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Rabbi Brant Rosen: BDS “akin to the Montgomery Bus Boycott”

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9 9 11 Brant Rosen
Brant Rosen

I’ve come to believe that solidarity should ultimately be driven by values, not tribal allegiances. It should be motivated by the prophetic vision that demands that we stand with the powerless and call out the powerful. Of course, in the case of Israel, this form of solidarity presents a very painful challenge to many Jews. I understand that. But at the very least, shouldn’t we be talking about this challenge and what it represents for us?

That’s one choice quote from an exceptional interview with Rabbi Brant Rosen, author of Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity. Rosen discusses the two state solution, Palestinian solidarity, apartheid and more with Truthout’s Mark Karlin.

Rabbi Rosen doesn’t shy away from controversy and has been discussing BDS for years. He keeps pushing the envelope.


Mark Karlin: Can you expand upon your viewpoint toward the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) in relation to Israel? For so many Jews, this is akin to crossing the line into making Israel into a pariah.

Brant Rosen: I realize that boycotts conjure up hot-button memories for Jews, but once we accept that Israel is the overwhelmingly powerful party in the equation, I think we can see the BDS movement for what it is and what it isn’t. BDS is not a weapon of the powerful against the powerless, a la the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses in 1930s Germany. The Palestinian BDS call is more accurately akin to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the American civil rights movement or the divestment movement against South African apartheid. It is a form of nonviolent direct action directed by an oppressed people who seek popular support for their liberation.

The Palestinian BDS movement was founded in 2005 by a coalition of Palestinian civil society groups motivated by Israel’s continued refusal to comply with international law in any number of instances – and the unwillingness of international political powers to hold them to account. In other words, in the absence of political pressure to change this inequitable equation, Palestinian civil society is seeking to leverage people power.

Yes, it is enormously painful for many Jews to see Israel targeted in this way. But if Israel is becoming a pariah, that’s due largely to its own actions. Defenders of Israel complain that BDS delegitimizes Israel; I’d say that, up until now, Israel has been doing a very good job of delegitimizing itself. Israel simply cannot consider itself to be “the only democracy in the Middle East” if it insists on implementing policies that put it on the road toward apartheid.

We recommend the entire interview.

(Hat tip Esther Riley)

Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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11 Responses

  1. annie on October 11, 2012, 12:22 pm

    it seems increasingly likely that it’s going to come down to a choice between two one-state solutions – that is, a choice between a Jewish apartheid state or a state of all its citizens. On this score, I would support the latter over the former without hesitation – and I would challenge anyone who purports to cherish liberal values to say they feel otherwise.

    just thought i’d add that. the interview is a keeper

  2. American on October 11, 2012, 12:47 pm

    Go Rabbi Rosen! Keep on marching.

    “Yes, it is enormously painful for many Jews to see Israel targeted in this way. But if Israel is becoming a pariah, that’s due largely to its own actions. ”

    So true. As for the Jews who continue to support Israel or for those that don’t/ can’t admit what it is and speak out against it all I can say is…..No Pain No Gain babycakes….you gotta choose for the long term…pay now or pay more later.

  3. eljay on October 11, 2012, 1:02 pm

    >> … it seems increasingly likely that it’s going to come down to a choice between two one-state solutions – that is, a choice between a Jewish apartheid state or a state of all its citizens. On this score, I would support the latter over the former without hesitation – and I would challenge anyone who purports to cherish liberal values to say they feel otherwise.

    Zio-supremacists f*cked things up nicely.

    Rather than envision and try to realize Israel as a secular, democratic and egalitarian state of and for all Israelis, equally – a state within whose framework secular Jewish ethnicity and character could flourish and be embraced by both Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis – they have lied, stolen, fought, destroyed and killed to create and maintain Israel as an oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and supremacist state for Jews (and f*ck everyone else).

    The former state could have been sustainable – it would certainly have been the more just and moral construct – while the latter, it seems, is doomed to fail.

    • annie on October 11, 2012, 1:19 pm

      eljay, in the interview rosen says most Zionists are unable or unwilling to admit that this is what inevitably comes of fusing Judaism and political nationalism

      wish i could have published the whole interview, he’s one brave rabbi.

      • Danaa on October 11, 2012, 2:34 pm

        Interesting – much along the lines of what Marc Ellis has been saying in his very excellent “Exilic and Prophetic” series. Perhaps one needs to be familiar with Jewish scriptures (cf, bible, talmud and interpretations) and rather diverse history, to see the deep truth in the above statement.

        I am not very familiar with the scriptures (all we did in the secular school system in Israel is study – mostly memorize – lengthy passages of the Tenach – which, for the most part, we disdained, so into one ear and out the other, as they say. Actually, I’ve been re-reading passages, now in English. Frankly it doesn’t read anything like what I remember – funny that). But I do know from the more extensive background we got in jewish history (and, world history taught more or less from a jewish perspective, cf, was it good or was it bad for the Jews) that there was one unchanged strand throughout both religion and history – an embracing of “otherness” as commitment to exceptionalism of both Jews, as people, and Jews, as followers of the old religion.

        In the entity of Israel, as Rosen says, nationalism (ie zionism) was fused into Judaism and that is a potentially toxic combination, as is becoming increasingly evident to all. except that instead of “fusion” I prefer a word that’s come up the other day here on MW – a grafting. Fusion implies a certain seamlessness, but what Is increasingly clear is that it’s more like a graft that didn’t quite take. So little by little, the beauty and deeper meanings of Judaism are bleeding out, even as the grafted plant grows into an unwieldy hybrid, greedy with thirst, xeno-phobic, relishing it’s own paranoic fears, and yes, a bit of an aggressive golem.

    • seanmcbride on October 11, 2012, 1:56 pm

      Could Zionism have succeeded? Perhaps, if Zionists had kept a low profile, if they had lived up to modern Western democratic values, if they had kept a lid on their religious crazies, if they hadn’t made excessive demands on Americans, and if they hadn’t attacked, abused and threatened many Americans, from Republican and Democratic presidents on down (that was the really crazy thing they did that doomed their enterprise).

      The Zionism brand is by now damaged beyond repair — thanks to Zionists. Zionists have made too many bad decisions.

      • pabelmont on October 11, 2012, 4:11 pm

        seanmcbride asks: Could Zionism have succeeded?

        Well, hard to know, because if it succeeded without taking all of Palestine, it would not have “succeeded” at being “Zionism” in the eyes of those who do the defining. Look at ’em go!

        Judah Magnes was a “cultural Zionist” who would have counted it a success ONLY if there were no Israel at all, no taking the land, no expelling the people.

        A different question is this: Could there be two states, Israel and Palestine, side by side and at peace, equably sharing water, especially on the pre-1967 borders or close to. If so, someone, somewhere, would count that “Israel” as a success of Zionism. Of course, to get there, most of 722,000 settlers will have to be removed (I’d say “all” because that’s the law as long as there is an occupation) and most of the settlements buildings and wall removed. (Gee, would the settlers put up with that? And would they call the result “Zionism” or a “success”?)

      • Meyer on October 13, 2012, 6:18 pm

        In what way do you consider Zionism to have failed? Most specifically, when did they “attacked, abused and threatened many Americans, from Republican and Democratic presidents on down?” I think I am confused because those presidents themselves were Zionists. You almost seem to consider Zionism and American citizenship to be mutually exclusive, although perhaps I am misreading your post.

        I just don’t see Zionism as doomed. The threats to Israel’s continued existence that are real have far more to do with the continuing Palestinian conflict and occupation than they do with faltering US relationships IMO. If the recent statements by our presidential hopefuls are to be believed there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of rejecting Zionism to be seen here.

  4. yourstruly on October 11, 2012, 2:45 pm

    Reading both of today’s posts by Annie (this one & “Living Under Drones”) brings to mind the fact that never before has humanity been held hostage by so few, bent as these few are on the do as we say or die. These few, of course, being the Israelis and their U.S. backers – in their occupation of Palestine that’s based on the falsehood about a land without a people for a people without a land. Give up on that one and the seemingly impossible comes into being. Persist in it & risk doomsday. And, yes, the implication here is that what happens re: P/I affects other parts of the Arab/Islamic world, including but not limited to Afghanistan/Pakistan/Iraq.

  5. Les on October 11, 2012, 7:48 pm

    [I don’t know where to put this but Mondoweiss readers can claim to have heard it first.]
    [Notice what “transmission” they are conderned about.]

    Orthodox Jews sue New York City over new circumcision rule
    Jewish groups try to block new rule requiring parental consent in order for a mohel, or ritual circumciser, to use direct oral-genital suction.
    By Reuters | Oct.11, 2012 | 11:06 PM

    Orthodox Jewish groups sued New York City on Thursday to try to block a new rule requiring parental consent for a circumcision ritual in which the circumciser uses his mouth to draw blood from the baby’s penis.

    The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, says the regulation is unconstitutional and violates religious freedom by targeting a Jewish ritual.

    The rule, adopted unanimously by the New York City Board of Health last month, is aimed at reducing the risk that infants will contract herpes from the ancient ritual.

    Using oral suction to take blood from the area of the circumcision wound is common in some of New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.

    At least 11 boys caught herpes from the practice between 2004 and 2011, according to city health officials. Two of them died from the disease and two others suffered brain damage, they said.

    Under the rule, parents must sign a consent form that says the health department advises that “direct oral suction should not be performed” because of the risk of contracting herpes.

    The lawsuit says the city’s conclusion that the ritual increases the risk of herpes is based on a flawed analysis and is not statistically sound.

    “That opinion is based on limited study, inaccurate assumptions, and deficient data, all of which remain actively debated within medical and scientific communities,” it says.

    City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley defended the regulation.

    “The city’s highest obligation is to protect its children; therefore, it is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice,” he said in a statement.

    The plaintiffs include the Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States and Canada, the International Bris Association and several individual circumcisers, known as mohelim.

    They want a judge to issue an injunction suspending the regulation.

    The lawsuit says it violates the right to free speech because “the government cannot compel the transmission of messages that the speaker does not want to express.”

  6. Theo on October 12, 2012, 9:44 am

    Rabbi, I hear you!
    Now I hope in the synagogue you say the same and try to open as many jewish eyes as possible, because something must happen in the USA before those zionist war criminals in Israel start another war.
    Turkey is moving tanks and planes to the syrian border, we have large number of US special forces in eastern Turkey and Jordan and I am sure they do not plan a picnic with the local population. The invasion of Syria is a forgone conclusion, it is not if, but when.
    After that the only state that do not bend to the wishes of the NWO is Iran.
    Israel is itching to destroy the last opposition to its absolute hegemony in the ME, and in my opinion regardless who will be the next president the ball already rolling cannot be stopped. This must be the first case in history when a tiny nation has complete control over a superpower, the tail wags the dog.

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