The PennBDS conference is a week away and today the Philadelphia Inquirer ran opposing Op-Ed's on BDS and the conference. In one corner we have Ali Abunimah, and in the other a tag team featuring former CIA-head James Woolsey and Foundation for Defense of Democracies's Jonathan Schanzer.
First up, Abunimah explains the rationale for the conference:
[W]e are coming together to push forward an inclusive movement that supports nonviolent action to promote the human rights of the Palestinian people, because only full respect for these rights can lead to peace. Today, millions of Palestinians live without basic rights under Israeli rule. This intolerable situation is at the root of problems that affect the whole world.
People everywhere, whether they consider themselves "pro-Israel" or "pro-Palestinian" or both, want to see justice and peace. Yet, in recent years, the U.S.-brokered peace process has seen failure after failure.
Amid election-year politics, President Obama and his Republican rivals are pledging ever more unconditional support for Israel, even as Israel openly flouts U.N. resolutions and U.S. policy by building Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land and depriving Palestinians of their rights, including hundreds of children who languish in Israeli military prisons.
There's no chance that the United States will use the billions of dollars it gives Israel in aid as leverage to compel an end to these practices and respect for Palestinian rights. So should we just give up?
The answer from Palestinian civil society is a clear "no." All of us can play a role in ending this terrible situation and securing equal rights for Palestinians rather than superior rights for Jewish Israelis.
Woolsey and Schanzer respond:
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a complex issue, one that deserves serious scholarship and open, civil debate. Expect to see none of that next weekend on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, where the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement is staging a "conference."
Instead, as we should have learned from many past BDS events at colleges around the country, this will be an exercise in disinformation and propaganda, a call for political and economic warfare, and an attempt to foment hatred of Israel. That is obviously bad for Israelis. It is - perhaps less obviously - bad for Palestinians as well.
One simple fact that will be avoided next weekend: Almost all Israelis agree, in principle, to a "two-state solution." They favor the Jewish state and a Palestinian state living as neighbors and living in peace. Palestinian leaders have explicitly rejected that approach.
They then go on, oddly enough, to talk about Syria and push for war with Iran. It seems their real point is that whoever focuses on Israel's violations of human rights and international law is really just anti-Semitic. They end:
Why is it, do you think, that the BDS movement is unconcerned about Arab victims when the oppressors are Arabs, and Muslim victims when the oppressors are Muslim? Why do they focus only on Israelis who would like nothing more than to achieve peace with their neighbors and who are willing to make painful sacrifices to achieve a lasting settlement of the conflict?
PennBDS organizers Abbas Naqvi, Madeline Noteware and Matt Berkman provide a great answer to this last point in an article they wrote last week for Penn's paper The Daily Pennsylvanian:
2. How do you respond to the criticism that your conference applies a “double standard” to Israel?
Speaking to Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent magazine last week, notorious Israel apologist Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor, said “People who support BDS ought to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves, ‘Why Israel?’ Why not against Hamas … or against Syria … or against Cuba … ?”
The implication that BDS activists don’t also devote their time to combating human rights abuses elsewhere in the world is simply false. We the organizers, and most of our allies around the country, have throughout our activist careers taken part in numerous solidarity actions and protests against violence and oppression in Egypt, Syria, Iran, and other countries. BDS supporters wear many hats.
However, we must also point out that Israel is a unique case. No other systematic human rights abuser in the international system receives $3 billion a year in U.S. military aid or the unqualified moral approbation of nearly every elected U.S. official. If there is a “double standard” in the treatment of Israel, it is the standard applied by Israel’s supporters in the U.S. Congress, not by BDS activists. Furthermore, it is often forgotten by the likes of Dershowitz that Syria, Hamas and Cuba already face extensive U.S. (and in the case of Hamas, Israeli) sanctions. It is only Israel whose systematic denial of rights to an entire population is gleefully applauded by our elected leaders and presidential candidates.