Liberal Zionist Peratis comes out for BDS to shake up, and preserve, ‘Jewish Israel’

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Kathleen Peratis

Kathleen Peratis

Kathleen Peratis is a human rights lawyer and former board member of the liberal Zionist group J Street who has several times taken the stage to argue against boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Yesterday she changed her line, somewhat, publishing a piece at Open Zion arguing for a Jewish BDS movement for the sake of preserving “our democratic Zionism.”

The thrust of the piece, titled, “If you want two states, support BDS,” is that Israel needs outside pressure to change, and it’s not getting any now. Peratis urges a boycott of any industry that profits from the occupation, going further than Peter Beinart, a liberal Zionist who has supported “Zionist BDS” limited to settlement products.

She would seem to dissociate herself from the Palestinian civil society call for BDS, which includes the right of return as one aim, when she avers that some BDS advocacy has the “whiff” of anti-Semitism. “Their advocacy of the ‘full’ right of return of Palestinian refugees means an end to Jewish Israel… We cannot march shoulder to shoulder with them.”

She wants to make BDS “our tool.” Note that in criticizing J Street, she also seems to align herself more with Jewish Voice for Peace, a non-Zionist group.

Some excerpts:

Israelis are not demanding an end to occupation because the status quo is working for them. It is “sustainable,” as several speakers at the [recent] J Street conference pointed out. American Zionists would make a contribution if we were to shake up that indifference, if we were able to make the status quo less comfortable.

While we might not like all those who wield it, BDS has shown itself to be a tool that unsettles indifference. Few things focus the attention of the Israeli government on the issue of occupation like BDS, even the parve BDS of a limited boycott of settlement products (see Peter Beinart’s “Zionist BDS”). I don’t denigrate this limited boycott. Not buying Soda Stream or Gush Etzion wine is a start.

But maybe it is time now, maybe past time, to embrace a broader BDS tool for our own goal of ending the occupation—time for us to embrace the wake-up call that occurs when a rock group won’t perform in Tel Aviv, when the E.U. refuses to fund Israeli projects that have any presence over the Green Line, when the Presbyterian Church threatens divestment in companies that profit from the occupation.

I know this tool is anathema to the Jewish community. Why is that?

One argument, one I have made myself, is that BDS just makes Israelis feel that the world is against them, engenders a siege mentality and is therefore counterproductive. But what has been gained by such deference? For how long do we have carrots only and no sticks?…

We can create (and name) a pro-two-state, anti-occupation, Jewish BDS movement that is not limited to settlement products but that extends to everyone who profits from the occupation. Let’s embrace and not condemn the performers, funders and investors who say they won’t perform, fund or invest in Israel until the occupation ends. Let’s not attack them and reflexively call them delegitimizers or anti-Semites (unless, of course, they are). And let’s do so until Israelis do one thing: place ending the occupation higher on their priority list than the price of cottage cheese….

Here is the part that relates to JVP:

I can’t conclude without saying a word about fear, the fear of activist Jews that endorsing BDS means you are no longer under the communal tent. Just last week, J Street member Seth Morrison felt he had to quit J Street and remove himself from its listserve because he decided to join Jewish Voice for Peace, an American Jewish organization that supports the Global BDS Movement. What a pity that he was presented with, or felt he had to make, such a choice.

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