Jewish organizations debate BDS in online forum

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Zeek, a Jewish journal of thought and culture, has hosted a liberal Jewish exchange on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Jewish Voice for Peace speaks in favor of BDS, while the New Israel Fund speaks against. Below are two snippets of their arguments. Zeek is providing a great service in helping bring this debate out into the open, which helps illustrate the developing fault lines in American liberal Jewish thought.

First, JVP:

The BDS movement is a non-violent response to the ongoing and structural violence of Israel’s relationship to Palestinians. It is a movement that allows people all over the world to peacefully act on their values. Its emergence reflects both a strategic and moral analysis by Palestinian civil society leaders that the violence of the second intifada was leading the Palestinians nowhere. Yet Israel and the Jewish establishment in the U.S., has responded with the same level of vitriolic attack as they did to the violent resistance of the most recent intifada.

Most importantly, BDS offers us a road map that can work. BDS efforts have been employed in some of the most noble struggles in history, from sugar boycotts in protest of the slave trade in the 1700’s, to Gandhi’s boycott of British goods, the Montgomery bus boycott in our own civil rights struggle, and of course, the world-wide movement that helped end apartheid in South Africa. Israel is not just like any of these cases, but there are enough similarities to make it reasonable to think that these strategies could work.

The BDS movement grows stronger by the day. In just the last two months, for example, the Norwegian government pension fund has announced that it is divesting from several companies profiting from the occupation, and the Dutch government dis-invited a delegation of Israeli mayors because several of them were mayors of settlements. And a board member of CARE, a large international aid organization, had to resign due to his affiliation with Africa Israel, a company implicated in illegal settlement construction. In each of these cases, BDS is the chosen medium for governments and institutions to express their displeasure with Israel’s policies, because BDS is the most direct and effective way to make this point.

Now, New Israel Fund:

We see global BDS as a tactic that embodies the message that Israel cannot and will not change itself, and for that reason, we think it is inflammatory and counter-productive. We see proposals that would ban Israeli academics, no matter what their personal and political views may be, from participation in the free exchange of ideas in international conferences. We see artists and musicians, who often come bearing badly-needed messages of peace and tolerance, being urged to take Israel off their tour itineraries. We see a message that says that Israel is beyond hope of redemption, that it must be held behind a cordon sanitaire of contempt and disengagement.

And we disagree. The way to change Israel is not to divest, but to invest in Israelis and Palestinians who are struggling every day to change the status quo. From J Street and Americans for Peace Now in the U.S., to NIF and the hundreds of organizations we fund in Israel, to new NGOs working to build civil society in the occupied territories, there are hundreds of organizations and thousands of people who deserve financial support and a megaphone for their ideas and causes.

For example, NIF supports a successful weaving micro-enterprise for Bedouin women in the Negev. We seed-funded a program that allows underprivileged immigrant women to turn their cooking talents into catering businesses. After the Second Lebanon War, we funded an artists’ co-operative in the North – in a former kibbutz chicken house! – to better publicize their work and products. Our action arm SHATIL is working with an innovative program to train underemployed Palestinian Israelis for work in the high-tech sector. These are just a few programs that provide support for tangible products and employment by Israelis who desperately need economic empowerment – the list of organizations successfully engendering social change in every sector is diverse and long.

Interestingly enough, later in their article the NIF representative seems to indicate that they support the economic and cultural boycott of the settlements because “the settlements are not in Israel,” and they “represent not ‘just’ a blot on Israel as a just and decent nation, and a terrible danger to its survival.”

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