The New York Times is paying close attention to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel, nine years after the 2005 call for boycott from Palestinian civil society. But the paper’s coverage does a poor job of honestly explaining what the BDS movement says about the future of Israel and Jewish life in the region.
Phil Weiss took a close look at Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s fear-mongering piece today, where she invokes the specter of the Nazi boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. Roger Cohen’s article approvingly quotes an activist who claims that the BDS movement’s objectives would “doom Israel as a national home for the Jews.” (The Palestine Center’s Yousef Munayyer responds here.)
And today, Thomas Friedman takes a whack at BDS by giving space to the Israeli government-linked Reut Institute, whose director, Gidi Grinstein, says that “the B.D.S. movement at heart is not about Israel’s policies but Israel’s existence: they want to see Israel disappear.” (Grinstein also, rightly, points out that the peace process is keeping BDS at bay, but if it collapses, Israel’s isolation will deepen–and fast.)
All three pieces give short shrift to what BDS advocates say about Israel’s existence as a home for Jews. They overwhelmingly tilt towards calling the movement’s prescription for ending the conflict catastrophic to Jews. The implication is that Jews would have no place in Israel/Palestine, especially if there is a right of return for Palestinian refugees. But what do BDS advocates themselves say about the future of Jews in an Israel/Palestine where the BDS movement’s demands are met?
Last month, I took that question to some leading BDS activists. For instance, human rights attorney Noura Erakat told me that she doesn’t “think resolution of the conflict necessitates the removal of the settler from the land. We have the capacity to create new types of nationalities, of conceptions of citizenship, that could contemplate the Jewish citizen as part of this multi-ethnic state.” Other interviews with BDS activists showed that what the movement wants to dismantle is a state that institutionalizes Jewish privilege at the expense of the rights of Palestinians. (And while there is no consensus within the BDS movement on one-state or two-states, there is a consensus on dismantling Jewish privilege.)
Erakat’s and other activists’ take goes to the heart of Friedman’s apt question: “What is the nation state of the Jewish people?” The BDS movement’s take on that question depends on what your definition of a Jewish state is. If Israel, by definition, is an institutionalized regime of Jewish privilege, enforced at the barrel of a gun, then the BDS movement certainly wants to “destroy” Israel.
But what if Israel/Palestine can be re-imagined, a space that preserves Israeli Jewish life and culture while implementing Palestinian human rights for all? It’s a more complicated counter-question to Friedman’s. But the BDS movement’s prescriptions certainly point towards that sentiment, which is a more interesting and fair take on the future that stoking existential fears of destruction. Perhaps once the two-state paradigm collapses–and it will if John Kerry’s efforts fail, which is why the U.S. is so feverishly working towards a framework agreement–these complicated, thorny questions will come to the fore. The Times will have to play catch up.