I’m easily astonished, but this is astonishing. The New York Times runs a bumper crop of letters about BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) in its international edition today, 15 of them, and most of the letters are pro-BDS, and from Americans, including activists in the Palestinian solidarity movement who oppose ethnic supremacy and inequality. Exciting excerpts are below.
The letters astonish me for two reasons:
First, I sense that the Times editors are seeking to balance two articles it ran describing BDS as anti-Semitic. Columnist Roger Cohen said that the BDS movement harbors anti-Semitism, because it would deny “the core of the Zionist idea,” that Jews have a national home (p.s. Roger Cohen has led a worldly life of accomplishment in New York and London). And reporter Jodi Rudoren wrote a piece quoting rightwing Israelis, saying BDS is immoral and anti-Semitic and reminiscent of Nazi tactics (with Omar Barghouti quoted from the other side). These letters are a response to those two pieces. If I were Rudoren, I’d feel embarrassed.
Second astonishment. The Times is announcing, we want Americans to discuss BDS openly, with a headline, “Is a Boycott of Israel Just?”. This is a wonderful thing on the part of our leading newspaper, and we should celebrate it.
Now here are some excerpts. Cherry-picked, of course!
It’s galling that in a piece on the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement, launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society in response to Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, Jodi Rudoren frames her story in terms of B.D.S. echoing the anti-Semitic boycotts of Nazi Germany, quoting several Israelis harshly critical of B.D.S. and just one Palestinian supporter. Ms. Rudoren even seems to endorse allegations that B.D.S. is anti-Semitic and directed at Jews rather than Israel and Israelis, writing, “Avoiding a coffee shop because you don’t like the way the boss treats his employees is voting with your wallet; doing so because the boss is Jewish — or black or female or gay — is discrimination.” Contrary to what Ms. Rudoren and the quoted B.D.S. critics suggest, the movement does not target Jews, individually or collectively, and rejects all forms of bigotry and discrimination, including anti-Semitism. B.D.S. is, in fact, a legal, moral and inclusive movement struggling against the discriminatory policies of a country that defines itself in religiously exclusive terms, and that seeks to deny Palestinians the most basic rights simply because we are not Jewish.
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Ramallah, West Bank
The B.D.S. movement has nothing to do with animus toward Jews. Many American Jews, myself included, are vigorously working in support of B.D.S. — and there are more and more of us with every passing month. We target Israel for boycott not because we believe Israel is the worst human rights violator (we don’t), but because Israel is the single largest recipient of American foreign aid, more than $3 billion a year. As Jews, as taxpayers, as people of conscience, we have not only the right but the moral obligation to use boycott and divestment as strategies of nonviolent resistance to Israel’s systematic, racist mistreatment of Palestinians being done on our nickel and in our names.
Hannah Schwarzschild Arlington, Mass.
The Israelis claim that anti-Semitism is behind the boycott, but they don’t see the real reason: the occupation of Palestinian lands and the subjugation of the Palestinians over the years.
Lillian Laskin, Los Angeles
In view of the massive unquestioned support of Israel by the American government, one might assume that Israel would be more cooperative in the search for peace and justice. This has obviously not happened. Resorting to proclaiming anti-Semitism every time there are questions as to the policies of the Israeli government is the fallback position when all else fails. This should not be allowed.
Doris Rausch, Columbia, Md.
Roger Cohen cites the fact that my brother, Omar Barghouti, received a degree from Tel Aviv University to conclude that Israel affords more rights to minorities than other regional states. But minorities receive higher academic degrees in all neighboring states.
…If a state defines its legitimacy on the premise of denying the indigenous people their right to live within it, then what choice do the indigenous people have but to delegitimize that state? To deny the Palestinians the right to fight for their right of return is to say they are not equal to Israeli Jews.
Dr. Nasser Barghouti, San Diego
The United Nations did not give a mandate for expanded borders, ethnic cleansing and mass expulsion. Allowing Palestinians to return is necessary for the healing of this conflict. A novel solution — two states with identical borders — would enable Palestinians to return and have self-determination, while allowing Israel to remain a Jewish state and haven for Jews. The two states would have equal power.
Esther Riley, Fairfax, Calif.
Mr. Cohen’s embrace of full equality is insincere because he justifies an unequal law. Inequality and guarantees of ethnic/religious supremacy are endemic to the notion of a Jewish state. Such a state can never be democratic, because in a democracy the people are sovereign. The state belongs to all its citizens.
Rod Such, Portland, Ore.
What Mr. Cohen’s argument boils down to is a belief that civil equality and human rights are less lofty ideals than the perseverance of a Jewish majority state. I wonder, would you ever publish an opinion article voicing concern over the end of America as a white state? … To preserve a Jewish majority, would Mr. Cohen push his argument further to call for the removal of Israel’s Palestinian population?
Bayann Hamid, New York
This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the letters appeared in the international edition of the New York Times. Thanks to commenters for pointing this out.