Arguing about BDS with Jack Ross

on 22 Comments

Jack Ross had this further response to the BDS debate prompted by Jeff Blankfort on Rabbi Waskow. Weiss responds to Ross below.

I conclude that the militancy with which so many on the left have rushed to embrace BDS and convince themselves of its power is a gratuitous exercise in self-flattery.  It had at best the most marginal impact in South Africa, both cases have in common the presumptuousness of the left in speaking for "the world", and both were symptomatic of the desperate need for the left to have something to do and feel like it still matters at a moment of crisis – in the case of South Africa, the fall of communism, and in the case of Palestine, the election of Obama. 

(Let me be clear on this score that I am not necessarily arguing that Obama has been a perfect progressive – only that regardless, his election has portended a serious identity crisis for the left).

I do not accept all the arguments of the Jewish progressives who oppose BDS, but nor can I embrace it as a crude populist silver bullet – and even if I have my differences with them, the progressive rabbis have a much healthier worldview than the leftists.  In an odd way, Blankfort is echoing the positively Podhoretzian Stephen Wise in his polemics against the pacifist rabbis who opposed a boycott of Nazi Germany.

I suppose, Phil, that you have been right after all – you are a leftist and I am not.  Yet I have a mighty pathos having to submit this point to someone who was agog for John McCain in 2000, indeed, as someone who really is a "progressive" in the mold of his fellow admirers in that era Arianna Huffington and Bill Maher – except, of course, on Palestine!

Weiss responds:

Yes I’m a leftist, have always thought of myself as on the left; but I confess I’m thrown by the highmindedness of Ross’s comments. He’s much more erudite about ideology than I am. It reminds me of that criticism of the NY Review of Books: intellectual skywriting. I don’t know much about the fall of communism as it affected South Africa. But I have been to Gaza, where Israel dropped white phosphorous on children and 95 percent of Israelis applaud that. Obama’s the crisis? No: white phosphorous on children is the crisis. Ask the Sheikha of Qatar.

Ross once said to me that he couldn’t go to Gaza because it would radicalize him. I believe him. The urgency of the Palestinian situation is that they are utterly powerless and are afflicted. Anything that can be done to relieve that powerlessness is good. Ali Abunimah and Nadia Hijab lately told Adam Horowitz that BDS is giving Palestinians a weapon in world politics. For this reason I think it’s good and important.

I was agog for John McCain. True. I couldn’t bring myself to support Gore because of the Clinton scandals, and I hated Bush. He was running as an insurgent. I liked him, then. It turns out he has a lousy temperament. A lot of scar tissue.

22 Responses

  1. Danaa
    October 15, 2009, 12:26 pm

    I agree with Phil on this point (BDS) though am not as impressed by “high mindedness” of the counter-argument advanced by Jack Ross. Partly I suppose I am suspicious of official pacifists just as I am of all purity-minded argumentation. This kind of reminds me of the sanctimonious exhortations by people such as Gorenberg for a palestinian “Ghandi”, when Israeli jails are full of them. Purity tends to beget its own demise because humans are not pure.

    The effectiveness of a BDS campaign cannot be readily measured, certainly not in real time. By definition, such a course of action consists of many tiny victories, each of which is but speckle of dust. The real effects can be assessed only over time and spiritual space. In the case of Israel, the latter is paramount, because, as I noted before, rejection, or withdrawal of love has a far greater effect on the zionist mind frame, which after all, was built on – and thrives on approval.

    BDS, by definition, is an act of rejection of something that is. It is not, by itself, a promotion of some great thing that can perhaps be, which is simply on another level. The idea behind the current BDS is to propel the offending party to rethink a course of action because it has detrimental consequences to its sense of well being. many opponents of BDS object to it because they erroneously conflate it with some positive rebuilding of something new, or with sanctioning some specific palestinian quest. But BDS is only a means to jump-start a process, in the sense that getting Israelis to wake up to the fact that their current state of comfort while others, nearby, are persecuted cannot last. The hope is that it can, over time, build pressure – among Israelis and its zio-allied – to reconsider a belligerent, pro-status quo position.

    BDS, as currently advocated, is about having Israel – and zio-allies – recognize that the world considers palestinians to be human beings with full right to life and dignity and survival, even if israelis won’t. Before israel comes to share that realization, there’s no negotiation that can produce any kind of lasting agreement. So the first order of the day is to grant Palestinians (west bankers or israelis) the same rights to security that Israelis wants for themselves. Only once that is accepted as a basis, can the parties can move on to discuss grand issues such as borders, civil rights, laws and rights of return and what not. And once negotiations begin in earnest, there can be plenty of room at the table for pacifists as well as realists, wide eyed idealists, leftists, richard witty’s and what not. We are just not there yet – by a long shot.

    • tree
      October 15, 2009, 1:05 pm

      Wonderfully cogent comment, danaa!

      • Citizen
        October 15, 2009, 4:44 pm

        I agree. I sure hope both Ross and Weiss read Danaa’s analysis of the two bumping heads.

    • MRW
      October 15, 2009, 1:24 pm

      I agree with tree, Danaa. Wonderful post. So said it better than I would have. (I tend to pound my keys with a hammer sometimes, then press Submit.)

    • Danaa
      October 15, 2009, 4:11 pm

      Thanks guys (gals?).

      This morning I thought [for a moment] that i figured just what makes our Witty so very exasperating to all. maybe it’s because he is talking as if the BDS was already successful enough to bring a chastized Israel to the table. people like him may be starting at a point in the ‘process’ that none of us can see yet. Which would explain why he never seems to address the point everyone else is talking about.

      Or he can just be a true blue hypocrite…..and i’m reading too much sincerity into his posts.

      • Citizen
        October 15, 2009, 4:50 pm

        No, Witty’s starting point is publically critizing Israel =demonization of Israel. OTH,
        presumably he was never against the tactic of BDS when it was used against the apartheid S African regime.

      • Chaos4700
        October 17, 2009, 10:00 am

        If Witty is sincere, then the only conclusion that still makes sense is that he is clinically insane. He does seem to have this crazy delusion that he is actually a liberal just because he can quote Ralph Nader. It’s like watching some poor fellow strut around with his hand pushed between his shirt buttons, believing he’s Napoleon.

  2. DICKERSON3870
    October 15, 2009, 2:40 pm

    RE: “Ross once said to me that he couldn’t go to Gaza because it would radicalize him.” – Weiss

    SEE: “In Gaza, actress Mia Farrow voices ‘outrage’ over blockade”, AP , 10/15/09

    (excerpts) Mia Farrow said Thursday she was outraged by conditions for children in the Gaza Strip after a blockade that has stretched for more than two years and a large-scale Israeli offensive against Hamas last winter…
    …”All people of conscious are offended and outraged by this situation,” Farrow told reporters in Gaza. “And we sincerely hope that measures will be taken to alleviate this situation as soon as possible.” In Gaza, Farrow visited a hospital, where she said doctors told her they lacked essential supplies…
    …Farrow also visited a school and spoke of the apparent trauma of children following Israel’s three-week Gaza offensive last winter…

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to

  3. syvanen
    October 15, 2009, 2:42 pm

    Ross is a nasty piece of work. What possible relevance does Weiss’s support of McCain in 2000 have to do with the BDS debate? Of course, none at all, but it is a good tactic to deflect attention from Phil’s argument.

  4. Jeffrey Blankfort
    October 15, 2009, 5:55 pm

    Ross continues to mystify me. Is he comparing Israel with Nazi Germany (which is not a stretch of you compare the dominant mindset)? Is he saying that the rabbis who opposed the Nazi Boycott were correct (as history subsequently proved them, given the immediate backlash against the Jews in Germany who opposed it)? Is he comparing me with the proud racist and Jewish chauvinist, Norman Podhoretz? Or is he scraping the barrel to justify what the main victims in this decades old real life drama, the Palestinians who uinitiated the call for BDS ( and their genuine suporters) would find indefensible?

    To call this a left position is a compliment the “Left” does not merit. If it did it would have initiated such a campaign years ago without having to wait for the Palestinians to launch it. It is the ONLY position for a committed humanist to take and, as such, it has many adherents around the world who do not identify with either the left or the right and who are not engaged, as is Jack, with the infantile preoccupation of determining whether a certain political stand is leftist or rightist .

    I also suggest that Jack knows very little of what brought about the transformation of South Africa and his virtual dismissal of the anti-apartheid sanctions movement reveals it. That ignorance is duplicated by his belief that the BDS movement had anything to do with the election of Obama since it began well before that and has had greater success in Europe and Latin America than it has in the US.

    That Jack has refrained from visiting Gaza is very revealing. I suggest he that he say adieu to his favorite schule for the time being and get an eyeful of what the world he is judging really looks like. To borrow and transform the title by the late Aldous Huxley. It’s time for Jack to stop being “Eyeless Out of Gaza.”

    • Richard Witty
      October 15, 2009, 8:43 pm

      Have you been to Gaza?

      • Jeffrey Blankfort
        October 17, 2009, 12:38 am

        Richard Witty asks if I have been to Gaza. I was there in 2004 and had a chance to see the damage that Israeli gunners had done to Palestinian villages and homes which took place during my visit. Classic Israeli examples of Israeli sadism were visible everywhere, peaceful businesses destroyed and houses where the Israelis that their wehrmacht expropriated in order to control neighborhoods, confining the residents to their basements and either destroying the homes when they left or rendering them unliveable. I also went down to the b order at Rafah where the Israelis were firing into the town a few hundred yards from me simply to harass the people because they hadn’t been fired upon.

        I have also spent time in the West Bank as well as in Lebanon under Israeli occupation in 1983 where the Israeli military earned the hatred of the Lebanese Shia by treating them with the same contempt that they had shown the Palestinians. It was that contempt that gave rise to Hezbollah, contrary to the myth that it was created by Iran as its proxy.

        Next question?

      • former coMMenter
        October 17, 2009, 12:51 am

        Next question?

        Yeah, it’s for Witty.

        Have you been to Dimona?

    • Dan Kelly
      October 15, 2009, 9:43 pm

      Ross mystifies me too, Jeffrey. I frankly don’t know what the hell he’s getting at most of the time, and I can’t help but think it’s intentional obfuscation.

      It is the ONLY position for a committed humanist to take and, as such, it has many adherents around the world who do not identify with either the left or the right and who are not engaged, as is Jack, with the infantile preoccupation of determining whether a certain political stand is leftist or rightist .

      Thank you for your straightforward writing. In a world of moral bankruptcy, it is a breath of fresh air.

    • LeaNder
      October 17, 2009, 6:18 am

      Jack Ross, mystifies me too occasionally. Mainly concerning political views, which feel peculiarly twisted sometimes. Occasionally a deep prejudice or disgust seems to surface, often only hinted at, so it’s really hard to grasp. Once there seemed a deep dislike of Europe. Mind you, I could understand a dislike of Germany, but Europe as a whole? … Reminds me of the neocons.

      Waskow uses “even” quite a lot, but here it sticks out. An accident?:

      In its rhetorical breadth and depth, Obama’s Cairo speech was an extraordinary opening to the Muslim world — making clear that the new U.S. government understands the Arab and Muslim view of the world and takes seriously even Arab and Muslim critiques of U.S. behavior and policy.

  5. America First
    October 15, 2009, 6:16 pm

    I don’t get Ross’s insinuation that support for McCain tarnishes Phil’s street cred on the left. Lots of lefties liked McCain: he was long their favorite Republican, which is why the right long detested him. Then he nominated Palin, and all that reversed again.

  6. Richard Witty
    October 15, 2009, 8:40 pm

    I’m personally not impressed with the left’s “leadership”, whether that is Norman Finkelstein, Ali Abunimeh, or Blankfort (if he is a leader of anything). I am more impressed with Stephen Walt, who is much more pragmatic. (We ask different questions though.)

    I’m actually impressed that Norman F, recused himself from participation in the proposed march on the Gaza crossing, on the grounds that the goals of the march were too imprecise and even contradictory to be effective BDS.

    My personal impression is that the left is very vain (“I told you so”, its crowning achievement, which doesn’t end up happening too often.) I consider that to be a tragedy, as the criticism of Israeli expansion and means of enforcing its dominance leave much to be desired.

    BDS or other more disciplined efforts, that include sufficient follow-through, and consideration of the audience (rather than self-talk), would be effective at urging reform. (I don’t know if they would achieve reform, but disciplined and concise statements would be undeniable, unlike even the Goldstone report.)

    On Goldstone, I took great stock in the Bradley Burton comments on it this morning in Haaretz. He criticized the report, but also described its presence and comments as undeniable (if not in detail, nevertheless extremely informative to a society that desires to have a responsible, professional military).

    If I had funding, I would bring my arguments to Israeli officials. (The wall route is less defensibile than the green line, independent of a treaty, but MUCH moreso with a treaty. A healthy Palestine is a better neighbor than an unhealthy and insecure one. Enough land is sufficient, and Israel already controls enough land to be confident of its sovereignty.)

    • Jeffrey Blankfort
      October 17, 2009, 12:49 am

      The US Left, such as it is, is barely involved in the BDS movement, preferring to repeat useless slogans, such as “End the Occupation!,” as I have said before, as if the problem was Israeli occupation and not land expropriation and ethnic cleansing. Its leaders are as much exchanged with protecting the Israel Lobby as is the latte ritself, as the most recent book by ANSWER’s Dick Becker attests to. There is not, in fact, a single Left group in the US that does not channel Chomsky in ascribing all of Israel’s crimes to it being done in the service of that convenient, but very real–execept in this instance– bogeyman, US imperialism.

      If one goes back to the days of Truman, Eisenhower,and JFK, the documentation is farely ample that those in charge of US foreign saw Israel not as an asset but a strategic liability, and our State Dept. reps were very public in saying so. But Chomsky and the myopic Left have done as good a job of burying that history as has the Zionist establishment.

    • Chaos4700
      October 17, 2009, 9:55 am

      We don’t need faux liberals like you, Witty. You can content yourself with trying to surround yourself with the trappings of liberalism — making an ugly caricature as you do — while the rest of us on the real left do all the actual hard work of campaigning, protesting, organizing, etc. You just sit right back and keep sipping that latte.

  7. Donald
    October 15, 2009, 9:25 pm

    “My personal impression is that the left is very vain ”

    I asked “the left” about this the other day, and his impression is that you’re very vain, Richard. Always worried more about how a criticism hurts your feelings or the feelings of some Israelis rather than whether the criticism is true, and if so, how to convey the truth of the criticism to people unwilling to listen. He told me, “If only Richard would set aside his own vanity, his own unwillingness to accept that his precious ideology has been responsible for the suffering of millions of innocents and figure out how to reach people who are so consumed with self-righteousness they can’t accept the documented findings of several human rights organizations. For that matter, if only Richard himself would do the same, and employ the same standards to Israel’s actions that he applies to little old me. I haven’t ruined anyone’s economy with a draconian blockade. Richard thinks that’s justifiable when it is done by Israel to a group of 1.5 million Palestinians.” He sighed and then we talked about other things.

    • former coMMenter
      October 17, 2009, 1:05 am

      Say, Donald, that’s wonderful. And how are the left’s kids doing? Have they already gone on their birthright trip to the Kremlin?

  8. Cliff
    October 17, 2009, 7:35 am

    Witty – you have zero credibility. You are a shameless apologist for war crimes and a polite fascist.

    It’s amusing to see you insult Jeffrey Blankfort whenever he posts here as if *you* have any kind of weight in the exchange. You don’t.

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