BDS is coming inside the Jewish community. That is the clear thrust of several recent events in which Jews who are appalled by Israel’s conduct are insisting on their right to discuss the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions as a means to pressure Israeli society.
First the news in my headline. The Jewish Reconstructionist community, based in Philadelphia, kicked off a conversation called “Israel & Zionism: A Contemporary Challenge” this past week with five essays “that represent a range of viewpoints from within the Jewish Reconstructionist communities.”
But not all the viewpoints! Guess what: The editors asked Shai Gluskin, a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia, to submit a piece, too, then rejected it, evidently because he supports BDS.
Here is Gluskin’s comment on the essay:
I was asked to write one of the anchoring essays for this project. However, when it came to light that I am open to other solutions to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict besides a two-state solution, I was asked, should I still want to participate, to post my essay as a comment instead. I do want to participate. Read on for my essay. Click here if you want it in PDF form.
You can read Gluskin’s essay at the end of this piece. It said that he endorsed BDS “with a heavy heart”:
The Palestinian Call to BDS is completely non-violent.
Every day that the status quo continues, Palestinians suffer under the Israeli occupation without dignity, freedom of movement, the ability to control their land, the right to vote, and more. I support the Palestinian Call to BDS as a way of trying to break that status quo
Gluskin told me in an email that editors proposed that he explain his support for the Palestinian Call to BDS as being in the service of bringing about a two-state solution. “So in the end it was my one-state leanings, not even emphasized, though they are hinted at, in my article, that were the deal-breaker,” he says.
As a member of the “Open Hillel” rabbinic council, I along with other Reconstructionist colleagues signed a statement that said: “In the spirit of an open Jewish community . . . I accept that there is a range of opinion on Israel in the Jewish community, including BDS and non-Zionist Judaism. While I may agree or disagree with all or parts of
these positions, I cannot agree to censor them or deny those who hold them the right to be heard in the Jewish community as Jews.”..
[T]he rejection of Shai’s solicited essay as an anchor essay because of its opinions is certainly a form of censorship.
The Gluskin controversy echoes the Open Hillel campus tour by Jewish civil rights veterans that has included endorsements of BDS by participants. Hillel International has shut out the tour, but students are abandoning their Hillel’s in order to have the discussion. I’ve met some of these students. Not all of them want to endorse BDS. But they sure want to hear about it, discuss it intelligently.
Next, UCLA’s center for Jewish studies and its Hillel are hosting Cornel West to an event commemorating Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel even though West is an eloquent supporter of BDS.
UCLA has come under heavy pressure from the pro-Israel community to rescind the invitation, including from Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s father and a professor of computer science, who has called on West to stay away:
No matter how eloquent your speech and how crafty your words, the audience you will face at UCLA will not be able to take them too seriously in light of your recent decision to become a leading propagandist for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Not sure about “Crafty”– it may be seen as having racial overtones.
Todd Samuel Presner, a Holocaust scholar and the director of the Jewish Studies center, has stood by West, even as he’s criticized him for likening Gaza to a “concentration camp”.
I don’t know what West is going to say when he comes to UCLA on May 3rd. Perhaps his words will infuse me with inspiration, perhaps they will infuse me with indignation, or perhaps with both. In any case, I am going to listen attentively. I will, then, engage him respectfully and honestly,
Here is Gluskin’s essay:
Jewish life in Israel has been at the core of my identity from the time I was a teen when I was active in Habonim Labor Zionist Youth. The return of Jews to the Land of Israel inspired me to want to be a part of creating an Israel that would serve as a light to the nations. I was so proud of being Jewish, in part because kibbutzim in Israel were an affirmation of the possibility of building communities based on human dignity and fairness.
In short, I was an idealist. As I grew older and had many experiences living in Israel myself, I began to understand that ideals are a lot easier to champion than they are to implement in the real world.
And though much of the Zionist movement had been rooted in high ideals, the realities of creating a nation state on land where others lived, in the wake of the Holocaust, meant that many moral compromises needed to be made.
As victors of the War of Independence in 1948, Israelis and Zionists all over the world created a narrative of the founding of Israel that did not accurately portray the Jewish role in expelling Palestinians from their land during that period.
In 1988 much of Israel’s hitherto secret security archives were opened to the public. Many Israeli historians jumped on this opportunity. What they found was a clear record of a different narrative of events in 1948 from the one I had learned in Habonim. That research, based on primary documents, largely confirmed Palestinian versions of those events. One of the most important books of that time was The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947—1949 by Benny Morris.
As I began, slowly, to integrate the new information being brought to light about Israel’s history, there seemed to be some willingness among Israelis and Palestinians to move toward mutual recognition and create a compromise that would bring peace, self-determination and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike. I’m referring to the Oslo Accords signed in 1994.
However, a final status agreement was never achieved. And while there is plenty of blame to go around, the status quo has prevailed. That status quo renews, daily, the denial of basic human rights to Palestinians.
I’ve been to Israel eight times totaling about three years of my life. My grandparents made aliyah when they were 75. Their apartment in Ramat Aviv was my home away from home. I love Hebrew, Hebrew literature and much of Israeli culture. I love the beauty of the land; I’ve lived 100 yards from the northern border near Metula and on a large rock in the Arava desert at Kibbutz Grofit close to Eilat in the South. I’ve been inspired there. I am deeply connected.
But the fundamental idea I had clung to, that Zionism was essentially a positive movement aimed at bettering Jewish life and the greater world, melted away during Israel’s attack on Gaza at the end of 2008/beginning of 2009. What Zionism had wrought was a nation state that was bombarding refugees and their descendants who had been expelled by the same army or its antecedent in 1948. The result of that bombing was, according to the Israel Defense Forces, the death of 1,166 Gazans in three weeks. Three Israeli civilians and ten soldiers (four by “friendly fire”) were killed.
Israel had engaged in the operation to stop the rockets that were being launched at Israeli civilian areas from Gaza. Those rockets rarely produced casualties, though significantly disrupted the daily life for many in southern Israel. Israel’s disproportionate response, for which I could find no justification, made me want to dig deeper into its causes.
As a result of renewed reading I came to believe that we must address the historical issues. The most important point of the history that needs to be addressed is the Nakba, which means catastrophe in Arabic, and refers to Israel’s War of Independence which resulted in the dispossession of over 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of more than 400 villages. Those villages “tattoo the Israeli landscape, exit wounds from a history we have barricaded out of our lives.”
In the S. Yizhar 1949 Hebrew novella Khirbet Khizeh, the narrator speaks from some time in the future after he has tried, unsuccessfully, to shut down his memories of participating in the expulsion of Palestinian villagers:
TRUE, IT ALL HAPPENED A LONG TIME AGO, but it has haunted me ever since. I sought to drown it out with the din of passing time, … and I even, occasionally, … managed to see that the whole thing had not been so bad after all, …. But sometimes I would shake myself again, astonished at how easy it had been… to be knowingly led astray… I saw that I could no longer hold back, … instead of staying silent, I should, rather, start telling the story.
In 1976, when I was 18, I lived on Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch in the Northern Galilee as part of Habonim’s Workshop program. 200 meters from the dining hall one could find the remains of the Palestinian village, al-Sanbariyya, where Jewish forces, under the order of Yigal Alon, expelled its residents on May 1, 1948. Later the Jewish National Fund destroyed its 36 houses. However, despite its proximity, our leaders never told us of that history, nor did they show us the remains.
If the Nakba did not deeply mar the achievement of Jewish self-determination, our leaders would not have hesitated to tell us the story and show us the village. By creating myths about the circumstances of the Palestinian exodus and by, literally, covering over the villages, the soul of Israel has been scarred. We need to continue the work of S. Yizhar to truly liberate ourselves. We do that by continuing to tell the story. And more than that, we need to make amends.
In the wake of the Holocaust, it’s no wonder that Jews sought sovereignty on land we could control. My intent is not to blame Jewish people of the past or to claim that I would have acted better than them. Nonetheless, this does not relieve those of us living now of the need to acknowledge what happened and to make restitution.
Moshe Dayan, a legendary Israeli war hero, delivered a eulogy at the funeral of Ro’i Rotenberg, a young member of Kibbutz Nachal Oz (a kibbutz on the border of Gaza). Rotenberg was killed by infiltrators from Gaza while he worked in the kibbutz fields on April 29, 1956. Dayan’s eulogy has affected me deeply:
Yesterday at dawn Ro’i was murdered… Let us not today cast blame on the murderers. What can we say against their terrible hatred of us? For eight years now, they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and have watched how, before their very eyes we have turned their land and villages, where they and their ancestors previously dwelled, into our home.
It is not among the Arabs of Gaza, but in our own midst that we must seek Ro’i’s blood. How did we shut our eyes and refuse to look squarely at our fate and see, in all its brutality, the fate of our generation? …
Let us take stock today with ourselves. We are a generation of settlement and without the steel helmet and the gun’s muzzle we would not be able to plant a tree nor build a house… let us not fear to look squarely at the hatred that consumes and fills the lives of hundreds of thousands of Arabs who live around us. Let us not drop our gaze, lest our arms weaken…
Young Ro’i, … the longing for peace deafened his ears, and he failed to hear the voice of the murderer waiting in ambush. The gates of Gaza proved too heavy for his shoulders, and overcame him.
I appreciated Dayan’s honesty in seeing the conflict from a Palestinian perspective. It also explained to me the us-versus-them, zero-sum-game mindset that I believe exists to this very day in the hearts and minds of most Israeli Jews.
I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu shares the same zero-sum philosophy as Moshe Dayan expressed in the eulogy, though lacking Dayan’s candor in seeing the situation from a Palestinian perspective. Dayan’s assertion that we will never be able to build a house in Israel without the “gun’s muzzle” applies now as well. That approach is unsustainable, no matter how much support Israel has in the U.S. Congress.
Dayan’s conclusion that it is only through military might that we can maintain our place in Israel assumes the zero-sum us-versus-them proposition as the only possible proposition vis-a-vis the Palestinians. I believe we must “cobble together a new compact,” and look for bold ways to create a new start to our relationship with the Palestinians.
The events leading up to last summer’s Gaza War and the war itself prove the status quo is dangerous. What is left of the Oslo Accords is a Palestinian Authority (PA) that the Prime Minister of Israel claims to be “no partner” even as the PA collaborates daily with the IDF and Israeli intelligence to prevent attacks on Israel. Without the Oslo Accords having achieved anything tangible for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, many Palestinians hold the PA in low regard and see it more as a protector of Israel than as a force that can bring them a normal life.
In the wake of the Gaza incursion of 2008/9, I desired to find others who shared my view. I joined the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and I sit on its Rabbinic Advisory Committee. As someone who cares about Israel and its people deeply, I had to take a stand.
It is with a heavy heart that I stand by JVP’s support for the 2005 Palestinian Civil Society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). My heart is heavy because BDS is a hostile act. And the idea of supporting aggression against Israel is painful to me. My heart is also heavy because I know that some anti-Semites attach themselves to any campaign that is against Jews.
The Palestinians have suffered plenty as an indirect result of anti-Semitism. While we must be vigilant against anti-Semitism, the Palestinian Call for BDS is not anti-Semitic. It’s giving voice to legitimate grievances. It’s a grassroots effort by Palestinian civil society organizations in the Occupied Territories, Israel, and the Palestinian Diaspora.
I do not support efforts to achieve justice for Palestinians that use violent means. The Palestinian Call to BDS is completely non-violent.
Every day that the status quo continues, Palestinians suffer under the Israeli occupation without dignity, freedom of movement, the ability to control their land, the right to vote, and more. I support the Palestinian Call to BDS as a way of trying to break that status quo. 19th century African American Abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke,
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Many in the Jewish community interpret the demands of BDS, should they be met, as culminating in the destruction of Israel. References to the return of Arab lands as well as the solving of the refugee problem lead some to reach those conclusions. To me, those are extreme interpretations that are consistent with the continuation of the denial of the injustice that the Palestinians have suffered by our hands. The goal of BDS is not to destroy Israel, but to change Israel and address the legitimate concerns of the Palestinians.
The Palestinians didn’t have a part in the Zionist dream. Ari Shavit writes in his book, My Promised Land “We chose not to see them.” We chose not to see them as part of the vision, as inhabitants of the land whose rights needed to be respected in order for us to build a Jewish homeland based on justice and fairness. Continuing that blindness will only lead to interminable conflict and suffering. I want to work, instead, for resolution.
 Natasha Roth from 972mag.com The road out of the occupation leads through the Nakba April 11, 2015.
 Mohammed Dahlan, Israeli-Arab lawyer quoted in Ari Shavit’s book My Promised Land, p. 313
 Frederick Douglass, from a speech delivered in 1857 as quoted from Two Speeches by Frederick Douglas (1857) at BlackPast.org.
Rabbi Shai Gluskin is a 1995 graduate of the RRC. He currently lives in Philadelphia, PA where he is a freelance web developer and leader of the junior congregation at the Germantown Jewish Center.