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What to Make of ‘BDS’ Being Mainstreamed

By Robert Jennings

Click here to link to the “60 Minutes” interview with Bibi Netanyahu, broadcast on December 11, 2016. Interviewer Leslie Stahl seems convinced that BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] supporters on campus simply want to end the occupation. When Netanyahu suggests (correctly, regarding many) that they want to destroy Israel, he comes off as paranoid.

To me this says two things:

1) Inasmuch as anyone outside of academia or the arts claims to be pro-BDS, it’s because they think it’s about ending the occupation, not destroying Israel.

I’ve seen this over and over again: Jim Zogby says he supports BDS but is against forms of it that seek to destroy Israel (which forms of it?). He also lumps the liberal-Zionist J Street and the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace together as “Jewish groups willing to question the Israeli government,” without being aware of the many differences and conflicts between the two groups–or simply not seeing them as significant:

George Soros gives money to both liberal-Zionist and anti-Zionist groups, apparently treating them as essentially two tactics of the same strategy for the purpose of achieving a two-state solution: (Political and Economic Views section).

In a conversation between Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street and Rashid Areikat of the PLO, Areikat argues that while the PLO does not officially support BDS, most members view it as a useful pressure tool for ending the occupation:

On a more personal level, a Palestinian-American acquaintance of mine who works in Corporate America told me about a year ago that she both supports BDS and accepts Israel’s right to exist. When I asked her about the academic boycott, her response was along the lines of, “There’s an ACADEMIC boycott? That’s stupid. Of course I don’t support that; I was talking about not buying Sabra Hummus as a way to protest the occupation.”

2) We should note that in all of these examples, the “official BDS” definition of “anti-normalization” is being ignored by the self-identified BDS supporters.

Areikat is breaking PACBI’S definition of anti-normalization by talking to Jeremy Ben-Ami, and Zogby is doing the same by speaking to the Jerusalem Post and working with J Street. So when these politicos say they support BDS, they obviously don’t mean the official hardcore version of it propounded by its “official intellectuals” like Omar Barghouti and Ali Abunima. This distinction should be noted.

Ben-Ami himself acknowledges this when he says in the discussion with Areikat that, although he and J Street are against BDS, “The best way to end the BDS Movement is to end the occupation!” to massive applause–suggesting that many self-identified BDS-supporters in the audience agree with him.

We should explicitly note that these are ambiguities in the pro-BDS community that we need to start dealing with, because they can definitely work to our advantage. Official BDS needs to be unconditionally opposed. “Casual BDS?” — it depends on the specifics.

It follows that:

3) Stahl’s interview with Bibi, along with the other examples above, indicate that we need to separate BDS of Israel proper into different forms (settlement boycotts are a more complex issue, and I won’t go into them here). We would not support any of them, but we would deal with them differently:

A) Academic boycotts: Oppose in all circumstances.

B) Cultural boycotts: Oppose in all circumstances. If it’s a dedicated anti-Israel artist like Roger Waters, condemn aspects of their rhetoric, imagery, arrogance, and/or pushiness.

If an artist was bullied into cancelling a performance by BDS activists, condemn the activists as bullies, but generally leave the artist alone. Make a polite effort to educate the public in the aftermath as to why BDS is counterproductive. The artist should be able to see this effort on their social media feed as if it’s something happening in their general social circle, but do not directly contact the artist, as they may be stressed out and simply want to be left alone.

C) Economic boycotts: Oppose efforts to make them official policy at any institution. However, we should recognize that individuals have the right to boycott Israeli products as a general consumer right, and we should not condemn them for doing so. We simply ask that if they exercise this right, they educate themselves about why they are doing so, and what would be an action Israel could take that would make them end their boycott. Palestinian statehood + a negotiated solution to the refugee issue with a mix of resettlement and compensation (as in the Clinton Parameters and the Annapolis talks) is a reasonable demand. Full implementation of the Right of Return is not.

It has gotten to the point where BDS has been “mainstreamed.” We all know the downsides to this. There are advantages, however — one of which is that it is no longer completely controllable by the hardliners who created it. While campus and artists’ BDS will likely remain as hardline as ever, certain types of consumer BDS, like consumer anything, have become less about a party line and more about personal choice. This means they can peacefully coexist with liberal Zionism, just as the Ambassador of the PLO can peacefully coexist with the leader of J Street.

One Response to “What to Make of ‘BDS’ Being Mainstreamed”

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