In yet another sign of the crumbling pro-Israel orthodoxy in the United States, the Washington Post today has run two letters to the editor stating that boycotting Israel is not anti-Semitic. The articles respond to a piece in the Post last week citing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s belief that BDS “is anti-Semitic at its core” and quoting Tzipi Hotovely, the deputy foreign minister, calling BDS a tactic of “diplomatic terrorism” and an “existential threat” to Israel.
The first letter is from Allan C. Brownfeld, of the American Council for Judaism.
In the June 13 news article “In Israel, concerns rising over boycott movement,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the movement to boycott Israel or disinvest from those doing business in the occupied territories as “anti-Semitic.” Similarly, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who recently presided over a meeting that raised more than $20 million to fight this movement, referred to it as “anti-Semitic.” Whether one agrees with this movement or not, and many Jews are leading participants, the fact is that it is in no way “anti-Semitic.”
Judaism is a religion of universal values. Israel is a sovereign state. It has violated international law by occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The boycott movement is a nonviolent effort to show opposition to this occupation, similar, its advocates argue, to the movement of sanctions against South Africa to show opposition to apartheid. Hatred of Judaism or Jews, which is what constitutes anti-Semitism, appears to be absent from these boycott efforts.
Only by redefining “anti-Semitism” to mean criticism of Israel can such a charge be sustained. Israel’s policies in the occupied territories should be debated on their merits, and defenders of the occupation should not hide behind false charges of “anti-Semitism.”
The second letter is from William Simonds of Potomac, MD, and emphasizes something the Post story left out: the Jewish presence in the movement.
The recent news article about the movement to boycott Israel failed to highlight an interesting aspect of the burgeoning boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, movement, namely the increasing number of Jews in the United States and elsewhere who support some form of boycott. The liberal American Jewish Americans for Peace Now supports the boycott of products made in Israeli settlements. The progressive Jewish Voice for Peace, which this year fully embraced the Palestinian call for BDS, has grown to 65 chapters.
Given their support for the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1960s and the proud Jewish tradition of nonviolent resistance against injustice, it makes perfect sense that more American Jews are choosing to join the peaceful Palestinian call for BDS.
These are important letters because Americans will not abandon their support for the religious nationalist ideology of Zionism without a go-ahead from Jews. After all, the U.S. embraced Zionism because it was thought to provide Jews with safety in the wake of the Holocaust. Americans can only step away from the ideology with assurances of Jewish safety. That’s why Israeli leaders have led an assault on BDS as anti-Semitic; and why it is extremely important to focus on the number of Jews in the BDS movement (Sam Molnar and I say 20 percent; Peter Beinart says more than half in one recent BDS campus meeting). As well as point out that Israel’s conduct is exposing European Jews to attack, as Tony Judt, Norman Finkelstein and Bruce Shipman have all observed.