BDS is the only means of ending the occupation — Derfner

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Larry Derfner (Credit: Jewish Journal)
Larry Derfner (Credit: Jewish Journal)

In an inevitable development, Larry Derfner has a big piece up at +972 endorsing BDS as a liberal Zionist tool. All mainstream political means of causing Israel to cough up the occupied territories have failed, he says, and he acknowledges the surging power of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, says it’s the only thing that can end the occupation. 

Derfner begins by talking about the importance of Kerry’s failure, and the complete inability of Israeli political structure to make concessions: 

[N]either a [Isaac] Herzog [Labor] government nor any other government in today’s Israel can do what’s necessary to meet the Palestinians’ demands, which are backed by the entire world (myself included), and which involve, but are by no means limited to, the removal of between roughly 100,000 and 170,000 settlers from the West Bank…

Derfner says 100,000 of these settlers are lunatics and no ordinary political process could uproot them:

The first 100,000 live mainly in “ideological” settlements, many of which, such as Hebron, Yitzhar, Bat Ayin and the little “hilltop outposts,” are extremely violent, racist, religiously fanatic and politically deranged. The second 70,000 or so are the population of Ma’aleh Adumim and the Ariel bloc…

Trying to move out 100,000 people from the most dug-in settlements in the West Bank is, for the coming years at least, the mother’s mother of all non-starters….

I don’t believe Sharon, or Begin, or Ben-Gurion or anyone else could clear out those settlements under today’s conditions, when Israel isn’t paying any price for their presence. It would seem insane – why turn a stable, safe, prosperous country upside down, why invite bloodshed, why force such huge masses of Jews from their homes, why fork over billions to them in compensation, when nobody and nothing of consequence is bearing down on us to do it? 

Meantime the U.S. is politically hogtied by the Israel lobby:

The peace process has finally, truly hit the wall. Myself, I thought it was over in 2009 when Obama caved into Netanyahu and the Israel lobby and dropped his demand for an open-ended, total freeze on settlement construction.

So BDS is the only thing that can bring pressure. And Derfner is prepared to show solidarity with nonviolent Palestinian actions, like going to the International Criminal Court. The J Street approach is “toothless” and will change nothing on the ground:

I do believe there is still a chance to transform the situation peacefully, and the way to do that, again, is by bringing such international pressure to bear on Israel that it uproots those masses of settlers and ends the occupation for the sake of its own basic well-being.

From the Palestinians’ side, I’m talking, obviously, about the UN strategy, which ultimately means the threat of trying Israel for war crimes in The Hague. Their other viable options include unarmed “popular resistance”; “people power” marches to the separation barrier and the settlements; dismantling the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and “handing back the keys” to Israel; and/or demanding Israeli citizenship.

For everyone else, I’m talking, of course, about supporting the Palestinians in such actions, and supporting the BDS movement at one level or another.

Such a political stance is foreign to liberal Zionists. It was foreign to me, a liberal Zionist in Israel, until recent years, when I began to run out of justifications for not supporting non-violent tactics against the occupation. If a substantial number of the liberal Zionists who are appalled at what Israel does to the Palestinians were to give up trying to persuade Israel to change, and instead start holding it responsible for refusing to change, I believe it would have a jarring psychological impact on this country and its leaders. What I know for sure is that a continuation of the genial, toothless, J Street-style approach will continue to change nothing, at least not over here.

He says that the BDS movement is mutable: that it can be a movement for two states. I imagine that leaders of the BDS movement would reject Derfner’s support inasmuch as he does not mention one of its central demands, the right of return, and it does not feel that it needs liberal Zionist support. On the other hand, it is true that many Palestinian groups supporting two states are among the signatories to the BDS movement.

In fact, the boycott movement as a whole has now spread beyond the “one-staters” who started it – and for which they deserve full credit, whether one agrees with them or not – and moved to “two-staters” that include the European Union and numerous financial institutions within it. As Stephen Hawking had visited Israel four times before boycotting a major event in Jerusalem last year, it’s fair to assume he’s a two-stater as well. I’m a two-stater myself. And I have no problem supporting BDS because I know that if Israel ever gets to the point where it’s ready to concede to international pressure, it will be responding not to the small left-wing groups calling for it to give up Jewish statehood, but to the powerful forces in the democratic world calling for it to give up the occupation alone.

The growing international pressure would cause Israelis to wise up.

If push ever comes to shove, very few Israelis will be ready to endure the kind of ostracism that apartheid South Africa faced – and so they will throw in the towel well before things get that bad. The great majority of Israelis are practical people; they are not going to become the world’s pariahs for the sake of the settlements…

I don’t understand why this goal would not “invite bloodshed,” to use Derfner’s words (those 100,000 Jews are not practical people), or why a different form of upset would not be preferable: in which all people between the river and the sea were granted the vote. That outcome would be tragic for Derfner inasmuch as it would end his dream of a Jewish state, and it too would invite bloodshed. But he said Israelis are practical people.

James North adds: 

The people who run +972 generally avoid stating positions on BDS for or against because it’s technically illegal in Israel to advocate for BDS. So it is a demonstration of Derfner’s intellectual courage, that he is willing to run this risk, and continue to challenge an ideal that he was willing to change his life for, when he made aliyah to move to Israel as a young man in Los Angeles. He is in a society where there is a strong impetus to go along and get along and he deserves tremendous credit for this step.

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Derfner: “to meet the Palestinians’ demands, which are backed by the entire world (myself included), and which involve, but are by no means limited to, the removal of between roughly 100,000 and 170,000 settlers from the West Bank…” The “entire world” said that? I think the “entire world” speaks with… Read more »

Better late than never I suppose. It will take voices like this to prompt others to rethink their stance on this, and realize that after all their support for the occupation, and for those who are under the illusion that Israel never does wrong, Bibi has made decisions based on… Read more »

>> He says that the BDS movement is mutable: that it can be a movement for two states. It can be a movement for two secular and democratic states of and for their respective citizens, immigrants, ex-pats and refugees, equally. It should not be a movement to separate Israel from… Read more »

BDS is a racist anti-Semitic campaign that aims to destroy Israel. If they were really worried about the Palestinians, they would boycott ALL Arab countries that don’t give rights to Palestinians, not only Jewish-owned Israeli companies.