Who says the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign isn’t having an effect? Page 7 of the New York Times today is the Boycott Israel page. Both stories on the page are about Israel’s battle over its sagging international reputation. You’d think they might put our site out of business. But no.
“France Says It Opposes Boycotting Israel” is the first story. France is reassuring Israel that it is against boycotting Israel, thereby trying to settle down the controversy over the fact that the head of the quasi-public French telecom company Orange said he wanted to pull the brand out of the Israeli market, which left Benjamin Netanyahu incensed. He said “boycott attempts will not be forgiven” and called on the French to repudiate the statement.
Though once again, the issue is framed hysterically, as Jews versus the rest. Jews against the world, against people of color. Reporter Rick Gladstone writes:
[T]he campaign’s effort to isolate Israel economically — even if it has yet to show any practical impact — has struck a nerve among many American Jews. They see the effort as a form of anti-Semitism, an accusation that B.D.S. supporters call a false, cynical and divisive scare tactic.
The article later quotes the excellent Rahim Kurwa saying simply that equating BDS with anti-Semitism is “really sad and unfortunate.”
“There are three choices: a Palestinian state, Palestinian citizenship, or more occupation,” he said. “We’re either going to have the status quo, or something else. B.D.S. is really about picking.”
But Kurwa is buried, and where is the Times’s vaunted reporting? In the last two weeks two Jews who support BDS, Sam Molnar at the University of Michigan and Phil Weiss on this site, have independently stated that they estimate the number of Jews in the BDS movement at 20 percent.
One out of five. That’s a lot of Jews for a group that makes up 2 percent of the U.S. population.
Then consider that Jewish Voice for Peace– one of the main groups spearheading BDS– is skyrocketing in membership. (In the last year, the number of chapters has shot from 40 to 65; the online supporter email list has risen from 140,000 to 200,000; its Facebook likes have quadrupled, to 200,000; and its Twitter followers have tripled, to 40,000).
JVP’s numbers reflect a real movement inside Jewish life. Gladstone may well be right, that “many American Jews do see” BDS as anti-Semitic. But others see the anti-BDS campaign as using anti-semitism to protect Israel. And efforts to link BDS with classical anti-Semitism are absurd on their face. Reflect on this: When the Nazi Party rose in 1933, it didn’t have Jewish members. They didn’t want to join it, understandably.
Peter Beinart stated vigorously that BDS draws support from Jews in a piece for Haaretz saying that President Obama was wrong to link anti-semitism and anti-Zionism:
There’s also a long history of anti-Zionism among Jews…. [A] disproportionate percentage of the new anti-Zionists are Jews. A University of Chicago student recently told me that he looked around during a BDS strategy session on campus and realized that Jews constituted a majority in the room. Jewish Voices for Peace, which supports BDS and welcomes anti-Zionists without being officially anti-Zionist itself, has grown from 600 members in 2011 to 9,000 today….
What we are witnessing among some young American Jews is a kind of neo-Bundism, a Jewish identity built not around Zionism but around the values of the activist left. And on campus, these left-wing Jews are making common cause with anti-Zionist Palestinians and with growing numbers of African-American, Latino, LGBT and feminist activists, all of whom see Zionism as incompatible with the egalitarian, anti-discriminatory principles they hold dear.
The Times framing of this issue continues to draw on the blueprint statement made by a rightwing California rabbi back in February, in the Sacramento Bee:
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said portraying Israel as an aggressor plays on the idealism of students….
“Campus politics have been hijacked by a group of students who are intent to conquer,” he said. “The coalition of Arab, Muslim, Latino, Asian and gay students. They’re all oppressed minorities.”
This is irresponsible, a politics of fear. The Times really ought to be exploring these issues more thoughtfully.