Kiera Feldman has a great piece of reportage up at the Nation about Tuesday’s boycott vote at the Park Slope Food Co-Op. (Alex Kane mentioned it here). The beauty of the reporting is that Feldman understands exactly where the locus of opposition is in America to the idea of Palestinian freedom: it is inside the liberal American Jewish community.
You won’t see any talk of Christian Zionists or even the monolithic lobby in this piece. No: you see the reactionary attitudes inside mine and Feldman’s religious community, east coast Jewish progressives. She is sympathetic: she sees that these attitudes come out of fear and hurt. But these attitudes are selfish and inconsiderate of other people’s suffering.
Happily, Feldman is for having that Jewish food fight. And you will see from the piece that follows hers, that she is getting a fight– from another writer at the Nation no less who is fulminating about “demographic abolition” halfway round the world from where he lives! The Jewish left must have this fight about whether a Jewish state makes us safe, and have it publicly. Because we are so crucial to the disposition of cultural and political power in the new establishment.
When we get this argument going, the American media will at last do the story. As Feldman notes, that’s the triumph of the Park Slope loss: it’s moving the discourse.
Here’s Feldman describing the Brooklyn boycott argument in baldly Jewish terms:
Jewish BDS proponent Jessica Rosenberg… [said] “60/40 in Park Slope makes me feel hopeful about the future of my people…”
BDS had permeated even Park Slope–“the heart of the Jewish crunchy liberal establishment,” in the tongue-in-cheek words of Jewish Voice for Peace activist Jesse Bacon….
In the months leading up to the vote, Nadia Saah, a blonde Palestinian-American Coop-er, said her Semitic looks led to some interesting exchanges at the Coop… Saah’s parents fled Jerusalem in 1948 after the Deir Yassin massacre, but fellow Coopers passing through the check-in desk often assume two things: first that she’s Jewish and second that all Jews feel compelled to commiserate about BDS. “I’ve heard first hand how frightened people are about the BDS vote,” Saah said. Her heart went out to them. Having grown up in the U.S., Saah said she understands and has “compassion for the historical traumas that have engendered this fear.” But, she added, “Sadly, we’re the unfortunate inheritors of Jewish fear.”..
my impression has been that that existential fear seems to underpin all Jewish opposition to the Coop’s adoption of BDS. What’s more, the organized opposition appears almost entirely comprised of Jews who are middle aged and up. (The population of the general meeting appeared to skew older, although who is to say if that’s reflective of the Coop as a whole–or simply of the Coopers who happen to have enough leisure time to attend. To be sure, the pro-BDS contingent had a critical mass of white-haired Jews as well.) Every conversation seemed to circle back to the international BDS movement’s call to honor the Palestinian right of return, which Zionists see as a threat to Jewish demographic majority in Israel and therefore a call for the destruction of the state itself…
“BDS, KKK.” Renee Silver, an Orthodox Jew, explained to me, “This is a hate organization. They hate Jews.” In front of me, Bruce Janovski, also Jewish, said he agreed with Mayor Bloomberg’s pronouncement against the boycot…
People really lost it when Hima B. mentioned a Palestinian body count during the Gaza attack. A man across the aisle from me wearing a yellow t-shirt that said “Esperanto” on the front began screaming, “How many Jews! How many Jews!” with both hands raised, pumping the air. When she mentioned “ethnic cleansing,” the man in the Esperanto t-shirt screamed, “Go home! Get lost!”
When you read this piece, you understand that the neocon migration to the right had a strong Jewish component: Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol doubted the security of Israel in the hands of liberal Democrats. Now we will see privileged liberal Brooklyn Jews called upon to declare their views on the boycott call; and many of them will go to the right politically, out of Jewish exterminationist fear projected on to the Palestinians. So let’s have the argument openly. Feldman wants it:
As facts on the ground in both Israel proper and the Occupied Palestinian Territories worsen, young Jews with political commitments like Ora Wise and Rebecca Manski are becoming more and more commonplace
Feldman is getting attacked at the Nation by Ben Adler, a blogger. The piece reflects Jewish communitarian concerns. And so again I must point out, this is a Jewish cultural/political moment, not an American leftwing moment. Notice how Peter Beinart, former editor of the centrist New Republic, who pushed the Iraq war, is suddenly a moral leader on the left. Adler:
…like Beinart, I think boycotting democratic Israel, within the Green Line, is not the appropriate mechanism to promote this. Beinart’s proposed “pro-Israel boycott” of settlements in the West Bank may not be a practical solution either, but at least he–unlike BDS–is making the important distinction between Israel proper and the West Bank. If you want to boycott Israel itself, then you need to explain why you’re not calling for a boycott of other countries in the Middle East which oppress their own citizens worse than Israel does anyone living within the Green Line. Plenty of countries violently suppress internal dissidents and persecute ethnic minorities but are virtually never criticized by the American left, much less boycotted…
Israel’s destruction is indeed what BDS seeks. Calling for a Palestinian “right of return” is, as Feldman acknowledges, calling for the demographic abolition of Israel as a Jewish state. A lot of people have fled persecution over the years. I have no right of return to the Eastern European countries where my ancestors feared pogroms, nor do Israelis. Native Americans cannot reclaim the land in Brooklyn that the Park Slope Food Coop currently occupies.
Even if you think a right of return for Palestinians is just in the abstract, it’s a nonstarter when negotiating an agreement whereby Israel withdraws from most of the West Bank and dismantles the settlements. They simply won’t agree to a right of return. No matter what think is right, you’re talking about a country with one of the best military and intelligence operations and nuclear capabilities. You will have to offer them a deal by which they continue to exist, or there will be no deal.
I don’t have time to get into all the problems with this argument. But “demographic abolition”? My god, would a lefty ever make this argument in the context of say, immigration in Arizona or southern-states rights to self-determination during the civil rights era? No: racists made arguments like that.
As to all the countries that persecute minorities, Adler is right, and the Palestinian solidarity left probably doesn’t say enough about them. But some of us do, and more to the point: This occupation has been going on for 45 years, there’s a reason that it demands attention. After endless violence, persecution, ethnic cleansing, and countless efforts at resisting oppression, the Palestinians have come together in a coherent sophisticated political movement to demand our action (as say, the Syrian opposition has not). We must respect that! Especially if you’re on the left.
Finally, the idea that because Israel has so much power we must defer to them on issues of rights. Oh my. The game has not been played. Let us bring pressure. Let us try to bring that country to its senses. Right now Avigdor Lieberman is the deputy prime minister and racist legislation is OK’d by the Knesset. The conscience left has a role to play here.