In ‘Nation’ BDS debate, Barghouti demands rights, Avishai pleads to protect ‘progressive and creative’ Israeli elites

Israel/Palestine
on 7 Comments

Omar Barghouti is finally in the Nation. He has a piece in the first round of a forum on BDS. The exchange comes on the heels of the dust up within the magazine over the Park Slope Food Co-op boycott and Ben Adler’s Twitter meltdown.

From Barghouti’s “BDS for Palestinian Rights: ‘Equality or Nothing!’”:

Desperate to “save Israel,” essentially as an apartheid state, and motivated by genuine fear of the demise of Zionism, “liberal” Zionists are under exceptional duress given the fast spread of BDS. Cognizant of its appeal to an increasing number of younger Jewish activists, some are muddying the waters by suggesting a Zionist-friendly boycott to undermine the movement. But BDS is an ethically consistent, rights-based movement that cannot coexist with racism of any type, including Zionism. A “Zionist BDS” is as logical as a “racist equality”!

BDS addresses comprehensive Palestinian rights, not simply ending the Israeli occupation of some densely populated Palestinian territory in order to save Israel as a “purer” apartheid. Even those who seek ending the occupation only, disregarding the basic rights of most Palestinians, struggle to explain their opposition to a full boycott of Israel, the occupying power, which under international law bears full responsibility for the occupation and its manifestations. The BDS movement calls for boycotting Israel just as South Africa was the target of boycotts due to its apartheid regime, China due to its occupation of Tibet and Sudan due to its crimes in Darfur.

Still, BDS is not a dogmatic or centralized movement—it is all about context sensitivity and creativity. BDS supporters in any particular context decide what to target and how to mobilize and organize their local campaigns. So long as they uphold the basic rights of all Palestinians, international partners may decide to selectively target companies implicated in Israel’s occupation or colonies only out of pragmatic considerations rather than approval of Israel’s other injustices.

A movement that dwells in citizens’ consciences, that is rooted in an oppressed people’s heritage of struggle for justice, and that is inspired by the rich and diverse legacies of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. cannot be defeated or co-opted.

Our South Africa moment has arrived.

Bernard Avishai counters, “BDS Abandons Israeli Progressives”:

Still, Israel is also a place of progressive and creative forces, concentrated in Israeli elites: again, artists and scholars, but also entrepreneurs and professionals. BDS aims to hit global companies doing business with Israeli ones. But, as a group, international companies are the most important allies Israeli liberals have. These companies are learning and teaching organizations: Intel’s impact on Israel is like MIT’s on Cambridge. Opposing the bloc of parties favoring Greater Israel is a (somewhat weaker) bloc working toward Global Israel. What would BDS do to the latter, the very people in Israel whom the liberal world needs to strengthen?

. . .

Some will say, fine, force the implosion of Israel’s private sector and this will finally force Israeli elites to seek political change more urgently. This is mechanistic and shortsighted thinking. Economic implosion, which a fully implemented BDS would bring about rather quickly, will cut the ground out from under Israel’s most educated and cosmopolitan people. It will not just pressure them, it will destroy them—ruin their lives, force the emigration of their children. Settlers and their ultra allies, in contrast, have no problem with Israel turning into a poorer, purer, Jewish Pakistan.

Is there any other context in which the Nation would celebrate the progressive force of global capitalism? And what exactly have “Israel’s most educated and cosmopolitan people” done to end the occupation? Not much, it seems.

While this is Barghouti’s first time in the magazine, Avishai is somewhat of a regular. In fact, this anti-BDS piece is almost exactly the same as a previous anti-BDS article he wrote for the magazine in 2010. Aren’t there any other liberal Zionists out there who could make this argument?

7 Responses

  1. Woody Tanaka
    May 8, 2012, 11:16 am

    “Opposing the bloc of parties favoring Greater Israel is a (somewhat weaker) bloc working toward Global Israel. ”

    And if “Global Israel” is an Apartheid state, like “Greater Israel” then it, too, should change or perish.

  2. pabelmont
    May 8, 2012, 11:33 am

    Avishai: “Economic implosion, which a fully implemented BDS would bring about rather quickly, will cut the ground out from under Israel’s most educated and cosmopolitan people. ”

    I believe the dynamics of BDS are quite different than he suggests. BDS is slow, very slow. It has taken YEARS to get where it is, and very few companies have been hurt in the pocketbook yet. EU and USA are remarkably pro-Israel and the sprea of BDS is extremely slow just where it would be most effective. The BRICS nations are much under the USA’s economic thumb — still.

    If there were a button that BDS could press which would stop the flow of oil to Israel in a single day, well, then Avishai’d be right. But he’s wrong. BDS moves slowly.

    My guess is that all those — Avishai, Beinart, MJR, and many others — who say make it OPTs-only-BDS (BDS-lite in my lingo) are not talking to the world but to their “tribe”, trying to keep their Zionist “rep” in good standing. But what they say (about favoring BDS-lite over total-Israel-BDS) is silly and hurts the movement. Theya re just trying to slow down and disable the already glacially-slow BDS movement, perhaps to save Israeli discriminatory practices from having to answer to the ethical demands of achieving non-discriminatory democracy and right-of-return.

  3. Bumblebye
    May 8, 2012, 11:58 am

    Couldn’t Avishai’s argument have been made in the pre-Civil War South?
    Is he blind? Should the world ‘ring-fence’ the privileges of any of its elites because they somehow deserve to be elites and to pass that status along to their kids?? Even on the back of outrageous injustice? Wow. What is going on in the heads of these people?! Yet this position seems to be a core neo-con/lib article of faith. In the US, in the UK and the rest of the West, and in Israel. Protect the elites! Let them have more, more and much more! Don’t tax them, they’ll cry! Don’t challenge their right to vacuum up more of the wealth of their nations and the world! Don’t challenge their right to slam the door in the face of other people’s kids, their own must inherit it all! etc, etc. Like the writer in the post about “Girls”, I guess Avishai doesn’t break out of the elite bubble much.

  4. HarryLaw
    May 8, 2012, 2:15 pm

    Having an Israeli source of origin is already toxic in many stores, I fear the day will come when anyone trading in Israeli goods will themselves be driven out of business, businesses don’t need the hassle or the security considerations of the Israeli embassy in order to do the same business they could do with 20 other competitors dealing in the same goods, unless they are buying drones and look what happened to the EDO factory in Brighton UK it was wrecked, same with Raytheon in Londonderry which is no longer there. One hopes this campaign keeps to the straight and narrow but it cannot be guaranteed.

  5. seafoid
    May 8, 2012, 3:46 pm

    “Economic implosion, which a fully implemented BDS would bring about rather quickly, will cut the ground out from under Israel’s most educated and cosmopolitan people”.

    Do they need to starve Gaza to be creative? Does East Jerusalem have to be ethnically cleansed so they can be productive?
    The reality is that the Israeli elite is wealthy because of the State of Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians. Everyone who is Jewish in Israel is a financial beneficiary of this abuse. It isn’t right to make money out of the oppression of the Palestinians, not even for sophisticated Israelis who know the difference between Cosimo De Medici and Cos d’Estournel.

    The ones who have most to lose from the collapse of the Israeli order are not these people- the sephardim , the Ashkenazi working class and the Orthodox will all be shafted because of the myopia of their elite.

  6. sardelapasti
    May 8, 2012, 6:33 pm

    “The ones who have most to lose from the collapse of the Israeli order are not these people- the sephardim , the Ashkenazi working class and the Orthodox will all be shafted because of the myopia of their elite.”

    Just the elite, and no mention of their own responsibility? That of emigrating into somebody else’s country without the owner’s permission, of willingly serving in the most brutal military invasion and occupation since WWII, that of consistently voting to continue Zionist oppression and profiting from it? They made their bed and it’s time to lie on it.

  7. dbroncos
    May 8, 2012, 9:23 pm

    The BDS train is just now inching its way out of the station, but its huffing and puffing, blowing its whistle and making lots of noise. Avishai fears the momentum of this train and what that means to the status quo in Israel. Just as it was with South Africa, the day will come when US companies, local and state gov’ts, etc.. will divest from Israel as a badge of honor. Corporations will want to exchange the PR liabilities associated with doing business with Israel for the honorifics associated with BDS. They may even turn it into a sales pitch to their customers: “We’re a human rights loving company!” With this kind of momentum behind it, BDS will become a self perpetuating wheel. That day may be a ways off, but its coming. Avishai and his pals want to kill BDS in its infancy. They look at South Africa and tremble.

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