nominees on the National Democratic Committee to draft the Democratic political platform in the forthcoming election, in particular, the platform on Israel and Palestine. Cornel West, a philosopher and an eminent academic, has been a strong backer and campaigner both for Bernie Sanders and for BDS. However, on Friday 15 July, Cornel did not follow Bernie’s lead in endorsing Hillary Clinton, the presumptive presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.

Cornel West announced that he would be backing Jill Stein, another Jew, who is the American presidential candidate for the Green Party; Jill Stein is a supporter of BDS. Like many leftist dissidents before him, in a close race, Cornel West was willing to split the left vote that would give an enormous boost to Donald Trump’s chances. “I have a deep love for my brother Bernie Sanders, but I disagree with him on Hillary Clinton. I don’t think she would be an ‘outstanding president’. Her militarism makes the world a less safe place.” I read no announcement that Cornel was resigning from the Policy Platform Committee of the Democratic Party, perhaps because the committee had already completed its work.

Bernie named a second strong BDS supporter, one who was part of the party establishment, James Zogby, the President of the Arab American Institute and a very strong backer of BDS as well. Bernie also appointed Keith Ellison, the Democratic House of Representatives member from Minnesota’s fifth district, the first Muslim elected to Congress. Keith did not have a reputation as a backer, strong or otherwise, of BDS, but had been an outspoken critic of Israel while maintaining close ties to the Jewish community. The two other nominees were environmental activist Bill McKibben and Native American activist Deborah Parker, neither known to have taken a stand on BDS or on Israel for that matter.

DNC’s chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, one of the most prominent Jewish leaders in the party, named four members of the committee. Three of them were very strong backers of Israel: Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s chairman had for years run a program in conjunction with the organized Jewish community to send a dozen Baltimore black high-schoolers to Israel each year; former Rep. Howard Berman, D-California, in 2010, had been responsible for shepherding the strong Iran sanctions as chair of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee; Bonnie Schaefer, a philanthropist, is involved with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Weizmann Institute of Science. The only member Schultz picked who was not a strong supporter of Israel was Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, who had joined Ellison, the Bernie appointee, in opposing the House resolution condemning the 2009 Goldstone Report which had been so flawed and which Goldstone himself subsequently renounced. However, she was not a known backer of BDS.

Hillary Clinton was given the right to name six of the members of the Platform Committee. Among the six Clinton backers was Wendy Sherman, the former deputy secretary of state who was a lead negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks over which she received a great deal of bric-à-bac from the Jewish establishment, but remained a strong supporter of Israel. Sherman has spoken warmly of her involvement in Jewish life in suburban Maryland. Neera Tanden, a long time Clinton confidante and president of the Center for American Progress, was a second nominee who identified strongly with Israel, even while sometimes critical of Israeli government policies.

In recent years, she took a lead role in trying to establish a dialogue between Israel’s government and the American progressive community. Her main credentials, however, were as a progressive domestic policy wonk. Others included Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois; Carol Browner, a former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency; Ohio state Rep. Alicia Reece; and Paul Booth of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. All were known to back Hillary Clinton’s strong pro-Israel stance.

The breakdown was as follows: Shultz Clinton Sanders Total
BDS Supporter 0 0 2 2
Israeli Critics but not BDS supporters 1 0 1 2
Neutral 0 0 2 2
Strong Israeli Supporters 3 6 0 9

Total 4 6 5 15

There was no chance of the BDS support or position being endorsed. 60% of the members were strong pro-Israel supporters, though on the progressive end of that support. There were only two strong supporters of BDS and, as stated, one in effect bolted the party. Three of the four Congress members were on record as strong supporters of Israel – Cummings, Lee and Gutiérrez. The only outspoken critic was Ellison who had never endorsed BDS and had strong Jewish support. All four had been endorsed by the political action committee affiliated with J Street, the Jewish liberal Middle East policy group.

Not only was BDS not supported, even efforts calling for Israel to end settlement activity and to label Israel’s presence in the West Bank as an occupation failed. But that could have been anticipated. The real play was to get a minority report. That required 25% support so the Israel-Palestine issue could be debated on the convention floor. Even that failed. It should be noted that Bernie Sanders himself, a strong critic of Israeli settlement policy, has never advocated that established settlements be dismantled – in contrast to Cornel West. He did support naming the Israeli military presence as an occupation, urged recognition of a Palestinian state. But he also refused to condemn Israel for its 2014 Gaza war, insisting it was fought in self-defence, while, at the same time, claiming that the military response was disproportionate. (http://forward.com/news/national/310087/is-bernie-sanders-a-lefty-except-for-israel/#ixzz4EcepUh5A)

So why did Sanders appoint two of his five appointees who were known as BDS supporters when he himself had an infamous debate with BDS supporters in a town hall meeting in Cabot, Vermont in August 2014 in which he told a critical member of the audience to “shut up.” Though he did not co-sponsor a resolution expressing support for Israel in the conflict with Hamas, when it was voted on 17 July of that year, he did not object to the motion which passed by unanimous consent. (For the Cabot confrontation, see http://forward.com/news/national/310087/is-bernie-sanders-a-lefty-except-for-israel/#ixzz4EcepUh5A.) I am not sure why. I can only think it was because he wanted to appease the large number of supporters who were far more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than even he was.

Britain

Larry Sanders is Bernie’s older brother (by seven years) whom he credits with inducing him to enter politics in the first place. Larry is an American-British academic, social worker, and health spokesperson for the Green Party of England; he ran as a candidate for the party in the Oxford West and Abingdon riding in the last British election. And lost. Badly! Larry, unlike Bernie, supports the BDS movement against Israel. In a tweet on 20 April 2015, he called for Israel to “end occupation of West Bank, siege of Gaza, [and grant] Palestinians in Israel equal rights.” “BDS yes,” he ended.

In Britain, the Green Party is an open supporter of BDS. Natalie Bennett, an Australian rather than an American immigrant to Britain and leader since 2012, endorsed the previous party platform supporting BDS which she depicts as a human rights and international law issue. “We need to get the message across to the Israeli state. It needs to comply with international law and human rights.” The party calls for suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement worth more than nearly $1.5 billion per year. Bennett also supports a boycott on any sale of arms to Israel. One Green Party candidate, Tanya Williams, called Israel “a racist and apartheid state.” Sharer Ali, deputy leader of the party, is a harsh critic of Israel.

However, the battle in Britain is for the soul of the Labour Party. That battle appears to have been lost. The UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, openly supports BDS, though he personally would restrict the boycott only to products produced on the West Bank. He also calls for penalizing Israel, cancelling the EU-Israel trade agreement and even banishing Israeli politicians, though not academics, from entering Britain. He has called Israel’s treatment of the population of East Jerusalem illegal and an abomination. Though he has visited Gaza and called Israel’s politicians criminals, he has never replied to the invitation of the leader of his cousin party led by Isaac Herzog to visit Israel.

Corbyn has called Hezbollah a “friend” and has urged dialogue between Israel and Hamas and insisted that, “You don’t achieve progress by only talking to those who you agree with,” but seems only willing to talk to Palestinian and Arab extremists and not Israeli moderates. Though not an anti-Zionist, and certainly not an anti-Semite, nevertheless he clearly favours the Palestinian position by a wide margin. Further, he is not pro-Zionist for he called the Balfour Declaration “an extremely confused document which did not enjoy universal support in the cabinet of the time, and indeed was opposed by some of the Jewish members of the cabinet because of its confusion.”

It did not have to go this way. Corbyn was the long-shot candidate for the Labour Party leadership. Corbyn’s views were reasonably well-known and were explicitly articulated at an all-candidates meeting sponsored by the Jewish Chronicle, Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement at the JW3 community centre in north London. All three of his opponents were strong backers of Israel and opponents of BDS – Andy Burnham, the Labour Party MP from Leigh who was widely expected to be elected leader, Yvette Cooper, a former shadow foreign secretary, and Liz Kendall, MP for Leicester West. British Jews had failed to unite behind one candidate and, in part, the establishment had followed the lead of the American Jews, but primarily Bibi Netanyahu, and put their energies into backing the one clearly pro-Israel party, the Conservatives.

Further, in combatting the move of the Labour Party to the more radical left and the supporters of the Palestinians versus Israel – Corbyn was elected leader with an overwhelming majority – the Jewish establishment in Britain tended to support smearing the Labour Party with the anti-Semitic brush instead of stressing the basic anti-Zionist character of BDS. Mind you, the Labour Party itself in good part invited such a tactic as the anti-Semites within the party came out of the woodwork. Vicky Kirby, a former Labour parliamentary candidate, referred to Jews having “big noses,” equated the “Zionist God” with Hitler and accused Jews of “slaughtering” the oppressed. She was forced to resign. But Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford, called for shipping the Jews in Israel to the U.S. and Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London and close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, defended Shah and, in that defence, claimed that in the thirties Hitler had conspired with the Zionists. The two were only suspended.

In a subsequent blog, I will explore the link between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and the propensity among many Jews to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Zionism, and then anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, possibly valid when anti-Zionism is an effort to deny the Jewish people a right of self-determination and to delegitimize Israel. I will also have to explore who really was the first to renege on the Oslo Accords and whether settlements are expressions of colonialist imperialism. In this blog, however, I want to stick to the machinations to get political parties to line up for or against Israel. I will not have the time or space to discuss what has happened in this battle in other European countries, such as the Dutch endorsement of BDS activism as a form of free speech and the Foreign Minister of Ireland, Charles Flanagan’s non-endorsement of BDS while defending its legitimacy and objecting to the demonization of BDS.

Canada

On 22 February 2016, Canada’s newly-elected Liberal Government supported a Conservative anti-BDS motion by a vote of 229-51. However, an Ontario Bill co-sponsored by Liberal MPP Mike Colle and Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak as a private members’ bill, was defeated. Hudak had labelled BDS “the insidious new face of anti-Semitism” and the bill failed to win support from the Liberals. Though Premier Kathleen Wynne openly opposed the BDS movement, she refused to follow the lead of American states because of her defence of free speech. “I support all rights to freely express their views, freely expressed without fear of discrimination or persecution, whether in Ontario or in the Middle East. Freedom of speech is something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend. But, it’s unacceptable for students, or parents, or children to feel unsafe or discriminated against.”

The real focus of attention currently is the Green Party. In Britain, the Green Party is represented by one lone member, Caroline Lucas, who is an ardent opponent of Israel and not only supporter of but active campaigner for BDS, labelling Israel an apartheid state and the Board of Deputies of British Jews the “Zionist lobby.” She even blamed Israel for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack perpetrated by Pakistani Muslim zealots that killed about 200, including the Chabad rabbi and his wife, and supports violent action against Israeli interests.

Elizabeth May, the leader of the Canadian Green Party and its sole MP here, is not a supporter of BDS, is a supporter of Israel, but has permitted two BDS resolutions to go to the floor of the Convention in August, one denying income tax deductible status to the Jewish National Fund and another endorsing the BDS movement. Further, outspoken anti-Semites have been candidates for the Green party of Canada. For example, Marika Schaefer produced a video denying the Holocaust and calling it “the biggest and most pernicious, persistent lie in all of history,” denied there were death camps and insisted that the showers were used to keep the inmates healthy. She has been denounced by the partly leadership and a process has been set up to expel her from the party.

We await the August Convention to examine the fallout.

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Canadian Zionist Counter-Attack – BDS Redux II

BDS II: The Zionist Counter-Attack

by

Howard Adelman

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

Independent Jewish Voices – BDS Redux I

BDS Redux: Part I IJV

by

Howard Adelman

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